Our local single screen cinema, The Prytania Theatre, recently featured Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot as part of their classic film series. I didn’t see it there but realized that I hadn’t seen it since it was in theatres in 1976. I am not only old, I am bicentennial old.
I pulled out my trusty Hitchcock DVD box set and watched the movie with Dr. A. I was pleasantly surprised. It was much better than I remembered. It’s still relatively minor Hitchcock but it’s as entertaining as all get out.
The plot of Family Plot involves two distinct stories that intersect in the final act of the movie. There are two duos who eventually duel. We have the jewel thieves played by Karen Black and William Devane; as well as the spiritualist and her cab driver boyfriend played by Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern.
Harris is a fake medium, but a harmless one. She’s hired by a wealthy elderly client to find a son she gave up for adoption. Why hire a medium to do a private eye’s job? Movie magic.
That’s all the plot I plan to share. This feature isn’t called Spoiler Fiction, after all.
As usual, Bruce Dern steals the movie; this time, by being funny and likable instead of sleazy. It turns out that Dern was a favorite of Hitchcock’s. Their on-set banter caused some jealousy. Hitch rarely bantered with actors.
William Devane did his poor man’s Jack Nicholson shtick and Karen Black was as adorable as usual. I had a crush on her back then. I saw her at Vesuvio once but didn’t say hello. I had a sudden cases of the shys; either that or Larry Felinghetti was bending my ear. I forget. It was a long time ago.
The director’s cameo featured his shadow through a door as Bruce Dern cruised public records:
Family Plot was based on this uncanny novel by Victor Canning.
What was he canning? Beats the hell outta me.
Grading Time: Family Plot may be lesser Hitchcock but it’s wildly entertaining. I give it 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+
It’s poster time. Who among us doesn’t love seeing the Master of Suspense’s head in a crystal ball?
Let’s follow the dancing refreshments into the lobby. What if you don’t have a lobby? Beats the hell outta me.
The lobby cards for Family Plot are outstanding. They’re framed by the images of Black, Harris, Dern, and Hitchcock from the poster.
Bruce Dern went to the cemetery pipe in mouth to see what secrets were buried there. He should have read the tagline: “There’s no body in the family plot.”
Let’s exit the lobby and enter the trailer:
That concludes this bicentennial year flashback. Beware of jewel thieves, empty graves, and fake mediums. They were all part of the Family Plot.