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The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a 1976 film directed by Nicolas Gessner and written by Laird Koenig, based on Koenig's 1974 novel of the same title. The film fits mostly in the genre of psychological thriller drama with elements of romance and horror.

Plot

The film opens on Halloween evening in a New England seaside town, where Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is celebrating her thirteenth birthday alone in her father's house. Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), the landlady's adult son, drops by; he is a pedophile with an unwholesome interest in Rynn, and although he leaves quickly that night when his stepchildren come to the door trick-or-treating, the next day he is waiting in his car to offer her a ride. She studiously ignores him.

Later, Cora Hallet (Alexis Smith), the landlady, arrives at the house. She snoops about, attempting to find out where Rynn's father is, and discreetly asking Rynn whether Frank has been bothering her. Rynn claims her father is in New York, and taunts the landlady about her son. Rynn's snappy answers and self-confidence unsettle Mrs. Hallet. The situation gets tenser when Mrs. Hallet wants to get her jelly glasses from the cellar. Rynn steadfastly refuses to let her in the cellar, despite Mrs. Hallet's threatening her with truancy; finally, the frustrated Mrs. Hallet leaves.

In town, Rynn again runs into Frank, but he is deterred by the appearance of Officer Miglioriti (Mort Shuman) in a police cruiser. Officer Miglioriti drives Rynn home, and the two strike up a kind of friendship. Miglioriti asks where Rynn's father is, and she tells him that he is working and cannot be disturbed.

After Officer Miglioriti leaves, Mrs. Hallet stops by to pick up her jelly glasses. Rynn has retrieved them from the cellar but forgotten the rubber seals. Mrs. Hallet, refusing to be put off again, opens the trap door to the cellar and steps down to get the seals herself. Suddenly terrified by something she sees there, Mrs. Hallet screams and tries to rush up again; she knocks the cellar door support and the cellar door slams down on her head. When Rynn opens the trap door, Mrs. Hallet is dead.

Rynn, after a few moments of shock, tries to hide the evidence; she stuffs Mrs. Hallet's umbrella between the sofa cushions, and goes outside to try to move Hallet's car. Her inability to start the car attracts the attention of Mario (Scott Jacoby), the teenaged nephew of Officer Miglioriti, who is passing by on his bicycle on the way to perform magic tricks at a party. (Mario is dressed in a magician's cape and top hat and carries a cane, but the cane is more than a prop; he walks with a limp due to a childhood bout with polio.) He sees that Rynn is trying to hide something from him, but he agrees to come back and help her move the car after the party.

Later in the evening Rynn and Mario have dinner together at Rynn's house. Officer Miglioriti stops by to tell them that Frank Hallet has reported his mother missing; again, he asks to see her father, but Mario tells him that Rynn's father has gone to bed. This act of loyalty cements the bond between Rynn and Mario.

Frank Hallet makes a surprise visit that same night. He is suspicious and looking for answers about the whereabouts of his mother and Rynn's father. He tries to scare Rynn into talking by torturing and then killing her pet hamster, but eventually Mario chases Frank away with the help of a sword hidden in his cane. Rynn now trusts Mario enough to show him the cellar. Down in the cellar are two corpses: Mrs. Hallet, and Rynn's own mother.

Rynn fixes tea and tells Mario everything. Rynn's father had a terminal illness. He and her abusive mother had divorced long ago, and he wanted to protect Rynn from winding up back in her mother's custody after his death. He moved them to an isolated area and made plans to allow Rynn to live alone; finally, he committed suicide in the ocean so his body would not be found. He left Rynn with a jar of powder, telling her that it was a sedative to give to her mother if she ever came for her — but really it was potassium cyanide. Rynn coolly describes how she put the powder in her mother's tea, how her mother remarked the tea tasted like almonds and she replied that it was only the almond cookies, and how her mother died. (Meanwhile, during this narrative, Mario has been drinking his tea, and now begins to get uneasy; but when he sees Rynn take a drink from her own cup, the two laugh at his momentary fear.)

The romance between Rynn and Mario continues to blossom, and Mario gets more and more involved in the goings-on at Rynn's house. One day, the two move the bodies out of the cellar and bury them by the side of the house. It starts to rain heavily, and Mario catches a terrible cold, despite Rynn's climbing under the covers with him. After dinner, Officer Miglioriti returns to the house, inquiring about her father — he has begun to suspect that her father does not exist. But Rynn calls upstairs, and an old man comes down the stairs, wheezing, to autograph a book of poetry for Miglioriti. Miglioriti does not notice that the old man is Mario, wearing a rubber mask, and with his voice deepened by his cold. After Miglioriti leaves, Mario and Rynn undress and return to bed; Rynn confesses that she has grown to depend on Mario.

Mario's cold develops into pneumonia, and he is sent to the hospital. Rynn comes to see him, but he is unconscious; she feels lonelier than ever before.

As Rynn is going to bed that night she hears the noise of the trap door slamming shut. She goes downstairs and is shocked to see Frank coming out of the cellar. He has put the pieces together and realized that Rynn's father is gone and that Rynn killed Mrs. Hallet. He offers to protect Rynn's secrets in exchange for (implied) sexual favors. Rynn is hesitant, and suggests they have a cup of tea. Into her own cup she places a dose of the cyanide her father gave her; but she plays on Frank's suspicions, and he uses an excuse to switch his teacup for hers, and they drink. He remarks that the tea tastes like almonds, and Rynn replies that it is only the almond cookies. Frank drinks more and coughs a little. Rynn sits still, waiting, while Frank talks slowly about how nice her hair shines and coughs a little more...

Cast

Jodie Foster was at a high point in her career in 1976, having just finished Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone, and Freaky Friday while only 13 or 14 years old. She plays a similar character in the film Foxes (1980): an independent-minded teenager growing up without much help (but some problems) from adults.

For Martin Sheen, this role fell between his performances in Badlands (1973) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

Mort Shuman, who played Officer Miglioriti, is better known as a songwriter and composer of music for films. He was the music supervisor for this film, as well.

Distribution

In order to earn a PG rating, the U.S. version of the film differs from the international release in two ways. First, a line of dialogue containing an expletive is absent in the U.S. version. Second, the international cut contains a scene in which Rynn is naked, with her buttocks and part of her breast visible. (Jodie Foster's body double for that scene was her older sister Connie, who was 21 at the time.) MGM's Region 1 DVD for the film contains the international version of the film, though the packaging and disc still list the PG rating.

Reception

The film received two Saturn Awards (by the American Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films) in 1977:

  • Best Horror Film
  • Best Actress: Jodie Foster

Adaptations

As a novel by Laird Koenig:

  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan; 1974; hardcover, 217 pgs.)
  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (London: Corgis; 1975; softcover)
  • La Petit Fille au bout du Chemin (French translation)

As a drama by Laird Koenig:

  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.; 1997; chapbook, 71 pgs.)

As an (unofficial) poetic interpretation by R. W. Watkins:

  • New England Country Farmhouse (Newfoundland: Nocturnal Iris Publications; 2005; chapbook of haiku based on or inspired by The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane; with an introduction by visual artist and former Fifth Column musician G.B. Jones, 24 pgs.)
  • Continuity Errors: Film Criticism as a Haibun, The Haibun as Film Criticism (from Koenig/Foster fanzine Cellar No. 1 [see below]; Watkins meticuously outlines the film's continuity foul-ups in the form of a haibun - the Japanese literary form consisting of prose interspersed with haiku of a similar theme; 10 pgs.)
  • "La Petit Fille au bout du Chemin" (from Contemporary Ghazals No. 1, 2003; Watkins represents some of the key elements of the novel/screenplay's plot in the form of a ghazal--the Middle Eastern/Indian subcontinent form of poetry written in couplets that feature inner rhyme and end-word/phrase repetition; 1 pg.)

As subject of a fanzine:

  • Cellar (Newfoundland: Nocturnal Iris Publications; 2003- ; R. W. Watkins ed. A Laird Koenig/Jodie Foster "Appreciation Journal", focussing primarily on The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane; featuring essays, poetry, artwork, etc. by R. W. Watkins, Robin Tilley, Rynn Jacobs, Jena von Brücker, etc.)

Differences from the novel

  • In the novel, Rynn was born and raised in England ("mostly London") and speaks with a (sometimes exaggerated) English accent. In the film, however, Rynn speaks in Jodie Foster's Southern California American accent.
  • The novel emphasizes the budding romance between Rynn and Mario more than the film.
  • In the film, Mrs. Hallet is killed accidentally when she knocks the cellar door support and the door falls on her head. In the novel, Rynn intentionally murders Mrs. Hallet by locking her into the cellar and using the hose from the gas heater to poison her.
  • In the novel, Frank Hallet gives a detailed description of how he discovered that Rynn had killed his mother as well as her attempts to cover up the scheme. In the movie, Frank's knowledge of Rynn's deeds is only hinted at.

Soundtrack

Soundtrack albums:

  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Christian Gaubert (Japan: Polydor Records, 1976; "small press run"). This album has never been reissued on CD or in any other format, and no "official" bootlegs are known to exist.
  • Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eliahu Inbal and featuring Claudio Arrau on piano (UK: Philips, 1968). Side 1 of this record was featured prominently on the film's soundtrack, but was not included on the official soundtrack album. This LP has since been reissued in CD format.

See also

References

External links

  • .
  • http://www.geocities.com/rynnfrink/favmovie.html Brief fansite featuring rare cover artwork of early VHS versions, promo poster, film stills, etc.
  • http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/l/little-girl-who-lives-down-the-lane-script.html Uncensored transcript of the film's dialogue.

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