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Family Plot (Alfred Hitchcock) 1976 

   Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, ends with the lead character winking directly at the camera, and that seems fitting closure to the career of one of the most manipulative masters of moviemaking. Otherwise, this caper comedy is a bit lightweight, but generally likable enough for us to ignore its flaws. The comedy is odd, in a way, because much of the humor seems to come from the crudeness of its characters. That they chew with their mouths open and have to worry about money (going through what they do for a mere $10,000) seem endearing qualities to Hitchcock, who revels in their flirtatious sex talk. There is also an abundance of irony in this tale of a duo that creates a faux-psychic front so that they can exercise their deft detective skills and a pair of kidnappers that expend much energy avoiding a large inheritance. It becomes clear that if both pairs dropped their pretenses, they would have a much simpler time finding an end to their means (but then the film’s ending shows that had they not been so quirky they would have gone off with less of a reward).  

    Still, there are some real Hitchcockian thrills to be found in this “comedy”. The kidnappers are dastardly and resourceful, and their elaborate exploits are genuinely thrilling. Even more rousing though is when the director plays his action scenes for laughs, like he does in a furious downhill slalom that occurs after some brake lines are clipped. John Williams’ obvious and overbearing score never really feels out of place since we’re so aware of the game that’s being played with us. There’s less of a feel here than in the average Hitchcock film that the sex and violence is repulsive yet attractive, so we don’t feel dirty for enjoying ourselves at the expense of some fictional characters. We’re not being dared to sympathize with thugs or malcontents here, since the initially lawless protagonists move closer toward justice as the film goes on. The tone becomes more likable as the picture progresses, and this conversion might be the main reason for that. The escalating level of danger or the lack of clumsy exposition in the second hour might also be to blame. In any case, the charms of the movie are eventually undeniable. Approached as a standard Hitchcockian thriller, it might come up a bit short, but once you tap into the film’s gentle satire of its characters and genre, the strengths of Family Plot become apparent. 

* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman