Family Plot (1976) Poster

(1976)

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9/10
Underrated Hitchcock swansong (possible spoilers)
christopherbanks21 July 2002
Warning: Spoilers
`Family Plot' is generally regarded as a disappointing entry into the Hitchcock canon, further burdened by the fact that it became his final film – whereas other lighthearted Hitch pictures like `The Trouble With Harry' (another underrated gem) could be accepted for what they were, `Family Plot' buckles under the critical weight and expectation of what should constitute the final film of a cinema master.

Once you throw all that in the bin, however, `Family Plot' is a marvellous, light-hearted comedy/thriller.

Hitchcock had begun, in his later films, to cast lesser-known actors because (a) having been established in the era of the studio system, he saw no need to pay exorbitant sums for actors whom he viewed as just as important in the film-making process as technical crew who were paid less and (b) he wanted to avoid the audience making assumptions about character based purely on who had been cast in a role.

The performances of the four leads in `Family Plot' are consistently excellent. Barbara Harris is hilarious, showing touches of Madeleine Kahn in her role as fake psychic Blanche, Bruce Dern is endearing as her flakey sidekick Frank McBride, Karen Black brilliantly plays it straight-down-the-line (despite the silly disguises she wears) as a partner in crime to kidnapper-jeweler Arthur Adamson, played with deliciously subtle menace by William Devane.

The music, provided by John Williams in a first-time collaboration with Hitchcock, works a treat, avoiding the bombastic overtones of some of his worst Hollywood-esque scores and harking back to the classic days of Bernard Herrmann.

Being drawn into the web of the intricate plot that sees these four characters being drawn together, and seeing the sparks fly in the witty dialogue (penned by `North by Northwest' screenwriter Ernest Lehman) is enough – but the set pieces (a rollercoaster ride in an out-of-control car in the mountains, the kidnapping of a priest in the middle of a service, to name a few) elevate this film to a delightful popcorn experience that you will want to return to again – there are subtleties and layers in the performances that will be guaranteed to keep you coming back for more.
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Gets a bad rap
crashpoint19 September 2005
This film gets a bad rap because it was not a suspenseful blockbuster in the vein of "Psycho" and "The Birds". The fact is, is that after Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedrin did battle with seagulls in 1963, Hitchcock never again approached the heights of a major director and he dramatically slowed down his film output.

Still, this movie, along with 1964's "Marnie" and '72's "Frenzy" represent a decent effort by Hitchcock to stay current and hip with modern audiences. That he was still directing films at all in the 1960s and 1970s is quite remarkable for a man whose film work began in the silent era.

"Family Plot" is a fun, neat little comedy-thriller much akin to the NBC Mystery Movies of that era... i.e., "Columbo", "McMillen and Wife". Blanche is a phony psychic who, along with her reluctant boyfriend Frank, played hilariously by the underrated Bruce Dern, run afoul of big time crooks Karen Black and William Devane.

The plot does get a bit convoluted, but Hitchcock was smart enough to lay off the heavy-handed dictatorial directorship that categorized his earlier work and let the actors and their characters move the plot along. Unlike Cary Grant's Thornhill in "North By Northwest", we care about Blanche and Frank because they really are like us, the viewer. As much as we all adored the women in Hitch's films... Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak, and wanted to be like the men,Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewert, Ray Milland, Rod Taylor, Farley Granger, etc., none of these characters were remotely like US, and in his dotage, Hitchcock was still keen enough to realize that Cary Grant in 1956 was an admirable figure walking down the street... in 1976 he was apt to be pointed at and laughed about. Hitch knew INSTINCTIVELY that the gray suit and slicked back hair era was gone forever. In this film, it doesn't even look like Dern showers.

That's part of the charm and why it was so refreshing, at this late date, to go into the movie theater and enjoy an Alfred Hitchcock film without having to sigh that it was all about nostalgia. This film, in his humorous approach has much in common with "The Trouble With Harry" than "Psycho" or "Shadow of a Doubt".

Hitch didn't go out with a classic, that's for sure, but he went out with a modern film that showed he could still produce an entertaining flick. That was all he was ever about anyway. No higher praise is needed.
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9/10
Murder Mystery as Comedy: last Hitchcock Film
alicecbr17 November 2005
Get ready for the tricks and suspense you've seen in other films, but be sure to get the commentary on DVD. Barbara Harris looks just like Hitchcock's daughter, as you'll see from the interview, just a younger version. A extra lesson: You will never get a facelift once you see the interviews with Karen Black. If she had allowed herself to age naturally, she would have been so much more attractive than the gargoyle you'll wince at seeing.

Here's a treat: the winding mountain road and no brakes scenario as never you've seen it. I loved the comic touches and the risqué language. It is indeed a unique film. If you happen to love the mountain of California and San Francisco, you'll also love the cinematography. The stills are mostly of Hitchcock in the graveyard, which makes you wonder if he wasn't a little clairvoyant himself. The whole movie centers around a phony psychic and her attempt to cheat an old woman out of her money.

