Contributor; Chicago, Illinois
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Before her recent box office blockbuster success and way before Silence of the Lambs a young actress named Jodie Foster, respected but not a superstar, made one of the best suspense thrillers of the seventies. Not only does this movie take place around Halloween but it reminds me of when I was was fourteen and fifteen and trying to decide if I was to old to dress up. The alternative- toilet papering houses and soaping windows (or breaking mailboxes with a baseball bat) seemed like a window into a new world. Did I want to step inside or would others even leave me a choice? This is a movie about coming of age that has aged as gracefully and powerfully as it's timeless theme.

MGM Home Entertainment

Odds are you’ve only heard of this film in passing to which I say lucky you. If atmospheric creepiness and thoughtful psychological thrills are your thing you should definitely mark this down as a Halloween 2005 must. Finally available on DVD Jodie Foster’s controversial The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane not only demonstrates her immense talent but offers a chilling look at coming of age and a story so unique you’ve probably literally seen anything quite like it before.

Jodie Foster plays 13-year-old Rynn a gifted teenager who may or may not be living alone in a large leased house on the edge of town. Pressed by obnoxious adults to produce her father, a famous but reclusive poet who doesn’t like to be disturbed during his work, and threatened by the town pedophile and son of her rich landlord, Frank Hallet, the teen reveals her stunning secret to a slightly older boy magician. Can they keep the families secrets and what price are they willing to pay to do so?

The cast is pitch perfect. Martin Sheen has never been more effectively creepy than he is as William Hallert and Scott Jacoby is a wonder as Mario the resourceful boyfriend of Rynn. Either of these roles could have been easy to overplay but these actors bring a sense of precarious balance to the dangerous situation their characters are trapped in. But the real star of this show is the writing. Rather than plot out an unnecessarily intricate scenario the film presents an already complex story in the simplest but most effective theatrical style. It’s a wonder this hasn’t already been turned into a hit stage play or even a musical.

The controversy stemmed from a very brief, and by today’s standards chaste, nude scene that the then 14 or 15 year old Foster had with her teen costar Jacoby. The film doesn’t make much of it and I’m guessing neither will you even if you’re the unfortunate type that likes to fast forward to such moments. The reason to see The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is the food for thought it provides about the terror of growing up.

The only downside is the score, which is squarely mid-seventies keyboard cheese. This is the only American film of any notoriety from French director Nicholas Gessner and it’s a shame that he wasn’t given the opportunity to comment on his work. Likewise I would have loved to hear Foster’s take on this highly regarded early career choice. A better edition of the film may come out in the future. But don’t let a lack of extras keep you from discovering just what lies in the house at the end of the lane this Halloween.

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PygarOctober 20, 2005 2:24 AM

Sorry to disappoint, but the nude scene was performed by Foster's elder sister, in order to sidestep any controversy.

Saw this one when it came out in the UK. Hasn't been out on home video for a looong time.

After Martin Sheen's appearence in this (1977) film and THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, I thought he'd never escape typecasting as psycho-baddies!

nilblogetteOctober 27, 2005 9:05 AM

I watched the DVD last night and I was shocked by every aspect of it - that I had barely heard of this amazing film, that the very first scene confronts the menace of Sheen's character without any attempt to sugarcoat it, that it was rated PG considering the nudity and subject matter whereas the movie probably couldn't even get made today, and that Gessner didn't have a bigger American career.