Friday, April 27, 2007

Overlooked Classics: The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane

One of the creepiest and most compelling thrillers of the 1970's is THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE from 1976. Directed by Nicolas Gessner and staring 14 year old Jodie Foster in one of her greatest performances, this unique little film started out life as a 1974 novel by the screenwriter Laird Koenig.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE is one of those films from my childhood that had a huge impact on me. I first saw it on television when I was probably nine or ten and I still remember how significantly creeped out I was by it. I was also oddly drawn to it and I think a lot of that is due to Jodie Foster. Jodie might be about ten years my senior but I feel like I grew up with her so I have always felt a slightly special connection when watching her performances. As a classic only child I remember specifically seeing her in FREAKY FRIDAY and thinking it might not be a bad thing to have a sister around and Jodie Foster seemed like a pretty good choice.
One thing that makes THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE so unique is that this 14 year old girl totally controls the film. Children in adult themed films are typically there only as characters to play off the leading adult actors. Gessner's film not only centers completely on the young Foster but also puts her in virtually every shot. When other characters are introduced we never leave Foster's point of view. The film would have been a disaster had the wrong actress been chosen. Foster is really astounding in this role, as good as her Oscar nominated performance in TAXI DRIVER the same year. In both films she is asked as a child to place herself in very adult and serious situations, but still at the same time play her age. Foster, even at this young age, was already able to radiate the intelligence and strength she has become so known for. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE'S Rynn is one of her most overlooked, precise and captivating performances.
Gessner does a very nice job in this film of creating a cloudy atmospheric tension without resorting to shock tactics. He had previously directed the charming and mostly unseen Sharon Tate film 13 CHAIRS in the late sixties and it is a shame that he didn't have more success in his directorial career. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE remains his signature production.
Koenig has written a dozen or so films but most are pretty unremarkable, with THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE definitely being his smartest and most assured script.

Filmed in Canada, but set in New England, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE tells the story of a mysterious young girl and her father who have recently moved into a small and judgemental town. Rynn has a secret and she might be alone in the house but is clearly hiding something from the frequent guests, including a creepy pedophile played superbly by Martin Sheen. That is just the main set up, as I don't want to give the story away for people who might not have seen this film. The plot twists aren't too surprising or hard to figure out but the way the film plays out is, with the final shot being a particularly haunting moment.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE joins the rank of great Seventies PG horror films and thrillers. It is hard to imagine a time when a film so well made and with such adult themes could manage to get a PG rating, especially these days when the rating feels so compromised and pandering. Slight edits were made to the original American theatrical release including the cutting of some nudity (Jodie Foster's older sister performed as her body double) and a disturbing moment involving a hamster. Thankfully the current MGM dvd that is available is the uncut version.
Christian Gaubert delivered a fine score of the film that was released as a soundtrack but it is very hard to track down and I don't believe it has been released on cd. Chopin's Piano Concerto #1 is also featured in the film but did not appear on the soundtrack. Jodie Foster was especially popular in Japan in the seventies so a track from the soundtrack was released as a 45 and was a minor Japanese hit.

The film was honored with three Saturn award nominations (actor, actress and picture) with Foster and Sheen winning their respective nods.
The film has had an interesting history. Initially only a minor box-office success, it became a cult favorite on video and tv in the eighties but slipped out of print for most of the 90s before MGM re-released it on dvd a year or so ago. Koenig adopted his book later as a play and a gloating Jodie Foster fanzine waxed poetic on every conceivable aspect of the film a few years back.
For kids in the seventies who either saw this at a theater or grew up with it on video THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE remains a special film. Along with HALLOWEEN it was one of the films responsible for getting me obsessed with genre films at a very young age. It is also one of those little jewels from the seventies like LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and THE HAUNTING OF JULIA that begs to be seen by more people. MGM's dvd can be found usually for between five and ten dollars and features a nice uncut widescreen transfer (sadly no special features) and is, like the film, highly recommended.


cinebeats said...

This is a great film and I really like Jody Foster in it. It gave me the creeps when I was a kid and I saw it on TV.

And cheers for mentioning one of my favorite ghost movies Jeremy! The Haunting of Julia is one of the creepiest horror films from the 70s in my opinion and Mia Farrow is so great in it. When is that movie going to get a DVD release? There's so many great films that still need DVD releases!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
So excited to hear that you love "The Haunting Of Julia". That is actually one of my favorite films and I have been gearing up to write about it on the blog. I am planning on having a full "Haunting Of Julia" day on the blog, like I did with "One Eyed Jacks" and Boogie Nights", with various articles and such.
I plan on doing it as soon as school winds down in the next week or so. It is a film that I just really adore.
Also, of course thanks for the comments on Jodie and "Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane"

Lunar Mansion said...

