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MGM Studios DVD presents
"It must be the cookies."
DVD Review1976 would be a banner year for Jodie Foster. While still working the Disney circuit with Freaky Friday, the young actress would turn in a number of more mature and daring performances that clearly demonstrated her star potential, including her Oscar-nominated part in Taxi Driver, and the starring role in Nicholas Gessner's The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, based on the novel by Laird Koenig, who also wrote the screenplay. I discovered this film as a young man, and it had an immediate and lasting impact, but it would take years before the reasons for this reaction would finally make sense. Like child prostitution in Taxi Driver or rape in her much later work, The Accused, for its time, the subject of child molestation was far from the public consciousness, and this underlying theme adds to the creepiness of this film, which was well ahead of its time in many other regards as well.
Foster plays 13-year-old Rynn, a young girl who recently moved into a house leased by her father, a famous poet, in a quiet seaside town. Rynn is mature beyond her years, with a taste for the more cultured elements in life, but trouble starts when on Halloween she gets a visit from the landlady's (Alexis Smith) adult son, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), who has a reputation for having more than a casual interest in pretty young girls. When his mother learns of his visit, she is incensed, and her temperment isn't soothed by the confrontational Rynn, who objects to Mrs. Hallet's disregard for her privacy. Trying to assert her authority, Mrs. Hallet sets out to make life difficult for Rynn, but learns all too soon that she is no match for this quick-witted girl. Rynn's distrust of adults is well-founded, but when Mario (Scott Jacoby), a boy crippled by polio, arrives, Rynn's insulated shell begins to dissipate. The two become complicit, trying to defend themselves from Frank's continued advances, and the querying of local police officer (and Mario's uncle) Miglioriti (Mort Shuman).
Although there are a number of shocking revelations, it is misleading to bill this as a horror film, although it quite common is referred to as such. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a suspenseful thriller, but fairly low-key even at that, and what horror elements may exist are tame by today's standards. It is the subtext that creates an unforgettable atmosphere. The mystery surrounding Rynn and her father is unveiled as things progress, and where the disturbing nature lies is in the cat-and-mouse game between the pedophile and his intended prey.
Foster is commanding, her character, exuding her independence, is always one step ahead of the adults, yet there is a frailty that surfaces in the company of Mario. Their relationship also pushed boundaries for its day, made even more pronounced in this version. Sheen plays the slimeball quite convincingly, as does Smith as the snooping landlady who plays a central role in the story. It is not a perfect film, as there are a few events that defy credulity, but it remains a unique and haunting work, highlighted by Foster's performance. Both she and Sheen received Saturn Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for best actress and actor respectively, while the movie also took a Saturn for best horror film and nods to Gessner and Koenig for their contributions.
For those who have been seeking this film out over the years only to find cropped versions of the US cut, MGM has finally provided the longer European version, which adds two brief scenes apparently deemed unsuitable for North American audiences. Love it or hate it, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane will leave in indellible impression.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Presented in its first widescreen transfer on home video, MGM has delivered a gorgeous anamorphic transfer. Colors are well saturated, blacks are solid, and film defects are next to nonexistent. Grain is naturally rendered, the image is clear and detailed without being artificially sharp. After decades of cropped, blurry transfers, this is a real treat.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is solid, with no technical deficiencies to speak of. Some of the looping isn't entirely in sync, but this appears original. Dialogue is easy to discern, and there is no hiss or distortion worth mentioning.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Secret Window, Kingdom Hospital
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The only unfortunate thing about this release is the complete lack of feature-related extras, other than a couple of trailers for Secret Window and Kingdom Hospital.
Although the front cover art is fairly deceptive to the mood of the film, I will give MGM credit for using at least some of the original promotional design elements for the back cover and disc face, including a set of stills found on the theatrical lobby cards.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThe Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane remains a unique installment in Jodie Foster's long and brilliant career. Not only do fans finally get a great anamorphic widescreen transfer, but MGM also delivers by releasing the previously unavailable European cut for the first time in North America. Recommended.
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