In our cynical world of today, you'll expect them just to dress Dern up as the missing heir, but nope, they play it straight. Having read of Hitchcock's misogyny, you'll appreciate the cuts and slices between the lovers. Both pairs of grifters have their own love thing going. Rather touching to see the fidelity among the crooks. Inspired writing, indeed.

Hitchcock did have a pacemaker installed while this movie was being made, so you have to wonder if his own thoughts of his impending death might have caused as much concentration on the graveyard scenes. Buy the DVD; the added features will make the movies itself 3 times more interesting.
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7/10
No, not great Hitchcock, but entertaining nonetheless
zetes17 March 2001
Family Plot differs from all the other Hitchcock films. It lacks suspense, for the most part, and it is not as funny as many of his films. Instead, it is just an amusing little yarn. I like the way the film starts with two separate plot lines which gradually merge. Even if it is not the most original thing in the world (especially since two of Family Plot's stars were main players in Robert Altman's Nashville), it still makes the film interesting. If anyone else had made this film, it probably would be more fondly received by the public, although I doubt anyone would still be watching it today.

The two characters with whom we begin the film, whom we would consider the heroes, are the best, and are played lovingly by Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern. She's a hack psychic milking old ladies out of pensions, and he's a cabbie who cannot find enough time both to drive his cab and participate in Harris' schemes. Although the characters aren't as well developed as those in numerous other Hitchcock ventures, they're entertaining.

The other couple, Karen Black and William Devane, fare less well. They're more crafty in their crimes, perpetrating large-scale kidnappings for enormous ransoms. Karen Black's character is very underdeveloped, hardly showing any depth. What character she does have is not entirely believable, since Karen Black seems too nice to play a hardcore criminal. William Devane is decent as the sinister mastermind, but the history provided to his character is far more brutal than is believable (he locked his adopted parents in their bedroom and set fire to their house).

I liked the idea of the small time crooks clashing with the professionals, and I liked the outcome of the film. All in all, it is decent and worth watching. It does not feel anything like a Hitchcock film, so I wouldn't expect anything like Vertigo or Rear Window when approaching this, his swan song. 7/10
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7/10
A Tale Of Two Con Games
bkoganbing8 January 2007
Alfred Hitchcock's final film Family Plot is a story of two male and female criminal partnerships. The first pair is Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris who are a pair of small time grifters and we meet them in the process of fleecing a rich old spinster Cathleen Nesbitt with a phony psychic act.

The second pair are William Devane and Karen Black who have a lovely line in ransom kidnappings. They've really got it worked out to a science, including a soundproof hidden room in Devane's basement where the victims can be stashed until the ransom is paid.

Nesbitt confesses that she had her late sister give up an out of wedlock child during a séance and now she'd like to make amends by finding him and making him her heir. So with a finder's fee in mind Dern and Harris start digging.

Their paths cross Devane and Black as the police are hunting them so it becomes quite an interesting set of circumstances as Devane and Black suspect the others of being police operatives.

Hitchcock cleverly interweaves the stories of the two couples into a very cohesive plot. The players all hit the mark with their roles,] especially Devane, a smooth talking killer in the Hitchcock tradition of Otto Kruger in Saboteur, Tom Helmore in Vertigo, and James Mason in North By Northwest.

The ending is a bit of a surprise though, it comes rather abruptly. I have to confess I didn't like it at first, but it does kind of grow on you with repeated viewings.

Family Plot is a good for the master of suspense to go out on.
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7/10
Better than Expected
w2amarketing19 July 2005
Having seen "Torn Curtain" about a year ago, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about seeing another of Hitchcock's "late" works (indeed, his final film). "TC" was absolutely abysmal, as reflected in my comments there, so I had no great expectations for "Family Plot." I was pleasantly surprised, however. Although true Hitchcock buffs may not rank "FP" alongside the "classics" like "Psycho" and "NxNW," "FP" is an evenly-paced film with strong central characters, an interesting supporting cast, good acting, humor, innuendo, mystery and, of course, suspense. A good all-around film by the master in his final effort. It won't leave your palms sweating and your blood running cold, and there are a couple of flaws that a younger Hitch might have caught (I, for one, wonder how Blanche's car got fixed so quickly -- hard to believe it wasn't totaled in the first place).

