CLASSIC REEL : The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
Cast: Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman and Scott Jacoby
Year of Release: 1976
Directed by: Nicolas Gessner
Plot: A 13-year-old girl's secretive behaviour and her often absent father arouses the curiosity and suspicion of the village folks, particularly two exceptionally nosy people.
Based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Laird Koening, this movie sees a then 13-year-old and future Award winner Jodie Foster play
Rynn Jacobs. It was her first top-billed role but reportedly not her favourite role as she had tussles with exploitative producers during its shooting. But considering she was just starting out then, Foster played the main character with an exceptionally mature air; one would almost forget she was just 13 and not 23. Like her character in her previous work- Taxi Driver- Foster’s character Rynn is a quite a memorable character. She’s a loner but definitely not a damsel in distress, hard to intimidate and carries herself with confidence… AND eerie calm. The movie can be said to be a dark mystery thriller, taking place mostly in Rynn’s isolated house, which simply adds more to the nagging mystery surrounding Rynn, who must rely on her wits and everything she has to protect herself.
The audience would be immediately curious about her. After the opening credits, we see her lighting a cigarette via candle on her birthday cake. Why do her parents allow this and where are they?
Next, we know a bit more about her when her unexpected and definitely unwanted caller, Frank Hallet (played by a then 36-year-old Martin Sheen) barges into her house on the pretence of giving her a Halloween shout out and making himself at home. Apparently, his mother was the real estate agent who leased the house to Rynn’s daddy.
Mr Jacobs is a published poet but people hardly see the intellectual gentleman. And it’s also immediately seen- via Frank’s creepy words and behaviour towards Rynn- that Frank has a predilection for young girls and Rynn was his next would be conquest. Disgusting.
Even more disgusting is his nosy bitch of a mother Mrs Hallet (Alexis Smith) who is intent on poking her way into Rynn and Mr Jacobs’ business and finds Rynn’s mature, witty demeanour to her pressing questions- and threats- as ‘exceptionally rude’. Her character is further hated when she actually slaps Rynn on the cheek when Rynn makes a comment about her pedo son’s behaviour towards her and other little girls in the village… a behaviour she’s either in denial about or simply turns the other way.
Frank is a constant fixture in the movie, watching Rynn from his car and attempting to victimise her; his creepy, suggestive words to her cringe-worthy.
But for luckily for Rynn aside from her ‘not a damsel in distress’ attitude, she has an ally in polio-afflicted Mario (Scott Jacoby) who protects her- strangely unconditionally- and not afraid to voice what the village people know about Frank to his face, their friendship making her less lonely and keeping other nosy parkers at bay. But of course, that’s not that the end of the story and the rule of this blog is NO SPOILERS. But there would be difficulty accessing Rynn's character, if she is to be pitied... or actually seen as evil. She is a girl seemingly alone in the world, yet does not feel alone or unhappy she's alone, rather she embraces being alone. That seems to give her a menacing air all through the film, even with Mario's company.
Other than its troubled production, this dark tale well told and well done, the best thing about is, of course, Foster who was born to act from the cradle, her gripping performance leaving the audience spellbound to the final scene of The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane.