1/12/11

GUEST POST- Hitch on the Hump: Christine Digs Into Family Plot


Hey folks, and welcome to a special Hitch on the Hump. You folks know how much I love Hitchcock, but I wanted to give some other folks a chance to share their love for The Master of Suspense. First up is Christine Makepeace of Paracinema Magazine (And Blog). Besides being a publishing and writing badass, Christine also shares my love for Hitchcock all the way to the bitter end. Speaking of the bitter end, she chose to take a look at Hitch's last film, 1976's Family Plot. (My full review can be found HERE.) I'm going to turn it over to her now, but before I do, if you want to be a Guest on the Hump, contact me at thelightningbug@charter(dot)net and we'll get you on the books!

When a fake medium and her cabbie/actor boyfriend set out to find the missing heir to a vast fortune, they never dream they’ll find themselves mixed up with a duo of kidnappers/jewel thieves. But they do. Find themselves mixed up with some kidnappers/jewel thieves, that is. And there you have Family Plot, Hitchcock’s final film. While Plot’s plot may seem a bit grand (see also: convoluted), it is at its heart a “whodunit” where we, the viewer, know exactly who has done what.

Our amateur sleuths, Blanche (Barbara Harris) and George (Bruce Dern), spend most of the film completely ignorant to the fact that the man they seek, Arthur (William Devane), is a villainous snake. Along with his partner, Fran (Karen Black), he has been holding rich and powerful men for ransom. When Blanche and George come knocking, the 2 baddies naturally assume they have been found out. How were they to know Blanche just wants to give Arthur a few million dollars that he had no idea he was entitled to?

Family Plot is by no means a perfect film. Its importance lies in where it falls in Hitch’s filmography. It’s our last taste of The Master, therefore it is important. And upon watching it, I for one, expected some kind of revelation. Alas, it isn’t there. The premise is interesting enough; 2 very different sets of characters whom find themselves intertwined. But the flair, the Hitchcock panache, seems to be all but absent. This could be due to Hitch’s failing health. More on that later…

While Plot may fall short as a Hitchcock film, it is still a very watchable, enjoyable slice of 70’s cinema. The previously mentioned whodunitness makes the film infinitely compelling. On the flipside, the tone and humor didn’t work for me. Unlike The Trouble With Harry, the black comedy clashed with the story and caused many suspenseful moments to lose their impact. In a scene where Dern and Harris are flying down a hill in a sabotaged car, their slapsticky delivery makes all consequences seem moot. The Master of Suspense failing to build, well, suspense? Crazy, I know.

Again, it’s not my intention to discount the film’s quality. About 2 years ago I decided to go through Hitchcock’s full catalog. (I hit about 75%... There are still some glaring holes…) Upon first viewing Family Plot, I promptly rated it 2 out of 5 on Netflix. My first instinct was to hate it. My only explanation for that rating was my total immersion in his films. I came to expect certain things that I felt Plot didn’t deliver. Hitch’s signature shots, which always elicited chills, seemed to be all but gone (aside from the grand, sweeping, overhead shot in the cemetery). After a re-watch, my opinion has changed considerably. While this may not be a high point in his career, it certainly isn’t a low one. It’s just different; tonally, visually, narratively, musically, etc. But it’s still Hitch.

One of the extras (Plotting Family Plot) on the DVD reduced me to tears. Perhaps that’s why I have become so forgiving of this film’s shortcomings. To see Alfred and his wife Alma on set, so frail, reminds me of his passion for filmmaking. Clearly not in good health, he remains as involved (and opinionated) as possible. So even if this film lacks likable characters and a nail biting soundtrack, it still has Hitch. It is his last hurrah, his last gift to us cinefiles, and I for one never look a gift horse in the mouth.

As an aside, I did a lot of reading about Family Plot and I found some super neat casting gossip. Al Pacino was being considered for Bruce Dern’s role. Oh, and Jack Nicholson. Liza Minnelli was originally cast as Blanche. And Faye Dunaway was offered the role that went to Karen Black. This one is my favorite: Roy Scheider and Burt Reynolds were both in the running for the role that was ultimately won by William Devane. Pacino, Dunaway and Burt in a Hitchcock film? Part of me would have loved to see that!

Me too Christine! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on The Master of Suspense's final film. I have to admit that I discounted it when I watched it originally, and now you've got me wanting to go back and watch it again. Next week I'll be back with a regular Hitch on the Hump, but then we'll have another guest post, this time from Matt Suzaka of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby!

5 comments:

  1. Interesting. I feel like this is one I should save for some time down the line, after I watch more of the essential Hitch. I can see how a director's final film, made in almost a different era of filmmaking as when he came to such prominence, is going to be fascinating regardless of its quality--providing you know the director well enough.

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  2. Nail on the head, Em.
    And thank you for allowing me to join in the fun!!! :)

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  3. I watched this one immediately after a viewing of the Birds some time in the 80's. Even back then It struck me how different they were, yet you could totally tell they are both the works of the same director. I really enjoy the humor of Family Plot. And who could resist a movie with Karen Black in it!

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  4. I've never seen Family Plot, but I think based off your review, I would've been disappointed if I watched it expecting the staples that Hitchcock brings to much of his work. I specifically love how he can mix snappy humor and suspense, without taking away from either one.

    So now whenever I do get the chance to see this film, I will at least be a little more prepared, thus, maybe have a more open mind to it being a different film for him. Great review, Christine, and I hope you get the chance to finish that other 25% soon!

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  5. I consider Hitchcock a god, so much so that ten of his movies are in my list of one hundred favorites of all time. As much as I worship Hitchcock I don't like anything he did after "Psycho" (and that includes the overrated "The Birds")- with the exception of the charming "Family Plot". Is "Family Plot" a masterpiece like my favorite Hitchcock: "Notorious" and "North by Northwest"? Of course not, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller with some nice set pieces, lots of humor and Hitchcock's most huggable leading lady, Barbara Harris.

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