Blu-Ray Review: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Director: Nicolas Gessner
Screenplay: Laird Koenig
Based on a novel by: Laird Koenig
Starring: Jodie Foster, Scott Jacoby, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman
Country: France, Canada
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 15


Jodie Foster had quite a year in 1976. Only thirteen when the year came around, she’d already enjoyed a successful career with dozens of TV credits and a couple of films under her belt. 1976 marked the beginning of her transition from child actor in family shows and Disney movies to a truly accomplished actress though. Within one year she starred in the cult classic (at least in more recent years) Bugsy Malone, family favourite Freaky Friday and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which she played a pre-adolescent prostitute. With these films she cemented her place in cinema history in one fell swoop. There was another film released that year though that is less talked about, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (plus Echoes of a Summer, but I know little about that). It won awards for best horror film and best actress for Foster at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, so within genre circles it was well regarded, but it certainly doesn’t share the reputation of the three other 1976 titles I mentioned earlier. Signal One Entertainment felt the need to address the balance a little though and gave the film a decent Blu-Ray release in the UK a couple of years ago. I recently got my hands on a copy and here are my thoughts on it

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane sees Foster play Rynn, a thirteen year old girl living on her own in a small town, but hiding the fact to her rather nosey neighbours. She tells them her father is a poet that is always working upstairs and doesn’t want to be disturbed. One neighbour, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), is a sleazy man, known by the townsfolk for having a taste for young girls and he sees Rynn’s isolation as an opportunity. Frank’s mother (Alexis Smith), who owns the property Rynn rents, is also suspicious of the situation and continues to snoop around, until she is accidentally killed after discovering a dark secret in the house. Rynn hides her body, but local teenager Mario (Scott Jacoby) bumps into her and can see something isn’t right. As the two develop a strong bond, Rynn decides to let him in on her secret and the two do their best to keep on top of things.

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Blu-Ray Review: Melody

Director: Waris Hussein
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: PG


I opened my review of My Life as a Dog this morning by professing my love for coming of age dramas, and what do you know, the other title I had to review today is another coming of age film. What’s that old saying about buses?

Rather than telling a period tale of burgeoning adulthood in rural Sweden though, Melody (a.k.a. S.W.A.L.K. – what a hideous title!) is set in present day (early 70s) London and follows Daniel (Oliver himself, Mark Lester), a middle class boy starting at a mixed comprehensive school with a range of likeminded young rascals. Daniel befriends a naughty but likeable lad called Ornshaw (Jack Wild, also of Oliver! fame). The two are from very different backgrounds, which cause a few issues, but generally they’re inseparable as they get into mischief at school and home. That is until Melody (Tracy Hyde) comes on the scene.

Melody is a good natured dreamer who lives in a council flat with her mother, grandmother and father, although the latter spends more time at the pub than home. Daniel falls madly in love with Melody when he spies on her dancing at school. He stalks her (in a well meaning 12 year old sort of way) until eventually Melody falls for his charms too. All is peachy with them, but Ornshaw isn’t too happy about his friend being otherwise occupied so friction develops between the two boys and the couple get in trouble with their family and the school when they demand to be able to get married now, not in the future as the law demands.

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Blu-Ray Review: Hard Times

Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Walter Hill, Bryan Gindoff, Bruce Henstell
Starring: Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, Strother Martin, Michael McGuire
Country: USA
Running Time: 93 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve always felt Walter Hill was an under-appreciated director. The latter half of his career is rather ropey, but the first half is loaded with taut genre classics. In particular I’m a huge fan of Driver, Hill’s ultra-pared down near art-house car chase movie. He followed that with cult classic The Warriors and also directed Eddie Murphy’s smash hit debut, 48 Hours, the excellent Southern Comfort and a few films I’ve heard good things about, but not seen, such as The Long Riders, Streets of Fire and Extreme Prejudice. I must admit though, I’d never heard of his debut film, Hard Times, until now that Eureka have added it to their illustrious Masters of Cinema collection. With my love of Hill’s early work and a great cast to back it up, I was keen to give it a watch.

Hard Times sees ageing drifter Chaney (Charles Bronson) roll into town (New Orleans during the Depression). He comes across Speed (James Coburn), a hustler who organises street fights and asks if he can set him up with one. Chaney proves to be an exceptionally strong fighter, despite his advancing years, so Speed spies a chance to make a lot of money. He offers to manage Chaney and set him up for a big fight with Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), who’s managed by the wealthy Gandil (Michael McGuire). Speed needs some capital though, so he takes out a loan and they win a warm up bout to get some extra cash. After Chaney beats Jim though and Gandil wants to match him up with another, better fighter, the pressure and money escalates. Speed isn’t so good at keeping hold of cash though and gets into trouble with loan sharks. The more honourable Chaney initially steps away from the situation, but when Speed’s life is truly threatened, he has to decide where his honour lies.

