Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!
I’m not sure how to address The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. There are a few things here that feel unique or close to unique in this film. This is also a story that touches on some really upsetting topics, topics that we don’t typically talk about in polite company. What do I mean by this? I mean specifically that this is a movie in which ephebophilia plays a big role. As it happens, it’s the second movie I know of from 1976 that features a story based at least in part on this topic and starring Jodie Foster.
The story here is a simple one on the surface. Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is a 13-year-old girl living in a huge house in a small Maine seaside town. She seems very precocious, and at the start of the film appears to be celebrating her 13th birthday by herself. She is visited by a local named Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), who tells her that she should be prepared for visitors as it is Halloween. Frank is also overly familiar with young Rynn in a way that is genuinely unpleasant.
We learn quite a bit from the three people Rynn meets next. First, Rynn is visited by Frank’s mother Cora (Alexis Smith), who is also the landlord for the house. Cora Hallet is aggressive and threatening and demands to see Rynn’s father. Rynn claims that her father, a noted poet, is working and cannot be disturbed. Mrs. Hallet also wants jelly jars from the basement, but Rynn is unwilling to let her go down to get them, saying she will retrieve them for her. When Cora Hallet comes back, she charges into the basement herself, screams at something that we don’t see, and when trying to get out, has the trapdoor fall on her head. When she falls down the stairs from this, she lands dead, presumably with a broken neck.
Rynn also meets Officer Miglioriti (Mort Shuman), who seems much friendlier (genuinely so) than either of the Hallets. Migiloriti tells her that Frank Hallet has an unsavory reputation—that he has been known to be inappropriate with girls her age before but he and the other police have been prevented from doing anything about it by Cora Hallet. She also meets Mario (Scott Jacoby), who is Miglioriti’s nephew. There’s an immediate attraction between Rynn and Mario despite him being a few years older than she is.
Eventually, somewhat beholden to him for moving Cora’s car and helping her deal with Frank Hallet, Rynn comes clean to Mario. Her father moved her to this small town after divorcing his wife. He was ill and set her up with at least three years’ worth of money and pre-paid rent before killing himself. Rynn’s mother found her, and Rynn followed her father’s advice and dosed her tea with what turned out to be potassium cyanide—and Rynn stored her mother’s body in the basement. Now she lives on her own, desperate to protect those secrets and willing to do anything to keep them.
The idea of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a fascinating one. How exactly does a young girl manage to live by herself without alerting people to there being a problem. There are only so many times that she can claim her father is with his publisher in New York or that he is translating or sleeping. This is also in the 1970s, when the idea of homeschooling was still a fringe idea and nearly two decades away from being legalized.
Of course, the darker story here is that of Frank Hallet, who is clearly looking to find out what he can to use that as ammunition to keep Rynn in a form of sexual slavery to him. When it’s clear that he has figured out a number of things about Rynn and her situation—and that he likely has suspicions about what might have happened to his mother, his focus is still on Rynn and getting what he wants from her. This is a very upsetting movie in that respect. There is very much a sense of wanting to shower after watching, something enhanced by the skills of both Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen.
It's also troubling because of Rynn’s relationship with Mario. Mario is clearly older than she is—old enough to drive, so at least 16. He may be as old as 18 (the actor was 20), but the film clearly includes the beginnings of a sexual relationship between the two of them. But, we like Mario, or are meant to. He’s sweet and funny and genuinely helpful with Rynn’s issues. But isn’t that relationship almost as problematic?
It's also necessary to say that there is a nude scene here (essentially ass and sideboob), a scene that, at the time, forced Foster to walk off the set. It’s worth noting that the scene is performed by Connie Foster, Jodie’s 21-year-old (at the time) sister. Still, it’s no less upsetting for what it portrays.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a good film, but it’s also a significantly unpleasant one in a lot of ways.
Why to watch The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane: It’s very much its own story.
Why not to watch: A lot of loose ends don’t get tied up.