Wow...I am in search of The Little Girl Soundtrack...I have The Haunting Of Julia Soundtrack....Can't wait until it has a dvd release......I love both movies...very haunting and spookified......

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks for stopping by and reading. I'd like to find a copy of "The Little Girl" soundtrack too, it's got a really nice score.
Thanks for your comments.

R. W. Watkins said...

Sigh.... Another well-intentioned viewer-turned-critic merely scratches the surface of this film, failing to comprehend all its dark symbolism and deep philosophical nuances. On top of that, he doesn't seem to know what a paedophile is.

Oh well, back to the drawing board....

R. W. Watkins
--editor of Cellar
--poet (New England Country Farmhouse)

Jeremy Richey said...

Mr. Watkins,
I obviously wasn't trying to scratch any more than the surface in talking about this film. I was just giving some personal thoughts on a favorite film and attempting to turn on a few people to it that perhaps hadn't seen it. I do this blog for fun and because I love film, I'm sure there are plenty of 'critics' you could find who have attempted to delved deep into this fine little film.

I'm not sure what you mean by the paedophile remark, Sheen's intentions towards the underage Foster in this film seem pretty clear.

Jeremy Richey said...

It seems that the CELLAR that Mr. Watkins is referring to in his comment is the fanzine dedicated to this film. I can understand that he has a very deep and personal connection with it which perhaps explains the tone of his comments.
Re-reading my post though it does seem clear to me that this wasn't anything but a tribute to the film and particularly Jodie Foster and not a serious intellectual critique.
I invite and appreciate any feedback here even if, in this case, it does seem to be a bit harsh.

R. W. Watkins said...

Okay, maybe I was a bit harsh; but I'm sick to death of folk spewing the same old formulaic synopses of this fine film. At least you liked it, I suppose. Then again, I wouldn't advise any adults to watch this picture unless they're well educated, comfortable with the various nuances of human sexuality, and free of religious and legislative dogma. It would be far better to let children watch it so that they might learn something from it (as I did when I watched it on television in the late '70s, thus putting me on the road to a life of social Darwinism).

As for Sheen's character, I still fail to see how you can label him a 'paedophile'--unless I missed something, and Foster was actually a prepubescent boy at the time. An ephebophile? Most definitely; but even this demands a qualifier, for most psychological studies have revealed that anywhere from 60 to 80% (some claim higher still) of us males look to relations with teenaged females as the ultimate romantic/sexual high (this no doubt evolved socially over the millenia out of the fact that females have a much shorter reproductive span--40 to 45 years--compared to males). Thus it would be best to refer to Frank Hallet as a 'violent', 'aggressive' and/or 'obsessive-compulsive' ephebophile. This would be far more apt, considering that Jacoby's Mario Podesta is engaging in the same illicit sexual behaviour, only minus the aggression. Also, nowhere in the film, novel or dramatic version is their any mention of Hallet sexually exploiting his two prepubescent stepsons. There is mention, however, of a local junior high girl whom he had tried to rape on another occasion, one with "really big tits"; so Hallet is obviously not of the paedophilic persuasion.

R. W. Watkins said...

A nice rip of the soundtrack is now available on the Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane and Jodie Foster boards at the IMDb. Look for the threads entitled 'Gaubert: Sides 1 and 2'. Hope you enjoy....

lonewolfva said...

Jodie Foster is still an incredibly attractive woman, one of the most talented actresses ever, and possesses an Ivy League brain to boot!

I found a free video clip from The Accused here:

wreckage3001 said...

Your introduction could be written by myself. I really had exact the same experiences with it. And I would go a little further. I totally agree with RW Watkins up to his `prepubescent boy`. Sorry, Jodie Foster is hot here. Period. A male person not turned on must be blind. She is an emancipated lolita, she can´t be more suggestive and after watching it about 50 times I can´t tell you it´s because of her character or Jodie herself. Don´t get me wrong, I don´t like this film for the unnecessary (and fake) nude scene, this gives nothing to me.

The PAC Squad said...

These days, this movie might even get an NC-17. I could just imagine Larry Clark doing a remake.