Nonetheless, Family Plot will hold your attention and keep you guessing until the very end. I'm glad I took the time to seek it out and watch it.
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8/10
All In The Family
BumpyRide9 November 2004
I think if you approach this movie beforehand knowing it's not going to be a "Vertigo" or "Rear Window," you'll have some fun. Sure it's fluff, but it is entertaining nonetheless. Even kooky, vegetable-like Karen Black aka "The World's Worst Actress" seems to have benefited from working with Hitch and pulls off an adequate performance. Never cared for Bruce Dern and here he's his usual Willard looking self. Barbara Harris was a true delight, "Don't blaspheme, George." and found her character of Madam Blanche quite amusing. I even found the run away car scene entertaining, if not a bit over the top. All in all, I liked the story and liked the way it wrapped up in the end. Hitchcock's last gift to us all.
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9/10
Domesticity
manuel-pestalozzi22 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of Hitchcock's movies that is centered on homes (like A Shadow of Doubt, Rear Window or The Trouble With Harry). There are no murders, no wrongly accused people, no big open, hostile spaces, no deep disturbances or sorrows. Family Plot delivers a „domestic" and humorous mystery story. Seems to be enough for many people to call it a lesser Hitchcock effort or even an outright failure.

The main characters have stable domestic situations and make occasional outings. The set designs of the different homes are important, and the people responsible for it did a really great job. Actually, the homes almost fuse with the people who live there and seem to be a reflection of their minds.

At the center the story are two couples whose paths intersect. The action switches from one couple to the other, and the director really succeeded in creating an almost perfect balance. Family Plot is a strangely harmonious picture, with characters who are (were) at the same time contemporary and timeless. The choice of the actors and actresses is dead-on. Thank God Al Pacino and Faye Dunaway weren't available! In a strange way, both couples are comfortable: Blanche and George, however down on their luck and crooked they may be, appear to be reasonably happy and seem to know each other inside out. Adamson's and Fran's relationship has a somewhat darker note, but even they seem to have a good partnership relation. An atmosphere of familiarity prevails, the title is well chosen.

The best scene of Family Plot: The garage door opening on that god**mn white Ford Mustang which comes as a complete and very bad surprise for Anderson and Fran. It not only blocks the exit (they are in a hurry) but comes with the person they least want to encounter: Blanche. What's more, totally unsuspecting Blanche thinks that she has very good news for the two and reacts with the appropriate amount of overdrive excitement. A well embedded, perfectly scripted, constructed and acted out scene. Here's masterful movie-making for you.
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10/10
That's a wrap for the Master
orbitsville-17 February 2012
This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, alongside things like Notorious, Psycho, North By Northwest, Frenzy, and Foreign Correspondent. Though Hitchcock applied the magic directorial touch to many of the sequences, I can't help but feel it is a small team of performers who make this a fun film to watch over and over again: William Devane, Barbara Harris, Karen Black, throw in Ed Lauter too--and most of all, of course, the marvellous Bruce Dern. I know that some of them were not first choices in the casting process, but what you end up with here are two teams of schemers who collide in splendid ways, all because one man's horrid past starts to intrude on his equally despicable present. You can hide, but you can't run.

I love the strong element of coincidence in the film, normally the mark of a tacky film. And how many of these serpentine machinations on display really do stem from coincidence? The first coincidence is a real one: Bruce Dern almost hits strolling stranger Karen Black with his car--and of course these two are destined to cross paths several times throughout the film. But Dern and Harris, as this wonderful contrast to the other sneaky pair of the film, Devane and Black, appear as ditherers, scatterbrains, goofs, even. We have the precise, cleanly- executed super-calm approach of Devane and Black versus what looks like a losing side in the bumbling obliviousness of the admittedly lovable Dern & Harris dysfunctional combo.

Or not dysfunctional, after all! Under all the histrionics, bickering and clowning around, Dern and Harris manage to function as plodding yet determined detectives--and they have an advantage over Devane's superior intellect: they are coming at him, slowly, from an angle he does not expect...his past. The few scenes with cops--wonderful scenes, playful scenes-- just indicate that if George (Bruce Dern) and Blanche (Barbara Harris) don't succeed in tracking a criminal (and his reluctant female accomplice) to his lair the hard way, no one will. The kidnapping-for-swag will go on and on because the villains are too perfect. Enter successful dysfunction, in just the most wonderful way shown in any movie.

