Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Ed Lauter and Barbara Harris star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot. And while not one of the director’s best, there are some fun moments and ideas in the film.
The story follows two separate couples, both who work in shades of grey. Bruce Dern is George a taxi driver who has dreams of being an actor, who is wrangled into being a unlicensed private investigator in aid of his girlfriend, Blanche (Harris) who masquerades as a psychic in order to make a buck or two. And Blanche is on to a big payday if she can find a long lost heir to a family fortune.
Meanwhile that heir, Adamson (Devane) is working with Fran (Black) in a kidnap and ransom scheme that has been working very well for them. But now, they think George and Blanche is onto them. They aren’t they want to find Adamson as an heir, not a suspect.
The pairs dance around one another as they track each other down, avoid traps, and work towards making a big payday, the ransoms are paying off in valuable gems, and the heir case can pay off in ten thousand for Blanche and George.
None of them are innocent, or entirely honest, and they all seem to be happy to be scheming. Things cause problems for George and Blanche when Adamson thinks they are pursuing him for his crimes, and has an old friend, Maloney (Lauter) work on eliminating them.
While the story moves along at a fast pace, it’s not as engaging as Hitchcock’s earlier work and both Harris and Dern seem quite happy to chew scenery on occasion. A prime example of this is when Maloney sabotages their car, and they are in danger of crashing and dying, and Harris is completely over the top.
And of course, there’s the whole fake psychic thing, which you know has to pay off as the potential to be a real thing before the film is out.
Devane has always been able to play a charming villain, and that’s on full display here, even if the moustache seems a little out of place. Unfortunately, there’s no real chemistry between his character and Black’s so you wonder why they’re together, not just as a couple but as as criminal group.
I hate to say it, but it is undeniable that Hitchcock’s earlier films are stronger and better, and there’s a sense of dark Norman Rockwell early Americana associated with them that has eked away over the course of Hitch’s career, and he didn’t update his style or vision to accommodate that and consequently, things kind of falter.
That being said, there’s still a sense of fun, but nowhere near as enjoyable as earlier film’s in Hitchcock’s library.