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  Family Plot Double JeopardyBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter, Cathleen Nesbitt, Katherine Helmond, Warren J. Kemmerling, Edith Atwater, William Prince, Nicholas Colasanto, Marge Redmond, John Lehne, Charles Tyner, Alexander Lockwood, Martin West
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) poses as a medium to separate gullible old ladies from their cash, but today she might have her work cut out as her latest client, the elderly widow Mrs Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), is wanting specific answers to her inquiries about her long dead sister. The trouble is that she wants to know what happened to her nephew, who was born illegitimately around forty years ago and given up for adoption, society being hostile to single mothers in those days. Can Blanche help? She believes she can, but not by utilising the supernatural: some good old detective work should do the trick.

Family Plot was Alfred Hitchcock's final film, and it saw him in uncharacteristically benevolent mood. Although there were hints at the steely menace he was so adept at bringing to even the lightest of thrillers, here, in what was undoubtedly the lightest of his thrillers, the mood was goodnatured and the suspense on the level of what you might find if you had settle down in front of the television of an evening. Indeed, it's easy to envisage Blanche teaming up with boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern) to solve a mystery every week.

So if there's not much nasty aside from a little stronger language than you might have found in Hitchcock's previous films, is there any point in watching the great director work here if he's not operating at full strength? Of course, because he still manages to provide entertainment and teaming up with one of his veteran screenwriters, Ernest Lehman, ensures that the storyline, based on a novel by Victor Canning, is sufficiently twisty and even hard to follow on first viewing (the ads told audiences to "See it twice"). This means that you do feel satisfied that you're not watching second rate craftmanship, simply first rate craftsmanship on a lesser project.

The plot revolves around two couples who compliment each other, they are not exact opposites as they are both breaking the law but one couple is in effect the lesser of two evils. Jeweller Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) are the more evil duo, as they have a not so nice line in kidnapping and diamond theft on the go, and Adamson especially has a dark heart underneath that smooth charm. It's only really Devane who seems capable of actual violence here, odd with a film starring Bruce Dern you might think, and the star makes the most of his opportunities to inject venom into the proceedings.

Blanche sets George on the case of working out what has happened to the missing heir, which leads him to a graveyard where it is assumed he is buried, but when he takes a closer look, although the nephew and his adoptive parents supposedly died together in a fire, his gravestone is far newer than the parents'. This leads George to realise that the heir is still alive, and Adamson has been covering up this fact for reasons best known to himself - unfortunately, the ruthless criminal has noticed someone asking questions about him and sends his henchman to get rid of both George and Blanche. If this sounds as if there is a tense set-up being assembled here, the tone is so relaxed that it's more of a teasing romp, and if there is some subversion in having truly bad guys recieve their comeuppance thanks to nicer bad guys, it doesn't come across as particularly daring. It's a pleasant way for the Master of Suspense to bow out, but was no classic. It also features two of the worst cases of acting with your mouth full ever seen on the screen. Music by John Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

 
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