Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) will soon reveal that she is not your normal thirteen year old. After moving to a small Maine town with her father, a published poet, she recieves a visit from Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen) who says he is a friend of her father’s. Frank informs Rynn he is in the neighborhood with his kids and is taking them trick-or-treating. Though polite, Rynn is not in the mood for Hallet’s company nor his inappropriate advances towards her. When it’s clear he won’t be seeing Rynn’s father, he touches Rynn inappropriately, claiming birthday spankings are tradition and leaves hastily.
The next day when Rynn runs into Hallet on her way into town to convert some travelers checks into cash at the bank. He sits in his car staring intently at her as she walks by. She ignores him when he opens his passenger door indicating she should get in.
When Rynn returns home, Cora Hallet (Alexis Smith) the mother of Frank and real estate agent who leased the house to Rynn’s father pays a visit. Just as pushy as her son, Rynn fills her in on his visit to the house wherein Ms. Hallet advises: “If my son should come back and your father isn’t here…it might be better if you didn’t let him in.” She then takes note of the furniture that’s been moved around in the furnished home and tries to put certain items back in their original places. Hoping to meet Rynn’s father and to collect a box of Mason jars, Ms. Hallet tries to access the cellar door that Rynn has covered with a rug and table. However, Rynn is adamant that she leave. The conversation becomes heated and it’s revealed that Rynn does not attend public school. Ms. Hallet, who is on the school board threatens to bring up that fact at the next meeting which comes up on Monday. Besides being nosy and pushy, Ms. Hallet has also come on the property to collect grapes and crab apples without permission. Rynn tells her firmly that this is her home and that she would appreciate it if she didn’t drop by unannounced.
The next day Rynn takes a bus to Town Hall to find out if the next school board meeting is really coming up on Monday and learns that Ms. Hallet lied. She runs into Frank again and he offers to drive her home. Rynn turns him down but tells Frank that his mother is welcome to pick up the mason jars and that her father wants to speak with her. When she walks off she is stopped by police officer Ron Miglioriti (Mort Shuman) who gives her a ride home, she offers him an invitation to come inside for tea. Miglioriti wishes to meet Mr. Jacobs Rynn says he is locked away in his study and cannot be disturbed while working. He fills Rynn in on the Hallet’s and how they are a force to be reckoned with in this town.
On Monday, Cora Hallet is back. She tells Rynn that she brought up the girl’s case at a board meeting that morning but Rynn makes no comment and instead tries to apologize for her behavior but Ms. Hallet doesn’t budge. Rynn threatens to tell her father about her son and Ms.. Hallet slaps her, grabs the mason jars and heads towards the door. Realizing that the jars do not have their rubber seals, she demands to go into the cellar to get them despite Rynn’s protests. Once in the cellar, Ms. Hallet’s scream is heard and in her attempt to get out of the cellar, the door hits her on the head killing her instantly.
Once Rynn confirms she is dead she finds the keys to Ms. Hallet’s car and tries to start it in order to take it into town and erase any clue that she was there. Unfortunately, she can’t get the car started and in the process has captured Mario’s (Scott Jacoby) attention. He knows exactly whom the car belongs to, it’s a Bentley and only the Hallet’s have money like that. Though Rynn is evasive about what it is doing there she offers Mario money to help her move it. He does.
Later they dine together at the house and Officer Miglioriti (who is Mario’s uncle) stops by. Miglioriti states that Ms. Hallet is missing and questions whether Rynn has seen her because Frank reported his mother was on her way to the Jacobs home to pick up the jars. Rynn denies she was ever there and Mario reveals that his uncle tried to bust Frank for dragging a little girl into the bushes but was unsuccessful. “All Hallet’s mother did was marry the creep off to some cocktail waitress with two kids – to prove he was normal.”
Officer Miglioriti expresses concern that Frank may show up and cautions Rynn to be careful. After he leaves, Hallet does show up and is upset to find Mario there. Hallet taunts Mario and his obvious limp and kills Rynn’s pet hamster before Mario manages to pull a trick sword from his cane prompting Hallet to leave. When he’s gone, Mario demands to know what happened in the house. Knowing now that she can trust Mario, Rynn takes Mario down to the cellar, where two bodies are stored- Ms. Hallet and Rynn’s mother.
When Rynn’s father found out he was dying he moved to the small town and made two demands of his daughter, one that she never let her estranged mother back into her life, two, that she raise herself and not become a ward of the state. Leaving her enough traveler’s checks to get by and paying the rental fee on the house for three years, Rynn was set to live on her own. However, her mother did show up with plans of what she was going to do with all the money Mr. Jacobs left Rynn. So she did what her father advised and used the white powder he told her to put in her mother’s drink. Thinking it a sedative to make her less aggressive, Rynn eventually realized she had given her mother poison and after doing some research, she learned how to preserve her mother’s body in the cellar. A body she tried to hide from Ms. Hallet.
Mario decides he will help Rynn and together, they throw away the car keys and bury Ms. Hallet in the yard. He also helps convince his uncle that Rynn’s father does exist by dressing up like him and wearing a distinctive mask. But when Mario gets pneumonia and is hospitalized, Hallet makes his move.
When Rynn awakens one night to the sound of someone in her home, she goes downstairs and thinks she is confronting Mario coming up from the cellar. However, it’s Hallet dressed as him and he confronts her with a hairpin belonging to his mother he found down there. Using this as an opportunity to blackmail Rynn into sleeping with him, Hallet soon finds himself taking a cyanide nap. Rynn is not to be messed with.
Though I was a little disturbed by fourteen year old Foster in a nude scene, I was quite impressed with the movie. The plot is somewhat unbelievable and some of the acting is a bit hokey, but Foster, Sheen, and Smith deliver wonderful, chilling performances. I was quite caught up from the start of the film which kept you guessing for the first half what Rynn was hiding.
Big thanks to Le Souffle au Coer for all the great screen shots!
Tonight on TCM! Check out a much younger Alexis Smith! And Happy Birthday Ms. Smith!
The Smiling Ghost (1941) A newswoman investigates a haunted house. Dir: Lewis Seiler Cast: Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall, Alexis Smith.
What does Alexis Smith have in common with Mary Pickford?