This is Alfred Hitchcock's final film and its final shot was of a woman breaking the fourth wall by looking straight into the camera and winking at the audience. This was arguably a fitting coda to his career exemplifying the black humor that was prevalent in his movies.
At one point during filming, Bruce Dern questioned Alfred Hitchcock about why he was cast in the movie. Hitchcock replied, "Because Mr. Packinow wanted a million dollars, and Hitch doesn't pay a million dollars." It took Dern a while to realize that "Mr. Packinow" was Al Pacino.
After this movie was completed, Alfred Hitchcock worked on the film script for the spy thriller 'The Short Night'. He never got to direct it due to his ailing health and it was not made. It would have been his fifty-fourth film. 'The Short Night' still has never been filmed to this day.
Cinematographer Leonard J. South once said of working with Alfred Hitchcock on this movie: "He asks what lens you have on the camera, then he looks at the scene and he knows what will appear on the screen. He's rarely wrong. And he never moves the camera without a reason. When it moves, it's because the audience should be looking around with the actors. He's very specific about that."
Actor Bruce Dern had previously worked with Alfred Hitchcock on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) as well as having had a small role in Marnie (1964). Dern once said of working with Alfred Hitchcock on this movie: " . . . he noticed everything - a shadow on a performer's face, a few seconds too long on a take. Just when we thought he had no idea what was going on, he'd snap us all to attention with the most incredible awareness of some small but disastrous detail that nobody would have noticed until it got on screen. And then he'd be bored again."
As a publicity stunt to promote this movie, Alfred Hitchcock held a press conference junket in a mocked-up fake cemetery. Journalists had their names embossed on mock gravestones and the whole event was a reference to this movie's Family Plot (1976) cemeterial title.
Roy Thinnes was originally hired to play Arthur Adamson, but Hitchcock's first choice William Devane became available so Hitchcock fired Thinnes without a reason and hired Devane. Some key scenes had been shot prior to this. Everything that had been shot was re-shot except for long shots which to this day remain as Roy Thinnes and not William Devane.
When Burt Reynolds was considered for the part of Arthur Adamson, Hitchcock watched The Longest Yard (1974) to see if he was right for the role. Hitchcock was instead impressed with Ed Lauter and cast him in the role of Maloney.
Alfred Hitchcock once said of this film: It's ". . . a melodrama treated with a bit of levity and sophistication. I want[ed] the feeling of the famous director Ernst Lubitsch making a mystery thriller."
Alfred Hitchcock initially wanted Al Pacino for the role of Lumley. According to an interview on the DVD with Bruce Dern, who ultimately got the part, Pacino's asking price was too high because of the recent successes he had enjoyed (Serpico (1973), The Godfather (1972), etc.)
Alfred Hitchcock's movies were known for featuring famous landmarks such as Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959) and the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942). Hitch apparently decided to leave this movie location unspecific and without recognizable landmarks and filmed it in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Alfred Hitchcock's films have become famous for a number of elements and iconography: vertiginous heights, innocent men wrongfully accused, blonde bombshells dressed in white, voyeurism, long non-dialogue sequences, etc. In this his final film, one last iconographic element was added to the canon: the woman in black. Karen Black plays a villainous character whose outfit is the antithesis of the blonde dressed in white. Her costume comprises black hat, black dress, large black sunglasses obscuring the face and a long blonde wig. This menacing character image was notable in this movie and its image dominated in the film's printed promotional material and movie posters. The malevolent character-image has since been re-used in such famous movies as for character Bobbi in 'Brian de Palma''s Dressed to Kill (1980) and Hannibal Lecter's on-the-run end-of-movie disguise in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
The meaning and relevance of this movie's title is, as explained in John Russell Taylor's book HITCH: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock "a play on words . . . referring back to the complicated plot of family relations [from the film's story] and to the physical plot of ground in the cemetery . . ."
Hitchcock was not happy with Karen Black during shooting, and would often hint to co-star William Devane that he would be cutting her scenes by making a neck cutting gesture to him while they were filming.
Alfred Hitchcock was seriously in ill-health during the production of this movie. This led to this picture being his final ever film. It was not intended to be his final picture as afterwards he worked on developing 'The Short Night' for the screen.
Charles Tyner, who played the stonecutter that carved Edward Shoebridge's grave marker, had played a stonemason specializing in tombstones four years earlier in The Cowboys (1972). That film also starred Bruce Dern (that time as the antagonist) and also featured a score by John Williams.
The car chase in this movie isn't technically really a car chase as the downhill car sequence only involves one car. John Russell Taylor in his book HITCH: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock calls it a a "runaway car ride".
Alfred Hitchcock: [left-handed protagonist] Like several female leads in Hitchcock's films, such as Shirley McLaine, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedron, Barbara Harris is another blonde lefty.