HOME   News   Reviews   Adv Search   Features   My DVD   About   Apps   Stats     Search:
  Directed by
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
    English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  • Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • Storyboards
  • Documentaries - Plotting Family Plot

Family Plot

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . PG . PAL


Good eeeeeeeeeeeeeeveningÖ

For your delectation this week we have a tale of two couples. Firstly there's Madame Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a medium of rather dubious psychic abilities, who is aided by her actor-cum-taxi driver beau George Lumley (Bruce Dern). He gleans information from his passengers, she uses it to hoodwink her prey into believing she is a truly gifted link to 'the other side'. Her latest target is a rich widow named Julia Rainbird, who after suffering quite the turn of nightmares is desperate to find the sole surviving heir to the Rainbird fortune, the illegitimate son of her sister who was adopted out forty years previously - for imagine the shame and scandal if anybody had found out at the time! There's a cool 10,000 dollars to be had if Blanche succeeds, subtly of course, so as you may imagine she is rather keen to discover the whereabouts of this son.

Our other couple is that of Fran (Karen Black) and Arthur Adamson (William Devane). Also of dubious repute, these two kidnap wealthy businessmen and ransom them for rather large diamonds - after all, they do look ever so delightful as part of their chandelier. However this would all be rather bland if not for a little interplay, would it not? Never fear however, for as fate would have it the two couples cross paths on a number of occasions, both in their eventual pursuit of the Rainbird fortune.

This was Alfred Hitchcock's 53rd, and final, film, and to say that it doesn't rank amongst his best would be one of the greatest examples of understatement uttered in this or any century. The year was 1976, and with Hollywood's, and the public's, rapidly forming blockbuster mentality, it seems almost embarrassingly out of place - and comes across oft times more like a poor James Bond pastiche than a suspense thriller worthy of the Hitchcock name. All of this is even more peculiar when considering the screenplay author. The great Ernest Lehman, who was at the writing helm for what was arguably Hitch's greatest moment, North by Northwest, also penned Family Plot, based on a novel entitled The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning. Originally based in England, the story's emigration to an American setting could be accused of being a major factor in all that simply isnít quite right about this film.

It isnít a hopeless case by any means, and is often rather entertaining. However, regardless of Hitchcock's renowned sense of devilish humour, many of the comic moments here seem more forced, and even at times accidental instead of by design, in that rather dated and cheesy 'only-from-the-'70s' style ever so not in keeping with most of the director's vast and impressive canon, which is on the whole quite timeless. As well as the irony in having the word 'plot' included in the title of a film that probably has less of one than any of his previous works, many of Hitchcock's usual tricks and traits are also missing. There's no blonde ice-queen, no ordinary man in an out of his depth situation and rather than true, often nail-biting drama such that was his gift, most dramatic situations here tend to be more of the type that could only be prefixed with 'melo'. Most noticeably the entire direction of Family Plot seems infinitely more un-structured than his previous works. Gone are the intricately planned and often elaborately choreographed scenes, generally in favour of a much looser look and feel to proceedings, which is decidedly un-Hitchcock - a description which aptly sums up this entire affair.


After some almost incredible transfers of Hitchcock's works from as far back as the '50s making their way to DVD, surely it wouldnít be unreasonable to expect his last film, and one from the mid-'70s at that, to look immaculate? Perversely however, this is probably the most ugly presentation yet seen of the great man's work.

Whilst pleasingly showing up here in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and also anamorphically enhanced, there aren't many other positives to be bestowed upon it. Grain is the main issue here, with enough on display throughout the entirety of the film that one canít help but wonder if the cameras were also being used as wheat silos in a possible attempt to keep production costs down. Add to this an inordinate amount of scratches, specks flecks and other detritus showing up throughout, plus a general dark and murky look and things arenít exactly delightful. In all it has quite a similar appearance to all those old '70s American TV shows many of us used to lap up - washed out, but with curiously over-saturated moments that tend to give a rather unreal look to proceedings, and also that dreaded wonky lack of solidity to colours, where they tend to almost pulsate a little rather than remaining steadfast.

The layer changes in the Universal Hitchcock releases have a reputation for being on the whole quite ineptly placed. Whilst the one here is by no means perfect, it is however less jarring than many that have preceded it.