I love all the intertwining, and I love Ed Lauter coming in from the sidelines and being that cool fifth-guy-in--and I love a last Hitchcock movie that has, of all things, self-absorbed faceless teenagers in a car, who--after accidentally forcing an oncoming car off a cliff, just sort of drive off to continue their partying. After all, who cares? Whimsy in death. And I do cherish the little wink at the end--as if it's Hitchcock himself taking the first brick out of the "Fourth Wall" and saying 'I'm just about done pretending". I love Frenzy, but I prefer a charming, breezy exit. With just a hint of menace. Vastly under-appreciated movie.
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8/10
A most enjoyable film
Barry-7328 January 2003
I really like this movie. It's a great little story that's fun to watch. This is Hitchcock's last movie and I think it's as good as any. I guess you could call this a mystery with a little humor injected into it. Does it have suspense? I don't know. But what else would you call it? I think it's a pretty good mystery and all the characters are quite believable. I think the choice of actors for each part was good. I give this movie an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. I'd rate it higher, but it's got some mild swearing and a bit of sexual innuendo. But all in all it's worth seeing next time you find it on TV.
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7/10
Underrated but great movie though
user135710 January 2010
I was with low expectations before watching this because I read a lot of negative reviews that said this was a not a good movie. I only bought it because this was the only missing film in "The Hitchcock Collection". Well, I saw it and I think it is great!It is a light movie, that mixes comedy with suspense and it's an enjoyable surprise. All of the comedy/light movies that Hitchcock made are underrated (see the example of "The trouble with Harry"(1955)) and I can't understand why.This has some scenes that demonstrate the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock, notably the car scene where one couple is inside a moving car with the brakes sabotaged.That scene is so well constructed that you actually can feel like you are in the car... Amazing!I watched in the "Making of" this picture someone saying that, at that time, people knew this would be the last Hitchcock movie it would have been received way better by the audience. I give it 8 of 10 because it's a joyful and great movie.
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7/10
Light entertainment
fletch522 October 2000
"Family Plot" is remembered only for being Hitchcock's last film. The ending to his successful career could be have been more honorable. "Family Plot" is merely a light entertainment movie - nothing more, nothing less. But it works as that. The plot is enjoyable to follow and the members of the cast (especially William Devane) do a creditable job. But remember that the director was no longer at his peak, so don't expect anything in the lines of his masterpieces, like "Vertigo" or "Psycho". And John Williams' barely memorable score pales in comparison with Bernard Herrmann's masterful accomplishments.
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9/10
Hitchcock's Last Masterpiece, was his Last Film
popcornforbreakfast1 March 2009
Family Plot is Alfred Hitchcock's last film, and what a way to end an extremely successful career. While competing with Jaws and The Exorcist, you can say that suspense was changing, yet Hitch decided to stick with what made him famous - CLASSIC suspense, that is, innocent people in dangerous situations, misfires, MacGuffins, and iconic ICONIC villains. You wonder why some people don't care for it, or even never heard of it. Family Plot includes all that makes a great motion picture. An all-star cast that all did outstanding, an humorous, engrossing screenplay by Ernest Lehman, an unknown, yet great score by John Williams, and classic Classic CLASSIC Alfred Hitchcock.
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7/10
quite enjoyable and comical
AlsExGal22 April 2017
This last Hitchcock film may seem out of step with all of the others, but then it has to be. The sexual/cultural revolution is over. The cynical 70s are in full swing. You can't just insinuate "the act" anymore and cut to the seashore.

Into this environment comes "Family Plot". It is basically two sets of crimes, one minor and one major, hitting an intersection with one group of criminals having no idea what the other group is up to.

Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a fake psychic. She has her cabbie boyfriend get information for her based on the hints she gets from the séances. In this case a wealthy woman, Julia Rainbird, claims her sister's spirit and her own conscience torment her because in 1933 she made her sister put her illegitimate child up for adoption because of the scandal that would have occurred given the conventions of the times. Nobody knows what happened to him since the adoption was closed. Now Julia Rainbird, in her old age, wants to accept her nephew into the family and leave the entire estate to him. There is 10K in it for Blanche if she can find him.

What Blanche and cabbie lover George (Bruce Dern) don't know is that the long lost heir is basically Lex Luther with hair - William Devane as Arthur Adamson, a true sociopath who loves thumbing his nose at conventions and loves crime. Together he and his girlfriend, Fran (Karen Black) kidnap wealthy people in exchange for jewels. Adamson has a legitimate business as a jeweler as a front.

The misunderstandings come in when Adamson discovers that somebody is digging into his past, specifically his faked death which was a cover for the murder of his adoptive parents back in 1950. Blanche and George can't figure out why they would be getting attempts on their life. Adamson has no idea of his true identity and has no idea why these two amateurs are trying to find him, figuring it has either to do with his current kidnappings or the past murder of his parents.

It all comes together in a suspenseful and comical way. I'll let you watch and find out how.

Blanche and George are a hilarious couple just perfect for 1975. In one scene, at the end of the day, she is basically ordering him to come inside the house and sexually service her. George replies she is wearing him out and he has to work tomorrow. She asks "what are you saving it for?". This is a long way from the stolen glances, passionate kisses, and hand holding in "Dial M For Murder", but this is a different time and they are just right for it.

Even at the end Hitchcock did know how to change with the times. I'd recommend it.
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8/10
"Family Plot", a plot to satisfy Hitch fans' family, the fitting conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic oeuvres...
ElMaruecan821 July 2016
"Murder can be fun", said Hitchcock to the then-rising composer John Williams, unsure about the use of playful theme for ominous situations. Well, after watching "Family Plot" again, I would say that anything handled by Hitchcock can be fun. And it is not surprising that the original novel titled "The Rainbird Pattern" saw its dark material turned into a lighthearted comedy by Ernest Lehman's inspired writing and Hitchcock's wicked sense of humor, in the same vein than "To Catch a Thief" and "The Trouble With Harry". And I think this says a lot about a fascinating mix of self-confidence and humility that -I guess- only experienced directors can demonstrate at the twilight of their career.

