Family Plot (1976)

“There is no Eddie Shoebridge. He went up in smoke 25 years ago and came down in the city; he calls himself Arthur Adamson.”

Family Plot Poster

Synopsis:
A fraudulent psychic (Barbara Harris) and her taxi-driver boyfriend (Bruce Dern) try to locate the nephew of a wealthy woman (Catherine Nesbitt) who is offering a reward for his discovery — but the nephew (William Devane) turns out to be a psychopathic jewelry store owner who, with the help of his girlfriend (Karen Black), kidnaps people in exchange for enormous diamonds, and will stop at nothing to get Harris and Dern off his trail.

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Review:
Hitchcock’s last film isn’t one of his best by a long shot (it faces some stiff competition!), but it remains a worthy final installment in his lengthy and illustrious career. The script (by Ernest Lehman, who wrote North by Northwest) is a fun mix of comedy and thrills, with a dense but comprehensible plot that keeps one in suspense throughout. In just one of the film’s many instances of symmetry and “doubles”, Harris and Dern provide a welcome comedic counterpart to Devane and Black’s deliciously nefarious thieves (though I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of Harris’s overly nutty performance); it’s particularly nice to see Devane — normally a supporting player — given a chance to shine as the central baddie. Naturally, one wonders why Harris and Dern never think about simply finding an impersonator to play Nesbitt’s nephew — but, as I noted in my review of Strangers on a Train (1951), over-analyzing Hitchcock’s films for plot holes simply ruins the fun! What’s most disconcerting to me about Family Plot (much like the graphic violence in his earlier Frenzy) is hearing such overt sexual puns — as when Dern assures sex-starved Harris that she’ll see a “standing ovation” that night in their waterbed. On that note, it’s interesting to contemplate what Hitch’s film might have looked like had he lived and continued working through the 1980s and ’90s…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William Devane as Arthur Adamson
    Family Plot Devane
  • Karen Black as Fran
    Family Plot Black
  • Bruce Dern as George Lumely
    Family Plot Dern
  • Ernest Lehman’s darkly humorous script
    Family Plot Humor
  • John Williams’ catchy score

Must See?
Yes, as Hitch’s final film.

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