What can be said that's interesting about another mono audio presentation? Probably nothing. Still, with what we get dialogue is generally quite clear at all times, and this really is the most important thing. It's just a shame it all sounds so, well, squished.

The soundtrack is from John Williams, and I'm sure anybody reading this is well aware of the work he went on to do not long after Family Plot. Whilst his soundtrack here is certainly nothing particularly startling, it is nice to hear a bit of harpsichord popping up in a '70s movie soundtrack. There's some nice use of choral sounds, and for a film with less use of Hitchcock's renowned silence-is-golden trick, in all the music tends to fit quite well with the overall slightly cheesy tone of the flick.


When you're onto a good thing, stick to it. When you're onto an OK one, you may as well do the same. The menus are pretty much the same as previous releases, with stills from the film accompanied by that fabulous Alfred Hitchcock Presents music. What is always of much more interest are the goodies that lie behind these menus for fans. Here we get...

Documentary - Plotting Family Plot: Another in a fine series of features made in 2000, and another for a reasonably mediocre film that still offers enough insight into the behind the scenes goings on and story development that make it well worth viewing. Interviews here feature the staple Patricia Hitchcock-O'Connell, production folk such as assistant director Howard Kazanjian and set designer Henry Bumstead, plus actors Karen Black, William Devane and Bruce Dern. Oh, and John Williams pops up briefly too. Some interesting factoids are revealed within this, such as Hitchcock's falling out with composer Bernard Hermann that led to the employment of Williams, the director's general work methods (described here as "like working in a bank" due to their strict 9 to 5 nature) and intriguingly how Al Pacino was originally the number one pick to play Lumley. Whilst not without some minor faults, generally the visual quality of this 48-minute presentation is quite acceptable.

Storyboards: 58 still shots of rough sketches minutely detailing a certain scene involving a mountain and a car.

Art gallery: 87 of the now familiar variety of promotional stills, behind the scenes photos and posters.

Theatrical trailer: Just over two-minutes in duration, this features master spiritualist Hitchcock in another of his specially shot trailer appearances. That's the good bit, the bad is the phenomenal amount of grain, crackles and pops, the washed out appearance and generally overall icky state this is in. Whilst obviously not intended to be, it is regardless presented full frame with chopped off edges, as evidenced by a frame that claims the film was "ected by Alfred Hitchcoc".

Teaser trailer: Ironic in a rather tragic way, this 1:14 minute teaser has Hitch popping up in a cemetery to promote what would be the last film before his death. This too is in pretty shocking condition, although at least the sides donít look to have been mercilessly severed.

4-page booklet with production notes: Hmm, the grave robbers must have got their mitts on this, either that or none was included with this review copy.


Certainly not a filmic epitaph particularly fitting of the great Alfred Hitchcock, this should at least be of interest to fans of the man - however donít necessarily enter into it expecting the ingenuity that imbued most of his other works. As a disc this is but a serviceable effort, and whilst the vision is pretty dreadful in comparison to other recent Hitch releases, it is at least presented in the correct ratio - unlike many of the later entries in the second Alfred Hitchcock Collection series - plus it does feature another entertaining and reasonably informative documentary.

R.I.P. Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=948
  • Send to a friend.

    Cast your vote here: You must enable cookies to vote.
      And I quote...
    "Certainly not a filmic epitaph particularly fitting of the great Alfred Hitchcock..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
      Recent Reviews:
    by Amy Flower

    The Simpsons - Gone Wild
    "Fox get the dartboard out again to compile another haphazard four-episode release of Simpsons episodesÖ "

    The Commitments: SE
    "A rollicking good flick that manages to be musical without being naff..."

    Placebo - Soulmates Never Die: Live in Paris
    "One for all Nancy Boys and Ashtray Girls to treasure."

    Amazon Women on the Moon
    "...worth a look if youíve never before had the pleasure. Bullshit, or not?"

    Jack & Sarah
    "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "

      Related Links
      None listed


    Search for Title/Actor/Director:
    Google Web dvd.net.au
       Copyright © DVDnet. All rights reserved. Site Design by RED 5