Family Plot (1976) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock's last film is not highly rated. Often dismissed as a gentle suspense
it's without doubt the least celebrated film of his latter years. What struck me
watching Family Plot for the first time was how the two separate
stories about two different couples whose paths eventually cross with
potentially deathly results looks initially so un-cinematic. The first hour
or so comes across as an average episode of 1970's detective series Columbo.
Then something happens, notably a crazy car ride without any brakes on a
winding mountain road (this scene a nod to Cary Grant's drunk drive in
North By Northwest).
This finally demonstrates Hitchcock's classic use of high wire suspense and
humor. From then on the film is a tense blast, with Hitchcock once again
referencing himself with a shot of Barbara Harris in distress that recalls the
shower scene in Psycho. The performances from the four central actors are
excellent with Bruce Dern and Harris as out of work actors looking to get
by as a taxi driver and psychic (!) really shining. Their relationship is
portrayed with a natural West Coast vibe spiced with lots of witty
British sexy innuendo. Special mention to Karen Black who dons a blond
wig to portray the almost quintessential 'femme fatale'.
In other words, eventually, this movie was fun.
I feel sympathetic towards Hitchcock.He became old and ill and knew
exactly how a movie should be done, but the world kept
changing as if it forgot about the aesthetics of Psycho, Birds,
Vertigo, Rear Window or all the others. In Family Plot I see a
director adjusting to the 1970s. There is the slow pace, the
not-so-well-educated couple who talk about sex and
want to eat more than one hamburger while conning
a rich old lady. And their clothes are casual, suits greased and lilac in shade.
This is the fun 'contemporary' side of the film.
Then there are the almost obligatory upper class diamond thieves.
A couple that stylistically represent the classic Hitchcock view, I think.
Karen Black's blond wig disguise makes her at times the usual femme fatale.
Yet, the fact that she is seen switching to her own brunette hair in the
couple's car (more than once) feels almost as if the director peeling his
away his own cinematic fixations.
At times I was exhausted and bored by the predictability of this film.
But in the end its sympathetic qualities have won me over.