A Movie A Day: THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) Get out of my house! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!
Published at: Aug. 22, 2008, 7:36 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Martin Sheen bridges us from yesterday’s ‘80s melodrama MAN, WOMAN & CHILD to today’s ‘70s thriller THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE.
We’re introduced to a very young Jodie Foster as she celebrates her birthday… alone… on Halloween night. The opening poses a lot of questions. The girl, Rynn, is adult and independent for her age, but why is she by herself? Where are her parents? Her poet father always seems to be locked in his study or away in New York meeting with his publisher.
Rynn does everything for herself and always has the right things to say when adults come to the door, inquiring for her father.
As the movie unfolds we find out more and more as the adults in the neighborhood become more and more inquisitive. We’re also introduced to an awkward teenage boy named Mario (Scott Jacoby) who befriends and eventually romances Rynn, causing her to drop her defenses a bit, giving her someone she can confide in.
Now, I was expected a little bit of a different kind of movie. I bought a one-sheet for THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE a while back… this one actually:
I bought it because it was a cool design and sounded like a sweet movie with some really interesting people in it, but I also thought it was a ghost story. Looks like it, right? I’m not the only crazy one who assumed that based on the poster am I?
You could easily call THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVED DOWN THE LANE a thriller, but there’s nothing supernatural about it, so if you’re expecting that and want to check out the movie, let me at least set that record straight.
And you should definitely seek it out. It’s a great little atmospheric mystery with four stand-out performances.
Let’s start with Jodie Foster. This film was her follow-up to her big triple punch combo of TAXI DRIVER, BUGSY MALONE and FREAKY FRIDAY and she’s creepy good in it. Yeah, she’s creepy and good, but creepy good in that she is an adult in a child’s body in terms of her ability and subtlety as an actress. She’s the prototype Dakota Fanning.
Speaking of… and I’ll be damned that I’m saying this… but I’m surprised no one has tried to remake this movie with Fanning in the lead. Maybe it’s just not known enough… that’s the only reason someone hasn’t tried to make it happen, but it’s a simple story that I could see someone jumping at the chance to do in this era of remake craziness. I do not condone a remake, by the way, I’m just surprised no one has thought of it.
Foster’s great in the movie. Her instincts are impeccable and she plays Rynn with such depth that she effortlessly sells the mystery and suspense of the movie. Like I mentioned above, she’s an adult in a kid’s body mostly because her character needs that protection, needs that independence. But when Mario enters the picture and allows her to not only depend on herself we do glimpse the girl inside.
No matter what Foster gives the character an innocence. I’d be worried if someone did remake it that they’d lose that aspect and make her a villain, play Rynn as a creep and not a little girl doing what she has to to survive.
The real creep of the movie is Martin Sheen playing the kid-touching son of Rynn’s bitchy landlord who has a very unhealthy attraction to Rynn. Sheen is so damn good as a sleazeball. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love David Cronenberg’s THE DEAD ZONE so much and he’s on fire here. He’s like an animal just waiting for his moment to strike, circling his prey, salivating in anticipation of the moment when he can attack.
His mother has used her pull in the small community to cover-up her son’s past “troubles,” and is Rynn’s main threat. Alexis Smith is gleefully cunty in this role. It’s the type of role that Vanessa Redgrave could eat up today… an older woman who is cunning and doesn’t buy Rynn’s bullshit for a second. I loved watching the scenes with these two together, matching wits.
Finally, Scott Jacoby deserves some recognition as the gimpy boyfriend, Rynn’s soulmate. He’s the first to learn the truth about her and accepts Rynn for who she is, becoming her partner in crime in a way. Jacoby is earnest in his puppydog love and that whole relationship struck me as very real for some reason. I can only attribute that to the charisma that Foster and Jacoby had that it didn’t feel weird to see them develop a real (and sexual) relationship.
Final Thoughts: THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE is a quietly suspenseful film that never reaches any huge dramatic or horrific heights, but is a strongly written film (by Laird Koenig, based on his novel) with some very, very strong performances. It’s twisted, but it’s definitely not exploitation.