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Universal Studios Home Video presents

Family Plot (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1976)

"Isn't it touching how a perfect murder has kept our friendship alive all these years?"- Adamson (William Devane)

Stars: Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Barbara Harris
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PGRun Time: 02h:00m:04s
Release Date: 2005-10-04
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-C-C C+


DVD Review

Last call, old friend. This is the final film from Alfred Hitchcock, certainly the most recognizable and one of the most celebrated directors in the history of motion pictures, and as such, very much has the feel of final things—but it's more of a variation on familiar themes than it is a mournful elegy for what's soon to be no more. Hitch was never one for much sentiment, and, as he displayed over the decades, he found nothing quite as funny as a dead body—that mordant humor is in many respects what this film is all about.

The supplemental material on this DVD reports that, late in his career especially, Hitch was particularly penurious with actors, and hence the talent level assembled for this film hardly rates a flicker compared to the star wattage of the days of Cary Grant and James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman. The formula seems a little dissipated, too, though Hitch and screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who performed the same chores for the director on the ultimate Hitchcock movie, North By Northwest, give it their best. Barbara Harris plays Madame Blanche, a crock of a spiritualist who channels the dead for little old ladies, and so much the better if her clientele have mattresses stuffed with oodles of cash. Blanche hits the jackpot here, when the ancient Julia Rainbird reports that, decades ago, a Rainbird family heir was born out of wedlock, hidden with the family of the chauffeur. If only Blanche will locate the prodigal son, Mrs. Rainbird will be happy to give her a $10,000 finder's fee.

That's certainly ample motivation for Blanche and her paramour, George, a cabbie sick of getting pressed into harebrained schemes—he just wants to drive his taxi, though he's greedy, too, and Bruce Dern in the role is a great mixture of exasperation and unpredictability. Of course there's a crimp in the plan, as these two cross swords with another nefarious pair—William Devane plays Adamson, a jeweler, and Karen Black is Fran, his partner in crime. They're in the midst of a successful series of kidnappings and ransoms, and they're not interested in anybody, certainly not a two-bit hustler and her cabbie boyfriend, interfering with their plans.

This certainly is penny ante stuff after the days of cabernet bottles filled with plutonium, or James Stewart obsessively remaking Kim Novak into the woman that he lost; and we probably wouldn't come to this picture with the same sort of good will if its director were anonymous. The same tight control over storytelling isn't on display here—you can feel the movie meandering a little bit, almost as if Hitch's attention were wandering, as if he knew that this wasn't up to the standards of his best work. But it is a nice little cherry on what would no doubt be an arsenic-laced sundae, and is a reminder that we will not see his like again, no matter how overdone comparisons are between every even modestly successful director of a thriller and the true Master of Suspense.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This gauzy, scratchy transfer is one of the weaker ones in this Hitchcock box set, somewhat surprising given that it's the most recent film. Almost all of the reds read as brown; when they don't, they read as orange. What's a Hitchcock picture with blood that's scarlet?

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Some muffling interferes with the dialogue on occasion, and John Williams' score is cranked up far too loud for my taste.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: Plotting Family Plot (48m:21s) is a thorough history of the production, featuring new interview footage with Dern, Devane, Black, assistant director Howard Kazanjian, and the director's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Donnell—here's where the budget issues get hashed out, and where we learn, among other things, that Dern was far down the list for his role. (At the top was Al Pacino, but the director wouldn't meet his price.) There's a terrific set (09m:40s) of the director's storyboards for a climactic car chase, the sequence most reminiscent of earlier Hitchcock pictures. The director is the star of two original trailers, and dominates the accompanying production photo gallery as well. The extras are rounded out by some brief production notes, discussing the novel on which the screenplay was based.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

Alfred Hitchcock's last lap may be only for those who have worked through the rest of the director's canon already, but it's not without its small sly pleasures.

Jon Danziger 2006-04-06