The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Jodie Foster attracted the world's attention at age 13 when she delivered two 1976 two performances that seemed to be channeling a 30-year-old woman into her childlike body. The more famous of the two is Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, in which both Jodie Foster and DeNiro would deliver performances which would soon be regarded as iconic, and are now considered among the most memorable of the century. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane was Jodie's other precocious performance that year. The two roles demonstrate quite a range of acting ability from Foster because, though both characters seem old beyond their years, the Taxi Driver character was a tough street urchin, while this one is a refined lady, daughter of a poet, with al the physical and vocal mannerisms of the upper crust. It can be eerie to watch this film because her voice and inflections seem identical to the grown Jodie we see acting today in films like Inside Man, yet the words are coming out of a child's mouth.

The little girl of the title has recently moved to a small American town from England. She lives in a big house, rented for three years pre-paid, with a mysterious father whom nobody has ever seen. Visitors drop by, but there is always some reason why father can't come down for tea. The story focuses on four of those visitors: (1) a nosy landlady (2) the landlady's perverted son, played by a young Martin Sheen (3) a kindly local sheriff (4) a handicapped boy who will be come to be little girl's co-conspirator. It's obvious to the visitors that something is fishy, and it's also obvious to the audience that the father is not really available, but the little girl manipulates people just enough to avoid admitting that father doesn't exist.

The plot takes a dramatic twist one day when the nosy landlady falls and accidentally kills herself while poking around the basement. The little girl realizes that she has to do something drastic, because a police investigation will certainly reveal that her father doesn't exist, and will also bring out some even more unpleasant secrets. She enlists the assistance of the young dreamer in disposing of the body and, when she takes him entirely into her trust, their conversations become the screenwriting device which allows us to penetrate her veil of secrecy.

There are still two other matters to be attended to. First, the police officer has to pursue the case of the missing landlady, so his curiosity will somehow have to be deflected. Second, the pervert will eventually figure out what happened to his mother, but he may not go to the police with his suspicions. Will he use his knowledge to blackmail the little girl for sexual favors? The two young kids will band together to find a way to deal with these matters, and in the process they will become lovers.

A unique element of this film is that Jodie Foster is shown undressing to go to bed with the boy. 13-year-old Jodie did not do the nude scene, but it looks seamless because it was performed by her look-alike sister Connie, age 21, who also did some body doubling for Jodie in Taxi Driver.

Jodie's performance is uncanny for someone her age; Scott Jacoby (who was actually 19 when the film was made) is likeable and sympathetic as her accomplice; and Martin Sheen is suitably creepy as the child molester. Cast in the part of the landlady was Alexis Smith, in her fifties here, but once one of the great screen sirens of the 1940s, a legendary beauty from British Columbia, and Errol Flynn's statuesque co-star in the 1942 biopic of the boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett, which was filmed when she was only twenty. Alexis had been in virtual retirement in the 1960s, but made a comeback with a 1972 Tony as the star of a Broadway musical, and went on from there to a second film career. Her union with Craig Stevens, TV's Peter Gunn, was one of the rare successful marriages in showbiz. They were together for nearly 50 years, from the time Alexis was 23 until her death at 72 in 1993.

The film is not only performed well, but has an excellent little script which reveals its secrets at just about the right speed, maintains an aura of suspense, and even includes a few moments of surprisingly high tension. The author, Laird Koenig, adapted the screenplay from his own novel. Apart from this, his most noteworthy success was the screenplay for Red Sun, the offbeat Western with Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune.

Little Girl does have a somewhat inconclusive and vague ending, in that it leaves many plot threads hanging. My first reaction to the ending was disappointment, but when I thought about it I realized that author of a suspense film has to determine the most effective place to end the story, and this was actually a good choice. There is no reason why this story should spoon-feed every possible detail to the audience. The ending was provocative and mysterious, and the value of those elements was greater than the value which would have been achieved by closure. (And any reasonable closure might have been annoying, given our emotional investment in the two children.)

Overall, this is quite a good film, a slick elegant and subtle thriller in the manner of Hitchcock, and deserves to be remembered.



  • The transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and is good, but there are no extra features


Connie Foster, doubling for sister Jodie, showed her bum in good light, as well as fleeting glimpses of her breasts.

The Critics Vote ...

  • TV Guide scores it 3.5 out of 4. 

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, top-notch genre fare, undeservedly banished to the Hall of Obscurity.

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