Friday, October 29, 2010

Chris Udvarnoky 1961-2010

"Holland...where is the baby?"

If you grew up during the early 70s, that whispered query can still raise gooseflesh, and much of the reason it can is that it was voiced by the talented young actor Chris Udvarnoky. Together with his twin brother Marty, they took on the roles of Niles and Holland Perry, brothers who were joined at the soul but separated by the grave, brought to life in Thomas Tryon's novel The Other and brought to the screen by director Richard Mulligan in a deceptively pastoral 1972 film. If you think that horror can only take place within the dark of night, this atmospheric and unsettling work will prove you wrong, its Andrew Wyeth color palette stands in stark contrast to the evil and dread that eventually consume the Perry family. And the answer to the above question requires the strongest of hearts to absorb. It haunts.

And perhaps the role haunted Udvarnoky as well, as The Other was his solitary film credit. The history of cinema is lousy with precocious, over-coached performances from child actors, their parts sounding jarringly adult because no one working on the film had the slightest idea of how kids really talk. But Udvarnoky's Niles feels genuinely ten years of age, able to whip up mischief in a moment's notice, while also possessed of a developing ethos that makes him feel guilt and shame. But after all, it's not Niles who is responsible -- it's Holland, right? Holland, who no longer walks the earth, but rather occupies six feet of it. It's a difficult part to pull off, and Udvarnoky is unforgettable. (He was also fortunate enough to have a frequent screen partner in the tremendous Uta Hagen, and the consummate acting teacher certainly must have offered him some pointers. However, it's a double-edged sword; he subsequently has to act opposite her, but instead of being intimidated, he enters into the spirit of every scene with the commitment and focus that only a child can know while playing "pretend.")

Word comes today that Chris Udvarnoky passed away in New Jersey on Monday of this week at the age of only 49. He had achieved success as an x-ray technician and an EMT. His were hands that saved lives, and while we might wonder what other accomplishments we were denied in cinema, there are surely others who owe their time upon earth to his ministrations. Reference to his appearance in The Other was missing from his official obituary, but in an eerie coincidence, it aired in the wee hours of this very morning on TCM. I'd like to take that as confirmation that somewhere his soul is soaring, like on the wings of a great black bird.

Somewhere, I hope Niles Perry is once again playing The Game.