And I'm convinced that it took the two 60's misfires "Torn Curtain" and "Topaz" to put Hitchcock on the right track again and allow him to make movies that would be more fitting swan songs. So Hitchcock was back to his roots (in every meaning of the word) with the wonderful "Frenzy", a thriller certainly not devoid of macabre humor. Indeed, who can ever forget the villain's struggle to get his pin off the hand of his last victim, hidden in a bag of potatoes, and the whole action set in a moving truck? Frenzy was a legitimate thriller but its darkly comedic undertones worked as the perfect transition to a more relaxed and upbeat "Family Plot", definitely a comedy, with a good balance of thrills and suspense.

The film starts in a wealthy elderly woman's house, Blanche Tyler, a psychic in trance, tries to communicate with the woman's sister, using different voices, howling, screaming, giving such an over-the-top performance we suspect she belongs to the fraudulent side of the business, but it takes some great acting to perform the bad one, and Barbara Harris, whenever she's in that state, is a delight to watch, she'd be even funnier in a similar scene later with her boyfriend. The comedy is integral to the film's appeal because the opening is extremely talkative and provides a vital flow of information and Harris' lively and funny performance catches our eyes, and inevitably our ears and our mind.

So, it all comes down to the woman asking Blanche to find her sister's illegitimate son given for adoption, so she can clear her conscience and allow him to inherit her fortune; in exchange, Blanche will receive ten thousand dollars (and I just love Harris' cute response when she tries to pretend that money doesn't matter). Blanche is a small-time fraud and her boyfriend George is a cabdriver and wannabe actor, so the reward means a lot. But what an unlikely, non-glamorous, goofy yet charming couple to lead a Hitchcock film! Still, the chemistry between them, with all the talks about the 'plot', sex and their job, feels genuine and real.

There is another couple though in the film, more in-line with the classy and icy correctness we're used to deal with Hitch. A jeweler (David Levane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) specialized in kidnapping dignitaries and rich figures, leaving them up in exchange of precious gemstones. They hide their victims in a cellar and are so professional they make impossible any identification. The first transition from Blanche and George to Arthur and Fran is abrupt and disconcerting (although creatively done) but once we get it that the film centers on the two couples, the pros and the small-time crooks, we know where the story is going, two plots coming across each other, in other words: a confrontation.

The thrill in "Family Plot" is to see these couples getting closer to each other, and even play a sprinkled-sprinkler game when George's lousy attempt to pass a lawyer raises the suspicion of Adamson's former accomplice (he's obviously the lost heir, the only way the two plots would converge). So the cat and mouse's role are reversed and Fran and Arthur spy on George and Blanche, thinking they want the reward for their capture. Which would lead to the first life-threatening sequence with a high-speed descent in a mountain road, and as much I enjoyed it, I can't get over the hilariously distorted face of George, crushed under Blanche's shoe, while she tries to climb her way out of the vehicle.

Just like the plot swings back and forth between two couples that couldn't have been more different, it does the same thing with thrills and comedy and the result is savorous and entertaining. Hitchcock also provide some pretty memorable moments: Adamson delicately taking a lint off a cop's suit, Fran putting parsley in the hostage's plate, a dazzling aerial view on a cemetery and a great kidnapping scene in a church where a bishop is taken away without any of the people reacting. Adamson knew that church-people are so polite and inhibited they wouldn't react, and we believe him. This level of confidence echoes Hitchcock's, he doesn't go to intricate and lengthy extremes to get a specific job done. And only Hitch can get away with it.

This is a film for the fans, his cameo doesn't bother to show his face and yet everyone immediately recognizes him, this is why his last cameo is one of his most inspired. Hitchcock have built so much confidence that only he could conclude such a film with a climax relying on something that a child could have done, but knowing the childish Blanche and her slow-witted boyfriend, it could work. And although the film wasn't intended to be the last, it couldn't have had a better final shot than a wink at the camera. Hitchcock always did movies with the audience in mind, it's all natural to end with a friendly farewell to those whose emotions he toyed with for half a century.
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7/10
Enjoyable mystery movie involves a fake psychic, and her fiancé who attempt to locate the son of a wealthy and guilt-ridden old woman
ma-cortes28 April 2013
Alfred Hitchcock's final film , it was his fifty-third when made this lighthearted suspense story about a phony psychic/con artist named Blanche (Liza Minnelli, Beverly Sills, and Goldie Hawn were all considered for the role , Barbara Harris eventually was cast in the role ; apparently, Alfred Hitchcock was happy with the casting of Harris as he had apparently tried to hire her before)and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend (Bruce Dern who had previously worked with Alfred on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock presents as well as having had a small role in Marnie) who encounter a pair of serial kidnappers called Arthur (William Devane , though Roy Scheider and Burt Reynolds were considered for the part) and Fran (Karen Black) while trailing a missing heir in California . As an aging widow (Lillian Gish wanted to test for the role of Julia Rainbird but had been promised to Cathleen Nesbitt) to find her nephew who was given away for adoption many years earlier following a family scandal . Meanwhile, an extremely clever couple, an astute jeweler (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) and his enticing girlfriend are behind a series of kidnappings of various VIPs in the San Francisco area .

