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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hitchcock Month - Family Plot

Family Plot (1976)
Starring Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, William Devane, and Karen Black
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
***Currently streaming on Netflix*** 

I don't know if it was simply a case of lowered expectations, but Hitchcock's final directorial effort was much better than I remember it.  Probably over a decade ago, I watched Family Plot and remember abhorring it.  Watching it now, I don't know why as it's really a pleasant and well-written film.  While it's not Hitch's best, this lighthearted murder-mystery is nothing for the great director to be embarrassed about.

There's two storylines going on in Family Plot which eventually converge.  In one plot, fake psychic Blanche (Barbara Harris) deceives an elderly lady into thinking that she has connected with her deceased husband and sister.  The elderly lady desires to find her long-lost living nephew and will give Blanche $10,000 if she can use her clairvoyant powers to reconnect them.  Not being a real psychic, Blanche gets her boyfriend, George (Bruce Dern), to do some detective work for her and they end up uncovering quite a bit more than they anticipated.

Plot #2 involves jewelry store owner Arthur (William Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) and their nefarious ways.  Together, they kidnap well-known dignitaries and hold them for ransom for expensive jewels.  Eventually, these two plots will converge in a surprisingly effective way.

While there's a lighthearted atmosphere in the film, Family Plot never veers too heavily towards the humor side.  There are amusing moments, but with the exception of a slapsticky scene involving Barbara Harris in an out-of-control car, nothing goes over-the-top.  There's a very nice balance on display here in terms of humor and mystery.

Hitch is helped by four actors who all do an admirable job, none of whom were stars which I think helped the movie immensely.  All the actors, moreso than in many other Hitch films, have a real equal footing here -- each of their characters are well-developed and none of them could be called "the lead."  It's a difficult task to have four characters have equal footing, but screenwriter Ernest Lehman (of North by Northwest fame) and Hitch did a great job of spreading the wealth in Family Plot.

I've got to say that this was a pleasant little surprise.  From the great acting to the esteemed John Williams' whimsical and clever musical score, this film is a lot better than I thought it would be.  Would I have loved for Hitch's final film to be more like Psycho or Rear Window?  Sure, but I don't know why I hated this film so much when I was younger.  Family Plot is a film that I would definitely watch again sooner rather than later.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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