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Blu-Ray Review: Fat City

Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Leonard Gardner
Based on a Novel by: Leonard Gardner
Starring: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark, Nicholas Colasanto
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15


The late John Huston had an unusual career. Making his directorial debut with a cast iron classic, The Maltese Falcon, followed by a handful of other masterpieces, award winners and commercial hits, he then hit the doldrums for a while, making a couple of gems among the rough, but struggling to stay relevant as the 60’s rolled on. 1972’s Fat City was a bit of a comeback though, critically at least, leading to a pretty solid end to his career and life (we can forget about Annie). It’s been rather forgotten over time, but the critical love for Fat City remained enough to prompt this fine re-release package by the up-and-coming UK label, Indicator. Before I dig into Fat City I must take a minute to applaud Powerhouse Films for digging out so many lesser known gems, bravely picking some less than obvious titles to launch the first few months of their Indicator label. They pull out all the stops for special features too. Adding to the wonderful Blu-Rays released by Eureka, Arrow and The Criterion Collection, I’m truly spoilt for classic and cult re-releases these days.

Anyway, back to Fat City. Tully (Stacy Keach) is a former boxer who had a chance to make it big, but fell apart due to personal problems (he blames a woman and his manager, but as the film goes on we realise he’s got a drinking problem). When heading back to the gym in an attempt to get back into the sport, he comes across young Ernie (Jeff Bridges) training there for a bit of fun. Seeing potential in the 18 year old, Tully recommends Ernie speak to his ex-manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto – better known to me as Coach from Cheers). The film then charts, largely separately, Tully’s attempts to get back in the ring whilst battling personal demons and Ernie’s development as a boxer in the rough ‘skid row’ of Stockton, California. As both struggle to find the level of success Tully in particular dreams about, their lives intertwine with two women – Tully’s with alcoholic Oma (Susan Tyrrell) and Ernie’s with teenager Faye (Candy Clark).

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Blu-Ray Review: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson
Based on a Story by: Sam Peckinpah, Frank Kowalski
Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández, Kris Kristofferson
Country: USA, Mexico
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘ve long been a huge fan of The Wild Bunch, but I’ve not seen much of the director Sam Peckinpah’s other work. I can remember watching Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid when I was a youngster, but I didn’t get into it and the mixed reviews some of his other work received put me off a bit. I’ve matured since then though, so I feel I might appreciate Pat Garrett more these days and I’m keen to venture further into Peckinpah’s filmography after a recent rewatch of The Wild Bunch reminded how fantastic it is. Arrow Video have helped me along by releasing his follow up to Pat Garrett, the unambiguously titled Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

The film opens powerfully with a pregnant Mexican teenager, initially relaxing by a river, being taken in shackles to see her crime lord father (El Jefe – played by Emilio Fernández), who demands to find out who the father of her baby is. She refuses to say, until she has her arm or finger broken by some thugs and she cries out “Alfredo Garcia”. This leads to El Jefe making the titular order to his gang of hired heavies and crooks. Two cold-hearted, business-like men on the hunt for Garcia end up in a small bar where Bennie (Warren Oates) plays the piano. He’s heard of the man and is willing to find him for the right price. His girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) had been sleeping around with Garcia and claims that he recently died in a car accident. Undeterred, Bennie takes Elita on a road trip to find Garcia’s body, chop off the head and deliver it to El Jeffe’s goons. This poor decision begins a domino effect though and Bennie sinks lower than it seems one man is able to descend.

It’s a grim and grimy film. Most of the characters are pretty reprehensible, even Elita has her flaws. There’s plenty of nudity, violence and general degradation as Bennie makes his bloody road trip. It certainly shares the grit and nihilism of The Wild Bunch as well as the strange sense of melancholy. The film supposedly plays like a metaphor for Peckinpah’s life and work. Like his endless problems with studio heads interfering with his films and never getting final cut on them (this was the first and possibly only time he got it), Bring Me the Head sees its hero get constantly shat on, particularly by those in positions of authority. Bennie also tries to drown his sorrows in drink with little success and loves his girlfriend but treats her poorly. You get the sense this is a surprisingly personal film then, despite the seemingly outlandish premise, so it is quite a bleak and angry affair.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Hired Hand

Director: Peter Fonda
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15


Any regular readers will know I’m a big western fan and may or may not know I’ve got a soft spot for 70’s American cinema too. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Peter Fonda’s 1971 western The Hired Hand I didn’t have to think twice, even though I’d never heard of the film before being handed the press release.

In the film, Harry (Fonda himself), his friend Arch (Warren Oates) and a young man are cowboys roaming from town to town. Upon reaching a dead end town, his associates decide to move on to the California coast, but Harry, fed up of the nomad life, decides to head back home to his estranged wife and child. Arch, who’s been travelling with Harry for several years, at first decides to let his friend go alone, but when their young companion is ‘accidentally’ killed by a man named McVey (Severn Darden), he decides to go with him. Once there, Harry’s wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) isn’t too happy to see him though. It’s been many years and she’d assumed he was dead and told their daughter as much. Harry talks her into letting him stay as a hired hand on the farm though, with a hope of reconciliation over time. When he finds out Hannah has been sleeping with the hired help whilst he’s been away though, the relationship becomes even more strained. This and the spectre of the cowboy life hanging over Harry, not helped by Arch’s presence, cause a slow and uncertain path to rebuilding his family.

As this brief synopsis shows, The Hired Hand isn’t your typical western. It’s one of the revisionist or anti-westerns that began to emerge in the 60’s. They sought to steer away from the stereotypes of the classic westerns and deconstruct the myths of the wild west. The Hired Hand shows the cowboy lifestyle to be an unglamorously dangerous, lonely and miserable existence; with poor food, little comfort at night and far too much time spent unwelcome in tiny, middle of nowhere towns. Harry’s young companion for instance, who is full of enthusiasm for his travels to the coast, comes to a grisly, unromantic end for little to no reason (though we never quite find out the truth behind it).

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Blu-Ray Review: Three Days of the Condor

Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr, David Rayfiel
Based by a Novel by: James Grady
Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow
Country: USA
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


Sydney Pollack is a director whose career is full of well known and often well-respected films (Tootsie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Jeremiah Johnson etc.) but he doesn’t really attract the same kind of admiration that other directors who found fame in the late 60’s and 70’s do. Perhaps he had less of a signature style than most so is seen as a ‘director for hire’, but it’s hard to find many others with so many solid titles under their belt and so few clunkers (although his 90’s/00’s work isn’t as strong as his 70’s/80’s output). I must admit I’ve not seen a huge number of his films and some I haven’t seen for years (Tootsie and The Firm), but I love his underrated gangster movie The Yakuza and can’t resist a 70’s thriller, so didn’t hesitate to volunteer to review his 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, finally released in the UK (it’s never been available on home video for some reason) on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD as part of Eureka’s excellent Masters of Cinema collection.

Based on a novel called Six Days of the Condor, the film adaptation was originally going to be directed by Peter Yates and star Warren Beatty, but Beatty turned it down. The producer’s second choice, Robert Redford, was interested, but only if his friend Sydney Pollack could direct it. Yates was promptly paid off and Redford and Pollack began to make the project their own, rejecting the original script which they weren’t happy with (largely because they weren’t convinced by the novel itself) and forging the film that would become Three Days of the Condor.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Paul Monash
Based on a Novel by: George V. Higgins
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15


I love American cinema from the 70’s and I’m a fan of Peter Yates’ classic cop thriller Bulllitt, so it was a no-brainer for me to accept an offer to review Yates’ 1973 crime drama The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I must admit I hadn’t heard of the film prior to Eureka announcing their new Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray/DVD, but it sounded very much like my cup of tea and skimming online suggested that it’s highly regarded.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle tells the story of a group of criminals and a federal agent whose lives are intertwined around a low-rate crook named Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum). He’s looking at some jail time, but is advancing in years, struggling to make ends meet at home and doesn’t want to leave his wife and kids on welfare. His hope for redemption comes in selling guns to a busy group of bank robbers to keep the cash coming in, whilst shopping in his gun-runner contact Jackie Brown (Steven Keats) to convince the federal agent on his back, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), to drop his prison sentence. Unbeknownst to Eddie though, Dillon (Peter Boyle), the bartender who set up the deal that got Eddie arrested in the first place, is also talking to Foley. So things can’t end well.

This is further proof, if it were needed, of what was great about 70’s American cinema (even if it’s from a British director). Gritty, dark and grim, it thrives on its characters rather than a particularly involving story or exciting set pieces. It was surprising for me to see such a low key drama after only knowing Yates for Bullitt, which is famous for its mind-blowingly good car chase climax. There are a handful of tense scenes in Eddie Coyle too, such as the cold and calculated bank heists and a stake out at a train station which ends in a brief flash of Yates’ car chase handling skills, but these aren’t what really make the film shine.

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Blu-Ray Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Roger Ebert
Based on a Story by: Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett
Country: USA
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 18


Russ Meyer is an unusual character in the history of American cinema. His first feature film as a director (after working as a combat cameraman in WWII) was The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). Widely acknowledged as the first commercially viable American ‘skin flick’ (or softcore porn as the films are more commonly known these days), it grossed more than $1,500,000 in the US at the time of its release from a budget of a mere $24,000. This success spurred Meyer on to make a name for himself as the ‘king of the skin flicks’, producing dozens of successful exploitation films that always featured incredibly buxom female stars, even when his films started to mix in other genres and become wild action-packed romps.

What’s interesting and unusual about Meyer is that, despite his reputation for making what were pretty much porn films, he actually became respected as a filmmaker in many circles. One of the key reasons for this was that he showed all the traits of being a true auteur. He worked as director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and film editor on many of his films, giving him a huge amount of control over the end product. His films had a recognisable style because of this. As well as the large-breasted stars, his films had a punchy editing style and bold, well composed cinematography. He made exploitation movies that actually looked good and were well put together, unlike many of the ‘skin flicks’ that would follow in his wake.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls represents an unusual point in Meyers career though. After Easy Rider, which was cheaply produced by a bunch of young ‘hippies’, became a huge unexpected success for Columbia Pictures, the other studios wanted in on the action. A number of the companies believed that giving money to young directors, fresh out of film school, would produce exciting counter-culture movies that the nation’s youth would flock to see (which is what kick-started the 70’s New Hollywood movement). 20th Century Fox’s plan though was to give a large budget to an already successful indie director with a reputation for making commercially successful genre films for very little money. The director they chose was Russ Meyer and the film he made was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

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Blu-Ray Review: 3 Women

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Robert Altman, Patricia Resnick (uncredited)
Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier
Country: USA
Running Time: 124 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: PG


1977’s 3 Women came at the end of Robert Altman’s ‘golden age’ in the 70’s. Prior to that he’d found success with the surprise hit M*A*S*H* at the start of the decade and followed it up with classics like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville. There were a few curiosities in between, such as Buffalo Bill and the Indians, but largely he could do no wrong. 3 Women was divisive (usual Altman champion Pauline Kael wasn’t a fan), but it still won a fair few awards (mainly for the performances) and had its followers. After that, he began a decline into his ‘troubled’ 80’s period when he fell totally out of favour before coming back with a few masterpieces in the 90’s (alongside some more clunkers).

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the production or reception of 3 Women caused his decline, but it’s a very unusual film, even by Altman’s standards. Perhaps it shows him getting frustrated and trying to do something completely new. His previous films had notable differences, but most of them had an ‘Altmanesque’ style and feel, with anarchic overlapping dialogue, often quite large casts and a need to subvert film genres or American ideals. There are hints of some of these characteristics in 3 Women, but it feels more like an art film from a European director. Supposedly Altman was influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and there are certainly similarities in style as well as content.

3 Women opens with Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) starting a new job in a rehabilitation spa in California. Millie (Shelley Duvall) is asked to show her the ropes and you see Pinky quickly develop an obsessive admiration or possibly desire for the woman. Millie is lonely and deluded. She acts like she’s living the perfect existence of a modern woman with her designed apartment and her regular dates and dinner parties that never actually happen.

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Blu-Ray Review: Paper Moon

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Based on a Book by: Joe David Brown
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: PG


Peter Bogdanovich had a remarkable start to his directorial career. After training as an actor in the 50’s, working as a film programmer for MOMA and a film journalist, he eventually turned his hand to directing with the well received Targets, produced by Roger Corman. We’ll ignore Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (when Bogdanovich worked under the pseudonym Derek Thomas) and say that the next three films he made were all critical and/or commercial successes. In 1971, The Last Picture Show (which I shamefully have yet to see) wowed everyone and the following year he made the hit comedy What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, then in 1973 he released the Oscar-winning Paper Moon. Bogdanovich was box office gold and a darling with the critics (although Paper Moon had a few detractors), but from then on his career made one of the most spectacular nose dives in cinema history. Everything since has been mediocre or a curiosity at best and it’s hard to see how that happened. From the extra features included with this new re-release of Paper Moon it doesn’t sound like Bogdanovich had a hard time and the success shouldn’t have harmed him, but for whatever reason, he never regained his momentum.

Rather than lamenting the director’s decline though, let’s celebrate one of his cast iron classics.

Paper Moon sees low rent con man Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) saddled with a newly orphaned girl, Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), who may or may not be his daughter. He is to send the girl to her aunt in Missouri, but after the sharp 9 year old cottons on to Moses’ scam which earned him $200 from the death of her mother, Addie demands he repays the money to her. Having spent it already, Moses is forced to tow her along whilst he swindles the money out of local widowers through his bible salesman shtick.

Addie isn’t as dumb and innocent as you’d think of a girl her age though and it soon becomes clear that she can teach Moses a thing or two about grifting. So the two become a con double act, robbing the American public (who are suffering from the effects of the Great Depression) along their trip across the state. As well as improving his less honourable skills, Addie gradually helps Moses become a slightly more responsible and honest man too, which leads to a final dilemma as to what to do with the young girl.

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