Entertaining mystery movie packs thrills , humor , suspense and ordinary Hitch touches . This agreeable picture has some 'screwball comedy nature' that evokes Alfred Hitchcock's earlier flick ¨Mr. and Mrs. Smith¨. 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' and in Italian movies , the Giallo genre . Alfred Hitchcock's movies were known for featuring famous landmarks such as Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest and the Statue of Liberty in Sabotage. 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 . Spectacular runaway car ride , although the famous car chase in this movie isn't technically really a car chase as the downhill car sequence only involves one car. The final shot in the movie, a wink by the Barbara Harris character was a jokey reference that was not planned but Alfred Hitchcock decided to leave in , this was arguably a fitting coda to his career exemplifying the black humor that was prevalent in his movies . Alfred Hitchcock once said of this film: ¨It's a melodrama treated with a bit of levity and sophistication , I wanted the feeling of the famous director Ernst Lubitsch making a mystery thriller." .

The motion picture was well directed by Alfred Hitchcock , he was famous for making his actors follow the script to the word, but in this movie he let the characters improvise and use their own dialogue . After this movie was completed, Alfred Hitchcock worked on the film script for the spy thriller 'The Short Night'. Alfred Hitchcock was seriously in ill-health during the production of this movie , this lead to this picture being his final ever film. 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.
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8/10
Yes, You Really MUST See this Twice - At Least!!!!
bragant9 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
FAMILY PLOT has earned a permanent footnote in cinematic history simply because it turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last production. Unfortunately, it did not do very well on its initial release because many found it too comic and lighthearted in tone and not "suspenseful" enough. Even Stephen King described it as a "turkey" in his book DANSE MACABRE! I think the real problem with this underrated delight is that this is one of Hitch's most complex, densely-written stories - Ernest Lehman's script is awe-inspiring, almost novelistic, and chock-full of double meanings and implications which may not strike you on a single viewing. Like all the characters in the movie, FAMILY PLOT is not what it seems to be. On the surface, we have a light, comic thriller involving a psychic (Blanche/Barbara Harris) and her actor boyfriend, Lumley (Bruce Dern) who have been hired by a rich old woman to find her missing nephew, the heir to a huge fortune. The missing nephew turns out to be the thoroughly repellent Arthur Adamson (William Devane, in a role originally intended for Jack Nicholson - who would have been PERFECT in the part but who wanted too much money!), a sociopath who, with the help of his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black), kidnaps important people and holds them for ransom. But Adamson is not just a thief - he is also a killer. When he realizes Blanche and Lumley are trying to find out information about him, he assumes - incorrectly and ironically - that they are undercover agents looking to arrest and expose him as a kidnapper. Of course, Blanche and Lumley know nothing of Adamson's crimes, and thus put themselves in great danger without realizing it. In a way, I consider FAMILY PLOT to be Hitchcock's most perfect work of sheer suspense - after the first 10 minutes, the audience always knows more than any of the characters, and all we can do is wait for them to come together, which makes for some very anxious moments! FAMILY PLOT'S comic tone is belied by some dark moral undercurrents rife with unsettling implications. The dominant characters, Blanche and Adamson, are in fact very similar people, although in dramatic terms one is the heroine and the other the villain. Adamson is a liar, a thief, and a con artist. Blanche (a fake psychic who bilks lonely old women out of their money) is also a liar, a thief (she essentially steals from her clients by faking her "powers") and a con artist motivated by greed. Both heroine and villain also dominate their lovers - Blanche uses her sexual hold over the rather naive (but smart and loving) Lumley to get him to adopt all sorts of identities to further THEIR plot, and Adamson does the exact same thing to Fran, forcing her to assume false appearances in the course of furthering HIS plots. Although one couple is labeled as "good" and the other as "bad", morally, they are not so far apart from one another. Indeed, everyone in the film manipulates and lies to others to achieve none-too-pleasant ends. Even old Julia Rainbird, whose guilt over ostracizing her dead sister and the girl's illegitimate child sets the story in motion, has used and deceived others for her own selfish goals. The vision of humanity in this film is essentially dark - people are monsters of greed and deceit, willing to use anyone and everyone for money, and even risking the lives of those they love in the process. This makes the film's undeniable humor even more disturbing - what are we really laughing at when we laugh at these sad and confused people? The performances by the four principals are top-notch, especially by Harris as the ditzy "psychic" who isn't the dumb blonde she appears to be, and by Devane as the evil killer who presents himself as a respectable businessman. The movie also contains two truly spectacular Hitchcockian "set-pieces" - the justly famous scene where Blanche and Lumley are trapped in a speeding car (has me on the edge of my seat every time!) and a brilliant sequence which begins with the "drop-off" of a kidnapping victim and ends with the long-awaited meeting of Blanche and Adamson. Hitchcock always gave us what we didn't expect, and FAMILY PLOT is no exception. This movie was way ahead of its time and deserves a better reputation than it has. My favorite bit of dialogue: "You're a Capricorn, aren't you?" "No, I'm a Leo." "That's what I thought."
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8/10
A lighthearted suspense thriller? Yes, a la Hitchcock...
secondtake28 October 2009
The Family Plot (1976)

It all is a playful gag by the end--not the end of the movie, but of the career, the long cat and mouse movie-making career of Alfred Hitchcock. This, his last film, is both cute and clever and a tiny bit suspenseful. It reuses some of the same kinds of tricks we've seen from him before, with a twist here or there: the innocent protagonists, for example, are themselves up to a little bit of a scam. And in Hitchcock fashion, the antagonists, a parallel couple, are lighthearted in their murderousness. Their angst over crime is theatrical.

There are usually moments in his movies that are vividly disturbing, and he contrasts these with either lightly comic scenes, downright silliness, or charming, everyday life. Think of the family in Shadow of a Doubt or Cary Grant in North by Northwest for starters. In this movie, beginning even with the pun of the title (the family plot is a cemetery plot), everything is chipper. The hair-raising runaway car scene is so scary and absurdly silly at the same time I think a lot of people will give up on the movie as just plain "stupid." Part of me agrees, but I laughed out loud through the whole scene in appreciation, and not because of comic timing or original sight gags or whatnot, but because I could imagine the director laughing. Movies are supposed to entertain, he would insist (supposedly saying to the impassioned Ingrid Bergman once, "Ingrid, it's just a movie.") Hitchcock wants it to be carefully silly and disarming at the same time. I mean, he's winking at us just as we are supposed to be scared.

The evil-doers are really not very evil here, though the man does propose some pretty ruthless behavior, and the people out to do good (eventually, anyway, with dollar signs in their eyes all the same) are truly fun and natural as a couple. The plots of the two couples are separate at first, and once they join it gets complicated but never confusing. The Mustang is already eleven years old for this film--a sign of how far into our current era Hitchcock has come, and perhaps a reminder that his style of making movies is starting to look like just that, a style, something artificial and quaint when hard edged, elegant realism has stormed back into Hollywood (from Chinatown to the Godfather to, in 1976, uh, Rocky).

If Hitch is out of touch with the times, he's completely in touch with his own approach. This is a Hitchcock film, through and through, and if you are tired of me saying that, it's because I think you might hate it without knowing how much it depends on knowing, liking, and understanding that kind of movie. It's totally enjoyable. Not his best, but enjoyable and well made and almost heartwarming, of all things.
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8/10
An enigmatic but intriguing end to a long career
bowles-120 December 2008
To me, "Family Plot" is what "The Trouble With Harry" should have been. One reason is that in the late 1950s Americans were uncomfortable with British irony - particularly when it concerns death! In that film, the acting was rather stilted; casting seemed to have been dictated more by the front offices than what Hitchcock might have preferred. The "studio-ness" of that film is pretty obvious by today's standards. For that matter, audiences of the late 1950s would not have been prepared for "Psycho" and "Marnie".

"Family Plot" is made for a more sophisticated America, and also benefits from some unusual casting. For instance, using the rangy Bruce Dern as a sexy male character. Look at his scenes with Barbara Harris, where food is a metaphor for sex! Interaction between this dubious couple, as well as between William DeVane and Karen Black are priceless. So is Harris' (unintended) wink to the camera at the end of the film. This film has a lightness missing from most of Hitchcock's work since "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (with a strong performance from Carole Lombard yet a facile performance from Robert Montgomery).

Other films were planned, but Hitchcock's health was failing; a series of strokes had robbed him of energy and focus. As "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" was his first Hollywood film and "Family Plot" his last, the circle is closed with two comedies of slightly dubious nature. With both of these films, the joke is on nobody: we can laugh with everyone...
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7/10
Don't bother defending this film. Revise: Now I Admire It!
ags12327 January 2007
I regret to say that while it has a fair amount of merits, I find "Family Plot" to be one of Hitchcock's worst films. Had he used the exact same script and made a dark thriller with an able cast, it would have worked much better. Instead, it's played for laughs, and it's just not funny. I have serious issues with the four principal actors and their ability to convincingly portray their characters. Barbara Harris' "kooky" persona is as dated as that bouffant, bubble hairdo that looks like a wig. She was completely out of step even in 1976. Bruce Dern is annoying in his forced attempt at a comic performance. Karen Black's acting is tentative and uncertain (she was too awestruck at being in a Hitchcock film). William Devane's grinning mouthful of capped teeth is similarly a turnoff. It's the same sort of miscasting that ultimately doomed Gus Van Sant's unfortunate "Psycho" remake. The John Williams score, with its tinkling harpsichord (more befitting a Disney children's adventure) is excruciatingly trite. Hitchcock's misjudgments at that late stage of his career, when he probably shouldn't have been making movies anymore, can be forgiven in light of the remarkable legacy of masterpieces he left behind.

