Rounding out not only Alfred Hitchcock’s career, but also this exploration of it, let us discuss his final film, “Family Plot”. Relatively few people have heard of it and even fewer have seen it.
A fraud psychic (aren’t they all?) Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is told by an elderly client that she once gave a child up for adoption. She has no one else to leave her fortune. If Blanche can find the child, she will give Blanche $10,000. The trouble is, the now-grown child’s whereabouts, name, etc are unknown. Blanche enlists the help of her loser boyfriend, cab driver George Lumley (Bruce Dern).
Meanwhile, Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his partner Fran (Karen Black) make a fortune kidnapping millionaires and exchanging them for ransom. They run a jewelry store by day as a front and employ Joseph Maloney (Ed Lauter) to do much of their dirty work.
You had better believe the two stories are related.
There are brief instances and glimmers of previous magic that the director has mustered before, but the film isn’t dark enough for a suspense and isn’t light or funny enough to truly be a comedy. Sure, some of the dynamics between the characters is a little quirky but even some innuendos aren’t enough. Allegedly, the literary source material was much darker. That decision, any decision, would have made this more interesting. As it is, two hours is entirely too long, considering that there really isn’t too much to this story.
The highlight of the film is a sequence where Blanche and George find themselves in a care with no brakes careening downhill. It just doesn’t look good. This visual hokiness was commonplace in films from the ’60s but a great director need not resort to cheap tricks from the prior decade. Also semi-iconic is Fran’s disguise which is striking and a good idea.
The leads are all adequate. Dern has been a longtime favorite of Hitchcock and Black is very appealing. A lot of the characters are very broad and perhaps there was a perception that comedy would arise from this. Instead, we have characters who are all scheming and detestable.
Special features include: the making of the film, storyboarding the car scene, photographs, notes and trailers. A fine collection.
‘Family Plot’ is one of those Hitchcock films that isn’t essential to casual fans. Thankfully, this isn’t completely boring like ‘Topaz’ but it’s just generally dull and doesn’t have anything special going on. Absolute completists can see it to see how the master went out, but it isn’t a particularly high note.
Add an extra half star to this review.
Rated PG 121 minutes 1976