Family Plot (1976 USA)

family plotOne man’s horrid past starts to intrude on his equally despicable present. You can hide, but you can’t run. This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, alongside things like Psycho & North By Northwest. The lack of suspense makes for a pleasant change. Although Hitchcock applied the magic directorial touch to many of the sequences, I can’t help but feel it is a small team of performers who make this a fun film to watch over and over again.

William Devane, Barbara Harris, Karen Black and Ed Lauter –and most of all, Bruce Dern. I know that some of them were not first choices in the casting process, but what you end up with here are two teams of schemers who collide in splendid ways. I love the strong element of coincidence in the film, normally the mark of a tacky movie. And how many of these serpentine machinations on display really do stem from coincidence? The first coincidence is a real one: Bruce Dern almost hits strolling stranger Karen Black with his car. Of course these two are destined to cross paths several times throughout the story.

But Dern and Harris, as this wonderful contrast to the other sneaky pair of the film, Devane and Black, appear as ditherers, scatterbrains, goofs, even. We have the precise, cleanly executed, super-calm approach of Devane and Black. This is versus what looks like a losing side in the bumbling obliviousness of the admittedly lovable Dern and Harris dysfunctional combo. Or not dysfunctional, after all! Under all the histrionics, bickering and clowning around, Dern and Harris manage to function as plodding yet determined detectives.

family plot 1And they have an advantage over Devane’s superior intellect: they are coming at him, slowly, from an angle he does not expect…his past. The few scenes with cops–wonderful scenes, playful scenes– just indicate that if George (Bruce Dern) and Blanche (Barbara Harris) don’t succeed in tracking a criminal (and his reluctant female accomplice) to his lair the hard way, no one will. The kidnapping-for-swag will go on and on because the villains are too perfect. Enter successful dysfunction, in just the most wonderful way shown in any movie. I love all the intertwining, and I love Ed Lauter coming in from the sidelines.

And I love a last Hitchcock production that has, of all things, self-absorbed faceless teenagers in a car, who–after accidentally forcing an oncoming car off a cliff, just sort of drive off to continue their partying. After all, who cares? Whimsy in death. Hitch had just had a pacemaker fitted and he must have been pondering his own demise in the not too distant future. And I do cherish the little wink at the end–as if it’s Hitchcock himself taking the first brick out of the “Fourth Wall” and saying ‘I’m just about done pretending”. I love Frenzy, but I prefer a charming, breezy exit. With just a hint of menace. Vastly under-appreciated stuff.

family plot 2


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