Update: I have grown to admire this film more with each repeated viewing. I still feel the casting is weak, the music is trite, and the overall tone to be too lightweight. However, Ernest Lehman's script, with its two intersecting story lines, is well-developed and full of clever dialog. Supporting players are excellent, particularly Cathleen Nesbitt as Julia Rainbird and Ed Lauter as Joe Maloney. Hitchcock had not lost his touch. This is definitely not among his worst films.
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6/10
Fun parody
Penfold-1314 August 1999
Hitchcock was a better director of suspense than comedy.

This is a not altogether successful attempt at a send-up of Hitchcock's classic thrillers. The plot is as convoluted as ever, except that it borders on the silly.

As a stand-alone movie, it's beautifully shot, but too ridiculous to take seriously, without managing to be actually funny.

But if you take the plot as simply a line to hang the parody on, it's nicely amusing. It's a kaleidoscope of scenes from other Hitchcock movies which were scary the first time round, but this time they're caricatures. Relive bits from North By Northwest, Psycho, To Catch A Thief, and many more, grinning as you recognise where they came from.
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6/10
Enough Things Go Right To Enjoy
zkonedog10 March 2017
This is not a classic movie. It is a little bit odd for Hitchcock fare. There are times when it is even a little bit boring. Remarkably, however, "Family Plot" tells a good enough story (and contains good enough acting) to still be a worthwhile experience.

For a basic plot summary, "Family Plot" tells the story of Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a "faker" psychic medium, and her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern). On one of her phony psychic sessions, Blanche is given the opportunity to earn $10,000 for finding the lost relative of one Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt). As the lovers criss-cross the city looking for the lost man, they end up caught in the scheme of a jewel thief (played by William Devane).

The reason this is a solid movie is because the story lines are so interesting. The hunt for the mysterious "Eddie Shoebridge" contains enough mystery to really suck you in and make you WANT to see the resolution. The concurrent jewel-thief plot is also interesting enough to make you wonder how the two can possibly be related. Through some of the so-so periods that this movie most definitely hits, the overall goal is fascinating enough that you won't even consider turning it off.

Another factor that really helps, too, is the acting. Bruce Dern is an incredible character actor, and carries every scene he is given. Harris & Devane are also very capable leads that comprise good scenes with each other. At those moments when the overall storyline lags just a bit, the acting is good enough to keep you "in the movie".

Overall, "Family Plot" is just an interesting little flick. It isn't "epic" (in any sense of the word) like some of Hitch's earlier fare, but it is just a fun little mystery/comedy that will sweep you away for two hours.
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8/10
Hitchcock has the last laugh
werefox0822 June 2013
This was Hitchcocks last movie. He was very ill on set, and he did well to finish this. There are more "sexual innuendo" lines than in any of his other movies. Perhaps he was telling us.......I do have a naughty side and a sense of humour. Bruce Dern and Karen Black are pretty good and the pace is always fast. This last Hitchcock film was not well received (particularly in America). One of the reasons was Alfreds VERY English & naughty sense of humour. There are vast differences between American humour and British humour. Hitchcock finished his great career ..............with one for the Brits. Well done Alfred.....we all know American humour is....ummmm not at all funny.
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6/10
Signs of a tired old man?
redkiwi24 June 2001
One of Hitchcock's later films, this doesn't really bring anything much to the legacy of the great Hitchcock. This just does not offer anything new.

A phony psychic and her taxi driver boyfriend launch a scam to make 10,000 dollars off an old lady by making her think they are in contact with her heir. As it turns out, they do make contact with the heir, who is a kidnapper and a jewel thief.

The whole last half hour was very predictable, and perhaps showed the signs of a man coming to the end of his career who had made all his great moves on screen already.
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7/10
The Swan Song of a Genius
claudio_carvalho2 December 2009
The trickster Madam Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) lures the elder millionaire Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) 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 (Bruce Dern), 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 (William Devane) kidnaps wealthy people with his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) 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.

"Family Plot" is the swan song of the genius Alfred Hitchcock. The entwined stories are in general very funny and enjoyable, with the exception of the ridiculous and overacted sequence of Blanche while George is driving downhill the car without brakes. This time, the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock is a shadow at the "registrar of births and deaths" when George is seeking the death certificate of Edward Shoebridge. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Trama Macabra" ("Macabre Plot")
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