Actors – Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Scott Jacoby, Mort Shuman
Director – Nicholas Gessner
Released by Kino Lorber
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
When this came out it was regarded as a great sleeper by those who managed to see it. The film was heavily promoted as a horror film with a poster that showed a dark silhouette of a little girl standing over a freshly dug grave. The movie is in fact a very well thought out mystery with a narrative that keeps twisting and turning in refreshing directions. Naturally any film about a precocious kid who may be a murder lives and dies by the performance of the person cast in the lead role. Jodie Foster won accolades and an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress for her work as the teenage prostitute Iris in Taxi Driver. She also won raves for her role in Alan Parker’s gangster musical Bugsy Malone. Four films with her came out in 1976. It was very clear that not only could she act but that she could handle more mature material. This was one child actor that was going to stay in the business well beyond her early years.
Foster plays a girl who lives almost all by herself in a big remote house in a very old fashioned community. She is incredibly self reliant. She cashes travelers checks at the bank, has her groceries delivered and does not bother with going to school. Her father is a poet who apparently spends most of his time traveling or locked in his room working. He bought a three year lease on the house after his wife died. As the film starts two people start to pick away and prod at this world that young Ryan (Foster) has carefully constructed for herself. First up to bat is Martin Sheen. He is a pervert whose mother’s political connections in town managed to keep him out of jail. He comes trick or treating to her house just oozing lecherous and predatory behavior. When he finds out it is her birthday he gives Ryan a swat on the butt that it very creepy.
The next one to call on Ryan is Mrs. Hallet played by Alexis Smith. She is the women who leases them the house. She is also Sheen’s mother. She is bossy and judgmental. Hallet behaves as if she is the sole voice of the town and it is her job as the realtor to protect everyone from people like Ryan and her father. Her remarks are full of prejudice against Jews and artists. She snaps out demands and instructions while promising to report Ryan at the next school board meeting. You want Foster to scream, you’re not the boss of me and throw this bitch out on her ear.
Ryan does have two allies though. One is the friendly neighborhood cop. Mort Schuman who wrote classic rock songs with his partner Doc Pomus like Save The Last Dance For Me and Viva Las Vegas turns in a surprisingly effective role as Officer Miglioriti. If you ever needed a friend when you’re in trouble this is guy you’d want. Shuman connects so easily with Foster here. Their scenes together have a genuine charm to them. Then there is Scott Jacoby as the nerdy kid with a childhood limp who hides his loneliness in a magician’s top hat. Jacoby got a lot of nerdy little boy roles but he is best remembered as the creepy kid who lived inside the walls in the TV Movie Bad Ronald. His character and Foster’s begin a friendship that turns to romance.
Laird Koenig’s script based on his novel behaves very much like a stage play. Most of the film takes place in the living room. Director Gessner’s blocking is very concentrated too. Much of the film is shot with a standard TV movie kind of lighting. Nothing is outstanding. There are no camera flourishes. Everything is clear. This allows us to focus on the characters and the narrative which constantly keeps closing in on Ryan. We’re clearly on her side rooting for her to protect her fragile world. Yet there are these strong suspicions about her behavior and some of the missing people who have come to the house. Koenig’s story works well. He solves the mystery and stays true to his characters. That last shot which holds on Foster’s face for what feels like a full three minutes as the credits role gives us just the right tone to finish on. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a highly recommend film. It’s a solid mystery with some horrorific shadings driven by an excellent cast. Back when it came out it was one of those films that those in the know loved to turn their friends on to. It is still not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. They call them sleepers and this is absolutely one of them.
Video – 1.85:1
Colors are all fine. Source materials appears to be in fine shape. The film has a flat TV movie kind of look to it. However that suits the theatrical stage play feeling of the film well.
Audio – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track with no subtitles offered
All dialogue is easily understood. Effects and music sit well in the mix.
Extras – On Camera interview with star Martin Sheen, Commentary with director Nicolas Gessner, Conversation between Sheen and Gessner, Original theatrical trailer, Reversible cover with original poster
For Sheen and Gessner’s conversation we watch Sheen converse with the director seen via Skype on a computer screen. Sheen is very effusive in both this one and his solo interview about the relaxed set the director created. He remembers how impressed he was with Foster‘s acting ability at such a young age. He also assures us that no real hamsters were hurt in the making of the film.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent