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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Family Plot can be found here.
Yes. Family Plot was based on the 1972 novel The Rainbird Pattern by English author Victor Canning. It was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who had previously worked with director Alfred Hitchcock on North by Northwest (1959).
Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the novel was written to be a much darker story and that Hitchcock turned it into a light-hearted comedy.
Because the plot actually revolves around two stories that are unfolding separately and concurrently and don't start coming together until halfway through the movie, making it hard at times for the audience to follow. One story revolves around Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a fake spiritualist, and her con artist boyfriend, George Lumley (Bruce Dern). They are attempting to locate Eddie Shoebridge, the nephew of one of Blanche's clients, a wealthy old woman named Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), who wants to make Eddie (her nephew) an heir and is willing to pay Blanche $10,000 if she can locate Eddie's whereabouts through her spirit guide Henry. Meanwhile, the second part of the plot involves Eddie Shoebridge, now a successful jeweler going by the name of Arthur Adamson (William Devane), has a little scheme of his own going with his wife Fran (Karen Black). They kidnap prominent individuals and ransom them for diamonds. These two concurrent stories intertwine when Arthur and Fran begin to suspect that Blanche and George are on to them. Once you figure out what's going on, the movie begins to fall into place.
The reason that Eddie, at age 17, had Joe Maloney (Ed Lauter) set the fire that killed his adoptive parents, Harry and Sadie Shoebridge, in 1950 is not brought out in the movie. Some viewers conclude he was after their money, but that theory doesn't hold water since Eddie also made it look like he died in the fire, too. A more probable explanation is that he felt his parents were abusive, controlling, or some other reason that made Eddie dislike them.
Eddie's mother was the sister of Julia Rainbird. Eddie was born out of wedlock in 1933, a time when illegitimate pregnancies caused family scandals, something the wealthy Rainbirds would want to avoid at all cost. Consequently, Julia convinced her sister to give the baby away for adoption.
Ketamine is an anesthetic commonly used in human and veterinary medicine. Because it does not suppress breathing the way many other anesthetics do, it doesn't require the use of respirators and other life support systems. Its main side effect is that it can cause hallucinations.
Arthur and Fran trap Blanche in the basement when she comes to tell them the good news about the Rainbird inheritance. After they have switched Bishop Wood for the diamond, they return to the basement with the intention of killing Blanche. Meanwhile, George has noticed Blanche's car outside and snuck into the house to find her. George and Blanche end up trapping Arthur and Fran in the basement. Blanche is elated when she thinks about how much the reward will be for catching these thieves, until George points out how much more it will be if they could also locate the stolen diamonds. Suddenly, Blanche seems to go into a trance and makes her way to the crystal chandelier on which the diamonds are hanging. George congratulates Blanche for really being a psychic. Blanche smiles and winks at the camera.
Probably not. It is said that Hitchcock didn't want her to be portrayed as possessing psychic powers. The logical explanation is that, after Adamson gave Blanche the Ketamine shot in the garage, he carries her up the stairs from the garage to the house and says to his Fran: "Come on, Fran. Let's go get another diamond for our chandelier." Blanche is in his arms, supposedly unconscious. Maybe yes, maybe no—but either way, she probably heard Adamson say there was a diamond in the chandelier. Hitchcock added this line late in production, and Adamson had to come in and actually dub it back in.
In the novel, Blanche is not saved by George when the Adamsons (who have different names in the novel) capture her. The Adamsons kill Blanche, and they are in turn killed by the British police (the story takes place in England in the book). The Adamsons' son is taken away, and he is placed with Julia Rainbird. The boy pushes Julia down her staircase to her death. As the novel ends, the boy is thinking of all the people he must kill to avenge his dead parents. He intends to start with George Lumley.
About 38 minutes into the film, Hitchcock can be seen in silhouette through the glass door of the office of the Registrar of Births and Deaths. The scene is all of a few seconds long. If you blink you'll miss it. It's rumored that Hitchcock filmed his cameo in silhouette so as not to show his aging visage onscreen. Hitch was 77 years old at the time he made this movie. It was his last film, and he died four years later.
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