The Film: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
The Principles: Nicolas Gessner (Director). Laird Koenig (Writer) Jodie Foster. Martin Sheen. Alexis Smith. Mort Shuman. Scott Jacoby.
The Premise: “She was only a little girl. She lived in a great big house…all alone. Where is her mother? Where is her father? Where are all the people who went to visit her? What is her unspeakable secret? Everyone who knows is dead.”
Normally I wouldn’t just lift something straight off the poster like that, but for one – that’s actually pretty evocative and two – posters just don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. So consider that a salute, Tagline Person.
Granted, it’s a bit misleading – a bit – but that’s what marketing’s for, right?
Is It Good: Certainly. Based upon a novel by Laird Koenig (who also adapted it for the stage before he wrote the screenplay for this film), the story centers around 13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (Foster); an impossibly precocious and independent little girl whose father never ever seems to be around while she goes about the day-to-day responsibilities of being an autonomous adult that lives on their own.
But of course she isn’t an adult and other adults in town begin to take notice of her perpetual solitude, most notably local pervert Frank Hallett (played with ultra-skeevy menace by the future President Bartlet) and his wretched mother (Smith) who just happens to be the owner of the house that Rynn and her father are leasing.
And what’s interesting is while there’s definitely an air of mystery around the whole thing, it’s never all that closely guarded. There’s a deliberate pace when it comes to revealing certain facts, but because every single question surrounding the initial setup is answered before the end of the second act it gives the film a lot of room to become something completely different.
And it’s that “something completely different” that really makes this little film stand out, and as good as everyone is at doing what they do, the entire film rests on the tiny shoulders of 14-year-old Jodie Foster. And she is phenomenal. Though at this point that really wasn’t much of a revelation, because Lane came at the end of a year that included her turns in Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone and Freaky Friday. But even so, it’s still crazy impressive to see a person so young be so in control of every facet of her existence.
And once the (for lack of a better word) pretense of a Big Secret is gone, it’s her performance that pulls everyone else into an orbit around her and makes that transition from the movie you expect to the movie you get so seamless.
And the movie you get is without a doubt good.
Is It Worth A Look: Without a doubt and not just because it’s really really good. It’s also a prime candidate for inclusion into the “They Just Don’t Make ‘Em Like This Anymore” club because of how everything revolves around that Big Secret. We’re in a post-Shyamalan world and it’s rare to see a film today have the restraint to not make certain decisions. And not just in terms of the revelations, but also in terms of what we expect from kid characters in horror movies. It says a lot that what was once so shocking is now kind of trite and expected. So it’s nice to see a film like this that tackles the same story elements that its modern-day relatives tackle, but actually be more interested in telling a complete story with texture and depth and resonance and not just spend 120 minutes trying so damned hard to be able to say “GOTCHA!” and roll credits.
Tell stories, kids.
Random Anecdotes: Apparently Jodie Foster isn’t particularly fond of the film, but I haven’t been able to find an interview or an article that really goes into why. So if any of you guys can help me out with that that’d be great, as I’m really curious.
Also, I’d heard about this a time or two long before I ever sat down to watch it, but every time I googled it this was the cover image I saw, which just didn’t sit well what with Jodie Foster’s little-girl face front and center and I avoided it simply because of that. So if you’re like me in that regard, rest assured that that artwork isn’t in any WAY indicative of the movie it’s selling. Which makes me wonder who it was at MGM that gave it the thumbs-up.
Cinematc Soulmates: The Bad Seed. Orphan. The Good Son. The Blue Lagoon.