Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Adventure,Comedy,Mystery,Thrillers Family Plot: Hitchcock’s Underrated Final Film

Family Plot: Hitchcock’s Underrated Final Film

Hitchcock not only connotes the figure of a portly, balding English gentleman that often pops up at odd times in movies, but also evokes particular images, sounds, colors, and especially feelings that we associate especially with him. My mother and father often chide us kids for our pooh-pooh attitudes about The Birds. “That was scary stuff when we were kids,” they tell us. For some reason, I just can’t muster too great a fear for seagulls. I do, however, have an innate suspicion of nuns because of Vertigo. The romances in Notorious or Rebecca are cool enough to keep from getting sappy. The humor of Cary Grant getting forcibly sloshed in North by Northwest, or eluding French police in To Catch a Thief, crackles with dry wit.

Hitchcock’s final movie, Family Plot (1976) continues with Hitchcock’s usual MO, but there is something different in it. Hitchcock’s later films seem to be sillier than his earlier work. The number of times Harry’s body in The Trouble with Harry gets buried and exhumed in only one day is an example of the absurd situations in which the characters entrap themselves. However, at least with Trouble the romantic leads were similar to Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in their cool repartee. However, what makes Family Plot so loveable is that Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern are anything but cool and collected.

In one memorable scene, the bad guy tampers with Blanche’s (Harris) car as George (Dern) is driving. The accelerator becomes stuck and the brakes won’t work. They don’t discover the problem until they’re barreling down a busy mountain road. As Blanche criticizes his driving, George does his best to dodge vehicles, steep drop-offs, and (not least) his girlfriend’s flailing limbs. In a frenzy, Blanche even grabs a hold of George’s tie as she twists madly in her seat. It is the funniest scene I’ve ever seen in a Hitchcock film. It is as if he simply said to Harris, “Act scared,” and to Dern, “Keep driving.”

In Family Plot, Blanche is a phony psychic who teams up with her con-man boyfriend to find the long-lost heir for Blanche’s millionaire patroness. The story gets crazier the closer the pair comes to finding the prodigal nephew, considering he’s a villainous jewel thief.

As intriguing as the plot is, the relationship between Blanche and George is even more entertaining. They often talk about sex–either in suggestive euphemisms or by yelling at one another–because Blanche wants some and George is too tired. They are adorably banal.

George’s crazy red hair, sticking straight up, and his voice, vaguely reminiscent of Fozzy Bear, contrasts him with the smooth Cary Grant of To Catch a Thief, clever con-man detective though he may be. Blanche is endearing, and often acts more like a little girl than a grown woman.

Overall, the jewel thief villain and his gorgeous girlfriend side-kick are more akin to Hitchcock’s usual romantic leads, but that’s what makes the movie so wonderful. Blanche and George are milestone characters that exemplify Hitchcock’s switch from classical Hollywood, with its illusions of perfection, grace, and sophistication, to the more modern approach to cinema, with clumsy down-to-earth leads. Blanche and George are no longer characters the audience idolize and admire, but they are the type of folk viewers can identify with.

2 thoughts on “Family Plot: Hitchcock’s Underrated Final Film”

  1. I fell in love with Barbara Harris when I saw FAMILY PLOT for the first time on Turner Classic Movies. I totally LOVE that wink she gives at us in the last scene of the movie!

  2. I’ve loved Barbara since Freaky Friday…but this film just made her better! My favorite scene in Plot is when they are eating dinner and are called off to meet with a info source. Barbara has her mouth stuffed full of hamburger, and yet she still asks Bruce to make her another one. She’s such a little girl!

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