Unsung Classics 5: Family Plot (1976)

What’s that? A Hitchcock film considered an unsung classic? Believe it or not the answer is yes.On this day back in 1980, we lost one of the best film directors there has ever been in the world. Alfred Hitchcock died aged 80.

For decades Hitch had scared audiences silly and shown us how a suspense film should be made. Hitchcock’s films allowed actors to play roles quite different to what they usually accepted, and that is interesting for me to watch this change as a viewer. His films explored themes like obsession, the innocent wrongly accused, jealousy and mother issues. The majority of his work is highly praised and much discussed.

After reaching a career highpoint with Psycho and The Birds, Hitchcock’s last few films sadly declined in popularity and they are rarely praised in the same way that his earlier ones are. I agree wholeheartedly that Torn Curtain is pretty bad (apart from that excellent farm sequence) but I don’t agree with all the criticism of the others. I’m not saying all of them are perfect, but I firmly believe they are far from the weak films many consider them to be. Marnie, Frenzy, Topaz and Family Plot are all films that I feel are worthy of more attention and reassessment.


George and Blanche endure a scary car ride. Screenshot by me.

I want to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films. That film is Family Plot. It is Hitch’s final film and I consider it to be a really grand finale. The film features many of his key components – the beautiful blonde woman, thrills, suspense, humour, and a slight supernatural element too – in a way it also serves as a tribute to all his films that came before. I love it because it is just so much fun.

Blanche Tyler(Barbara Harris)is a con artist posing as a medium. Blanche is hired by the wealthy Julia Rainbird(Cathleen Nesbitt)to help find the son of her dead sister. Julia will give Blanche $10,000 in reward. Blanche and her taxi driver boyfriend, George Lumley(Bruce Dern)jump at the chance to get some cash, so they start investigating and soon uncover something they will wish they hadn’t.


Karen Black as the mysterious woman in black. Screenshot by me.

Meanwhile, across town, suave jeweller Arthur Adamson(William Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black)are kidnapping wealthy people and asking for valuable diamonds as ransom. These two will soon cross paths with Blanche and George.

Harris is perfect as the kooky Blanche, she is a fake, but she acts like her abilities are real much to the amusement of George. Blanche is so loveable so we don’t hate despite the fact that she is conning people in her role as medium. Blanche comes across as someone it would be fun to know, she’s sweet, funny and life with her around wouldn’t be dull.

Bruce Dern is excellent as the cranky taxi driver who is happiest at home with Blanche, enjoying a bottle of beer in front of the TV. He is the Hitch everyman for the 1970’s, stressed from working hard and looking forward to his time off. As their investigation progresses, George pretends to be a Private Detective and he seems to have fun in this role/job change.  This is one of my favourite performances from Dern, and it’s a rare time where he gets to play a character who isn’t a villain or crazy.

William Devane is oily and overly charming. He makes Arthur a very two faced character and a real nasty piece of work. You know this is a guy who only cares about himself.

Karen Black has fun playing two roles. As Adamson’s girlfriend, she is bubbly and is only going along with his schemes to please him, she isn’t doing it because she is a bad person. As the black clad, blonde mystery woman who collects the ransom she is cool and determined.  In a way Fran reminds me of Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo; she is  a woman desperate to be loved, and who makes herself up to look like someone else because her man forces her to. Both Scottie and Arthur seem to have a thing about mystery blondes and ignore the real girl they are forcing to dress up.

Ed Lauter delivers strong support as garage owner Joseph Maloney. He may hold the key to the missing Rainbird heir.Cathleen Nesbitt is moving as the elderly woman consumed with regret and remorse for her actions all those years ago. The film also features a sadly much overlooked score by John Williams. His music works so well in the film, and for me he provides one of the most memorable scores for a Hitchcock film.


Blanche. Fake medium or the real deal? Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. George and Blanche bickering in the taxi on the way back from Julia Rainbird’s house. The entire sequence in the cemetery where George is looking at headstones. The first shot of Fran as she walks into the Police station dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The brakes failing on George and Blanche’s car, leading to terrifying car journey. That wink at the end.

A playful and thrilling film. I consider this one a fitting tribute to all that came before in Hitch’s career.

I also always get a real craving for a burger after watching this. Why? Due to the scene where George and Blanche eat homemade burgers. 

I wish with all my heart that more people would show some love to this film. Any other fans here?


9 thoughts on “Unsung Classics 5: Family Plot (1976)

  1. Paul S

    Hitchcock’s final film is to me a minor masterpiece. Seriously, how did a 76 year old man with failing health deliver the absolute genius of that hilarious car chase send-up? Mind boggling. The plot may be thin and predictable but who cares when it’s this much fun. The cast are all wonderfully charismatic choices that deliver the quickfire banter to precision and really make Ernest Lehman’s script pop. Knowing the final image Alfred Hitchcock put on screen was a wink to the audience, could well be the best send off for any director ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Madame Vintage

    I adore Hitchcock movies and the mystery thriller that follows in each of his movies. He knows how to captivate the heart and mind very well. It’s one of his movies I have yet to watch and your review draws me in to do so. Lovely post on such a classic..or shall I say unsung.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian Lageose

    It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen this one, so things are a bit hazy, but I remember that when I watched it I kept thinking “this is NOT the terrible mess that so many claim it to be”. I think the “critics” were just dismayed that Hitch delivered something they weren’t expecting and they didn’t know how to handle it. Those same critics were probably equally baffled by “The Trouble with Harry” twenty years earlier…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Silver Screenings

    Thanks for the introduction to this film. I’ve never really read anything about it before, and it completely fell off my radar. But now, thanks to your review, I’m going to track it down. (It looks like it’s on YouTube.) I know I’m going to enjoy this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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