Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) has recently been divorced and is encouraged to attend a party by one of her friends to look out for a new man for her life. However, although she spots a man there (Chevy Chase) who catches her eye, he quickly makes a fool of himself by spilling his drink and she walks away. One pep talk later, and she meets him properly, but he seems a little overfamiliar and Gloria drives back home instead. But not alone: she stops for a man whose car has broken down, one Scottie (Bruce Solomon) who slips a packet of cigarettes into her purse, claiming he wants to ration himself and she can return them to him later... Gloria doesn't know it, but her act of charity has landed her in serious trouble...
Alfred Hitchcock was the man who we were supposed to be reminded of by writer and director Colin Higgins' comedy thriller, as with his previous script, Silver Streak, but Foul Play contained too many crunching gear changes to be ranked around the level of the Master of Suspense's greatest works and was more on the level of Family Plot. Still, there was amusement to be had with the complications of the plotting and the broad humour, but many scenes were too leisurely to be leading into sequences that were nothing short of frenetic. It is this wavering tone that made one wish for a slicker experience, or at least a more stylish one.
The film was also notable for being the first starring role for Chase, here playing Tony Carlson, the police detective of Gloria's dreams even if she doesn't know it from that initial meeting. Fresh from making his name on Saturday Night Live, he does one falling over stunt of the kind he became famous for, into the water as it turns out, but in the main he's playing the straight man too much here, funny at times when Higgins gives him the odd witty line, but that's about it. The story is blessed with quite a number of star turns, including the ever-reliable Burgess Meredith as Gloria's landlord who gets into a bizarre kung fu fight with villainess Rachel Roberts, not a sight often seen. Best of the guests is Dudley Moore as sex-starved Stanley, who has decked his apartment out as a bachelor pad meant for seduction, and can't believe his luck when he finally gets a woman back to his place.
That woman being Gloria, in just one of the many setpieces of the film, both comedic and tense. Hawn was made for this kind of light humour and easygoing thrills, perfect as she goes to the cinema only to find her date dead after whispering that she should beware of "The Dwarf" (actually a laboured excuse for getting Hawn to beat up Billy Barty), or escaping from a room she has been kidnapped to thanks to the self defence paraphernalia given to her by her best friend (Marilyn Sokol, though I doubt Hitchcock would have tried to get away with the Scrabble gags in this bit). It's funny (peculiar) how most of the bad guys are so distinctive looking, you'd think that would be a drawback in their line of work; there's even an albino hitman (William Frankfather) which makes you try and recall any albino characters in the movies at all who haven't turned to crime in some form. Essentially, Foul Play is more Charade than North by Northwest, but has its moments all the same. Music by Charles Fox (including a ballad by Barry Manilow).