Family Plot (1976) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A phony psychic/con artist and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend encounter a pair of serial kidnappers while trailing a missing heir in California.

  • The trickster Madam Blanche Tyler lures the elder millionaire Julia Rainbird that believes she is a spiritualist. After a séance, she discovers that Julia is tormented by her past, when she forced her sister and single mother Harriet to deliver her baby for adoption to avoid a family scandal. Julia promises the small fortune of ten thousand-dollar to Blanche if she finds her nephew and heir of her fortune using her phony powers. Blanche asks her boyfriend George Lumley, who is an unemployed actor working as cab driver, to investigate the whereabouts of Julia's nephew. Meanwhile, the greedy jeweler and collector Arthur Adamson kidnaps wealthy people with his girlfriend Fran to increase his collection of diamonds with the ransom. When George concludes that Arthur Adamson might be the heir of Julia Rainbird, the reckless Blanche gets in trouble with the kidnappers.

  • Wealthy and aged Julia Rainbird wants to bequeath her vast fortune to her only presumed living heir, her illegitimate nephew, who was given away as a baby and as such whose whereabouts and identity she does not know. Rather than go to a private investigator to locate him, a P.I. who would use public means to do his work, Julia instead enlists the more discreet services of her psychic, Madame Blanche, to locate her nephew, with a payment of $10,000 upon delivery. What Julia is unaware of is that Madame Blanche - really Blanche Tyler - is a charlatan, who uses basic information of her targets often uncovered by her actor/taxi driving boyfriend, George Lumley, to perpetrate the scam. Blanche and George feel this $10,000 is their meal ticket, despite having only scant leads as to the identity and whereabouts of the nephew. Their initial leads indicate that the nephew may in fact be dead... or perhaps not. In reality, the nephew is Arthur Adamson, a jeweler, who, along with his secret associate/girlfriend Fran, have amassed their own small fortune through the theft of gems, largely through kidnapping the gem owners, with the said gems being the ransom paid. Arthur grew up as Edward Shoebridge, the adopted son of friends of the Rainbird's chauffeur. Along with another associate, Edward killed his parents in a house fire twenty-five years ago, and faked his own death in the process, although he had never been declared legally dead since there was no conclusive evidence of such. He assumed his current identity after the fire. When Arthur learns that these strangers, George and Blanche, are trying to locate Edward Shoebridge but not knowing the reason, Arthur and Fran believe it's because of their latest kidnapping, and thus decide they need to do whatever, including murder, to keep George and Blanche from finding "Eddie".

  • Fake medium Madam Blanche and her taxi driver boyfriend George make a living by scamming people with her phony powers. They are hired by an aging widow, Julia Rainbird, to find her nephew who was given away for adoption many years earlier following a family scandal. Meanwhile, an extremely clever couple, diamond merchant Arthur Adamson and his attractive girlfriend Fran, are behind a series of kidnappings of various VIPs in the San Francisco area. The two couples paths soon cross and chaos results in Hitchcock's last film.

  • Spiritualist Blanche Tyler is asked to locate a missing heir, whom she pursues with her cab driver boyfriend Geroge Lumley, an unemployed actor. The man they seek, Arthur Adamson, is posing as a legitimate jeweler while kidnapping wealthy people for a ransom in diamonds. He is assisted by his girlfriend, Fran.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In the opening scene, "Madame" Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) holds a seance in the elegant Victorian home of Mrs. Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), the elderly matron of a wealthy family. Blanche's falsetto "trance" voice becomes a deep growl as she channels her spirit guide, Henry, who indicates a reluctant presence in the room. Julia believes it is her deceased sister, Harriet, who gave birth to an illegitimate son over 40 years earlier. His estrangement from the Rainbirds weighs heavily on Julia's conscience. She offers Blanche $10,000 to locate the missing heir, as a private investigator might draw attention to this family embarrassment. Blanche walks calmly to an awaiting taxi, driven by her boyfriend, George Lumley (Bruce Dern). Once inside, she tells him that, with the help of Henry, she has secured a lucrative assignment. George reminds her that she is "as psychic as a dry salami," and is guided by his research, not Henry. She dismisses his comments as jealousy, but asks him to continue his investigation of the Rainbirds. George refuses, until Blanche tells him about the $10,000, which puts him in an amorous mood. When he takes his eyes off the road for a few seconds, the car narrowly misses a tall blonde woman dressed in black clothing and wearing dark sunglasses.

    The woman (Karen Black) enters a police station with a pistol. She is given a large diamond, then hands the detectives a written note, assuring them that her hostage, Victor Constantine, will be returned unharmed. The detectives lead the woman to a helicopter. She communicates using hand gestures, and when the pilot doubts that her gun is loaded, she shoots a hole through the plexiglass. After the helicopter lands on a golf course, the woman walks to a wooded area, where her male accomplice waits with Constantine (Nicholas Colasanto). The pilot runs to the woods as the kidnappers, Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his wife, Fran, drive away.

    Inside the car, Fran complains about her six-inch high heels as she removes her hat and blonde wig, but also assures Arthur that she made no mistakes. Arthur smugly reminds her that the police will be looking for a tall blonde woman. He also indicates that he is planning another kidnapping. After returning home, they clean the secret room in the basement that held Constantine. Fran and Arthur find danger to be an aphrodisiac, and before they retire to the bedroom, Arthur hangs the diamond on the crystal chandelier near the staircase, where it will never be noticed. The next day, Constantine is questioned in his office by FBI Agent Sanger (Martin West) and a few police detectives, but is unable to describe the kidnappers.

