EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|FAMILY PLOT (director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriter: Ernest Lehman/from the novel "The Rainbird Pattern" by Victor Canning; cinematographer: Leonard J. South; editor: J. Terry Williams; music: John Williams; cast: Karen Black (Fran), Bruce Dern (George Lumley), Barbara Harris (Blanche), William Devane (Arthur Adamson), Ed Lauter (Joe Maloney), Cathleen Nesbitt (Julia Rainbird), William Prince (Bishop Wood), Nicholas Colasanto (Greek Shipping Magnate), Edith Atwater (Mrs. Clay); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Alfred Hitchcock; Universal Home Video; 1976)|
|"It's the perfect crime picture."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This was the 53rd and last feature film directed by Alfred
Hitchcock ("Vertigo"/"Frenzy"/"Psycho"). The
Master died in
1980 at the age of 80. Family Plot is adapted from the
middling novel "The Rainbird Pattern" by Brit novelist
and written with great wit by Ernest Lehman ("North by
Northwest"). Hitchcock does wonders with this tongue-in-cheek
suspense yarn. It's the perfect crime picture.
Phony medium Madame Blanche (Barbara Harris) has
hired by Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), a dowager of 78, to
find her long-lost nephew, the illegitimate son of her deceased sister
Harriet in order to leave her only heir her entire fortune of millions.
The guilt-ridden Rainbird put him up for adoption forty years ago to
avoid a family scandal as Harriet was not married, and knows neither
his name nor whereabouts nor who adopted him. Blanche has no ability to
communicate with the dead or in any way be psychic, but gets help in
the search from her quarrelsome cabbie (an out of work actor) boyfriend
George (Bruce Dern). The amiable zany couple plan to rip off
Rainbird for the $10,000 she promised to just locate her nephew, as the
conniving small-time con artist couple plan on leading the
impressionable dowager on that they located her nephew. But,
surprisingly, through vigorous leather shoe investigating, the dim
couple locate the nephew as a crooked wealthy Los Angeles jeweler going
under the phony name Arthur Adamson (William Devane). What they don't
know is that he's a kidnapper capable of murder, who holds his captives
(first a Greek shipping magnate and then the local bishop) for a ransom
of valuable king-size diamonds and is aided by his master of the
disguise girlfriend, donning a blonde wig, Fran (Karen Black).
The link that connects these
two couples, one ruthless and one benign, is the
illegitimate child, his adopted family that all burned to death in an
arson crime he schemed many years ago, an empty grave, a car whose
brakes are tampered with and is speeding down a steep mountain road,
and some very bizarre and funny circumstances that put the fake psychic
on the trail of the dangerous psychopathic criminal.
Hitchcock shows that both couples might be greedy and
dishonest, but only the more sophisticated couple is willing to cross
the line of hardened criminal and be willing to take lives.
The cast all give grand performances, which includes fine
support by Ed Lauter as Devane's
mad-dog killer friend and William
the pampered bishop who was artfully snatched while conducting mass
in a crowded church.
It's top-notch Hitchcock but
without his usual type of suspense, that's a real treat because of how
it mixes mayhem and comedy into an entertaining movie and how the
Master's eagle eye for attention to detail makes for such a
well-crafted film. It shows the Master never lost his touch, not even
in his last film when his health was failing him.
REVIEWED ON 8/25/2010 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