Home Alone? – Rediscovering ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane’ (Canada 1976 – 94 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - February 26, 2014
Home Alone? – Rediscovering ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane’ (Canada 1976 – 94 mins)

Based on the 1974 novel by Laird Koenig, the engrossing 1976 mystery ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane’ is a true one-off. It feels very much like a stage piece, with its mostly house-bound setting and minimal characters, it grips from the start, with its top grade stars, well written screenplay and autumnal atmosphere, this makes for a decent Halloween chiller.

Thirteen year old loner, Rynn Jacobs, lives with her poet father Lester, in an isolated, rented house, in a quiet coastal community. Visitors to the home are always told that her father is either away or busy in his study, and cannot be disturbed. Slowly, we begin to sense that Rynn is all alone in the house. When their snooty landlady, Mrs Hallet, and her predatory son Frank, become too inquisitive, Rynn must resort to desperate measures to keep her quiet life undisturbed.

This was 14 year old Jodie Foster’s first top-billed role, and also her busiest year in the movies. Her films in 1976 ranged from Disney (‘Freaky Friday’), to musical (‘Bugsy Malone’), to controversial (‘Taxi Driver’). I’m surprised that Jodie was not keen on this movie, as she was marvellous in it. She gives a terrific performance as the mysterious Rynn, often coming across as more intelligent than the adults around her. Rynn listens to Chopin and reads Emily Dickinson, while warding off nosy landladies and prying policemen.

Darkness and silhouettes play an unnerving part in the film, with the properties basement and trapdoor providing some increasingly tense moments. One of the movies best scenes has a surprise, late-night appearance from Rynn’s kind, bookish ‘father’. Animal lovers beware though: there is an unpleasant scene involving a gerbil and a cigarette. An important scene, it highlights the latent violence that Frank Hallet is capable of.

Thirty six year old Martin Sheen is great in a quietly menacing role, as Frank Hallet. The previous year, Sheen had played a similar character in the 1975 TV movie; ‘Sweet Hostage’, where he was a disturbed mental patient who kidnaps a teenage Linda Blair. Former 1940’s leading lady, Alexis Smith, is also excellent as the meddling Mrs Hallet. Renowned for her parts in the Cole Porter biopic ‘Night and Day’ (’46), and as Clark Gable’s wife in the gambling drama ‘Any Number Can Play’ (’49), Smith relished her role here, and is wholly unlikable as the nosy landlady. Other important parts are played by Scott Jacoby, as Rynn’s crippled friend Mario, and renowned songwriter Mort Shuman, as the friendly, local cop Miglioriti.

Hungarian born director Nicolas Gessner, had previously made Sharon Tate’s final movie, the frantic farce ‘Twelve Plus One’ (’69), and later the intriguing Ben Gazzara thriller; ‘Quicker Than the Eye’ (’88). The creepily unsettling atmosphere was created by genre stalwart, René Verzier, and the melodic music score was by Christian Gauber.

A captivating thriller, ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane’, holds your attention, and has enough surprises that you are never sure until the very end, who is going to get the final, upper hand. The end title sequence is rather haunting, leaving the final, murderous moments to the viewers imagination.

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