    Meanwhile, Blanche gives a psychic reading to Ida Cookson, a close friend of Julia's. She wants to contact Michael, the Rainbird's deceased chauffeur, who facilitated the adoption of Harriet's son. George signals Blanche from the kitchen, and she feigns a trance as she leaves the living room. He needs her car for a meeting with Vera Hannagan, Michael's daughter.

    At a department store counter, George, under his alias Frank McBride, Esq., questions Vera (Marge Redmond), who tells him about her father's friend, Harry Shoebridge, and his wife, Sadie, who after several miscarriages, moved to a town called Barlow Creek and adopted an infant boy whom they named Eddie. Both later died in a house fire, and the son may have died with them.

    George finds the graves of the three Shoebridges at the Barlow Creek cemetery, all of whom died in 1950. He asks the gravedigger why the son's stone looks so much newer than that of his parents, and why there are two graves for three people. The gravedigger ignores George's questions and returns to work.

    George next visits Mr. Wheeler (Charles Tyner), the engraver, who made the stone for Eddie Shoebridge in 1965. Wheeler remembers that it was purchased by a tow-truck driver, and that people blamed Eddie for the death of his parents, especially because his grave is empty.

    At the County Registrar's office, George learns that a mechanic named Joseph P. Maloney (Ed Lauter) applied for Eddie's death certificate, which was denied.

    George parks across the road from Maloney's gas station for several minutes before entering. Maloney is openly suspicious, and when George questions him, Maloney admits nothing and copies George's license plate number as he drives away. Later, Maloney appears at Arthur's jewelry store, greeting the jeweler as "Eddie." Arthur leads him to the office, assuming that Maloney once again needs money. Maloney informs Arthur of George's visit, and that he has traced the car to Blanche's address. He offers to kill George and Blanche, just as he killed the Shoebridges at Arthur's request 26 years ago. As Arthur declines the offer, he is called away by a pair of police detectives inquiring about the ransom diamond, of which Arthur admits no knowledge. When he returns to his office, Maloney is gone and the window is open.

    That night, Arthur and Fran drive to Blanche's home, where they overhear George and Blanche arguing about sex, the search for Eddie Shoebridge, and a large sum of money. Fran suggests that the latter might be the reward offered for Constantine's kidnappers. Later, at the Rainbird home, Blanche reveals all of the information George has gathered, with Henry getting the credit. Julia remembers that Bishop Wood (William Prince), who baptized Harriet's child, might have more information. George attends the bishop's Sunday service, as does Fran, disguised as an older woman. She faints in front of the bishop, while Arthur, disguised as a deacon, sedates him. The kidnapping proceeds without interference. In the car, Arthur expresses his lifelong resentment toward the bishop, while congratulating himself on his brilliant plan. They agree that George's presence was no coincidence, and Arthur decides to have Maloney kill George and Blanche, despite Fran's disapproval.

    That afternoon, Maloney calls George and Blanche, claiming to have information on Eddie Shoebridge. They are to meet him at a diner in a remote, mountainous area. Blanche insists that they go, ignoring George's reservations. They arrive at the diner and wait inside, while Maloney quietly sabotages Blanche's car outside. After several beers, they decide to leave. As George navigates the car down the winding mountain road, brake fluid leaks from the rear wheels. Blanche panics as George narrowly misses oncoming vehicles and steep cliffs before running the car off the road, where it lands on its side. Neither is injured, although Blanche is standing on George's face. As they walk back up the road, Maloney drives by, offering a ride. George declines, knowing that Maloney sabotaged the car. Maloney leaves, but quickly returns with the intent of running over George and Blanche. He swerves to avoid an oncoming car, drives off a cliff, and dies in a fiery wreck.

    The next day, Fran enters Arthur's jewelry store, posing as a customer. She updates him on the bishop's ransom and delivers the news of Maloney's death, which makes Arthur smile. When he demands that she collaborate on the murder of George and Blanche, she is horrified and leaves.

    At Maloney's funeral, George forces Mrs. Maloney (Kathleen Helmond) to reveal Arthur's true identity. George informs Blanche, who begins her search without his assistance as he has to take a day-long shift at the taxi company. When she arrives at Adamson's Jewelry Store, Blanche convinces Mrs. Clay (Edith Atwater), the clerk, to give her Arthur's home address, which she includes in a note for George.

    At the Adamson house, Arthur and Fran are about to deliver the bishop when Blanche rings the doorbell. Believing she has left, they continue their preparations. The garage door opens as Blanche passes, and she excitedly tells Arthur about his inheritance, until Fran opens a car door and reveals the unconscious bishop. Blanche is trapped, and after a struggle, she is sedated and locked in the secret room. The Adamsons, convinced that Blanche's whereabouts are unknown, carry on without concern.

    While they drive home with their new diamond, George arrives at the house searching for Blanche. He enters through a basement window and hides when the Adamsons return. George overhears Arthur's plans to stage Blanche's "suicide," despite protests from Fran. He quietly follows Arthur to the basement, where he wakes Blanche after Arthur leaves. When the Adamsons return for Blanche, she escapes and George locks them inside the hidden room. Thrilled as they are about the reward, George is sure that it would be increased if they can locate the diamonds. Blanche goes into a trance and leads George to the diamond hidden in the chandelier, convincing George that she is truly psychic. As he phones the police, Blanche winks and smiles at the viewers, thus breaking the fourth wall.

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