- Family Plot is the last film from Alfred Hitchcock who died in 1980. This is Hitchcock’s 53rd film.
- The crew surrounding Hitchcock on his last effort is top notch. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay (and it, and the way it plays with narrative form, is unquestionably a strength of the film). Lehman was a multiple nominee who also wrote North by Northwest and Sweet Smell of Success (certainly two of the stronger screenplays of the 1950s). Family Plot also catches John Williams in the year between Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977).
- Since Torn Curtain in 1966, Hitchcock had sort of refused to spend his available budget on big stars. Family Plot features Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Barbara Harris, and William Devane (not exactly no names but undoubtedly not Paul Newman and Julie Andrews either).
- There are two separate narrative threads in Family Plot. One is the medium or “spiritualist” (Barbara Harris’ Blanche Tyler) and her lover/partner-in-crime (Bruce Dern as George). The other is a jewel thief (William Devane’s Arthur Adamson) and his lover/partner-in-crime (Fran played by Karen Black). Both stories are engaging as hell.
- One of the most memorable images/scenes of Family Plot is definitely Karen Black in sunglasses as she commits a robbery without speaking. There are some strong scenes of Dern smoking a pipe and sleuthing for someone named Edward Shoebridge.
- The “perfect crime” superman theory (that always ultimately fails) that pervades much of Hitchcock’s work is here a bit in Devane’s character. He remarks on his own “brilliant planning” as the camera floats up to a diamond hidden among the chandeliers. Later, a “perfect murder” will be brought up. Seeing a plan come together by preparing every detail sure feels like Hitchcock talking about himself as a storyboarder and cinematic strategist.
- Hitchcock ties the two stories together at the 48-minute mark. All parities handle the mousetrap with an enjoyable, casual lightness.
- Surely by 1976 the rear projection use for the car accident had gone the way of the dinosaur- and the PG rating in 1976 for a film about criminals does feel old fashioned without a doubt.
- Cold, ironic fate- this could be The Coen Brothers. All this killing and Arthur Adamson is simply avoiding coming into money he stands to inherit. It is a moral tale though, too—getting their just desserts.
- Dern is back with Hitchcock after a small but pivotal role more than a decade before in 1964’s Marnie.
- Recommend- perhaps leaning to the Recommend/ Highly Recommend border.
“The “perfect crime” superman theory (that always ultimately fails) that pervades much of Hitchcock’s work is here a bit in Devane’s character”
– yep, that comes up in many Hitchcock films:
It is the basis for the main plot in:
– Rope (1948)
– Strangers on a Train (1951)
– Dial M for Murder (1954)
– Vertigo (1958) in a less direct way but the Gavin Elster character is enlisting Stewart’s character into
unwittingly helping him carry out a perfect murder
It is discussed in:
– Rear Window (1954) Stewart’s character and his police buddy discuss how a successful murder would be
– Shadow of a Doubt (1943) the neighbor played by Hume Cronyn and young Charlies father take turns
discussing ways to commit the perfect crime almost as a hobby
There are probably other examples but I think those are the main ones. Amazing how Hitchcock was able to use a number of subjects/themes and rework them over and over.