Sunday, June 09, 2013

Film Classics of the 20th Century

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In 1976, the master of suspense's final film was released.


Alfred Hitchock's Family Plot is a comedy thriller which reunited Hitchcock with Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screenplay to North by Northwest.


Barbara Harris is Madam Blanche Tyler -- fake psychic.  Bruce Dern is her boyfriend and partner in deception George Lumley.

Elderly Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbit) feels haunted by her dead sister whose son was given up for adoption years ago.  She offers Blanche $10,000 if she will use her spirit guides to locate the son.  George is thrilled when Blanche informs him of the potential payday but less enthusiastic when he discovers all the main witnesses are thought to be dead.

Dead is almost a mysterious blond before George slams on the brakes.


A mysterious blond with a gun.


Who is working with William Devane's Arthur Adamson to kidnap various figures for ransoms in precious jewels.


Oh, and the blond's Karen Black.


Playin Arthur's girlfriend Fran.  Arthur loves the blond wig and six inch heels but Fran's less enthused so when they kidnap a man of the cloth, she opts for a more low key disguise.


Meanwhile, Blanche and George have to find Julia's nephew which means chills . . .


and spills.

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Blanche finds Julia's nephew and, yes, it's Arthur.


But solving that mystery only creates more problems.

It's a tight film and one that argues Hitchcock had plenty more to say and wasn't running on fumes.  This is a masterpiece -- though you wouldn't know it from the lousy DVD transfer which looks like someone filmed it off a TV screen.  The cast, including Katherine Helmond in a small but pivotal role, is first rate and Dern and Harris are one of Hitchock's most appealing couples.


In fact, forget Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman, only Eva Marie Saint rivals Barbara Harris  for finest performance in a Hitchcock film.  The Tony award winning Harris has made relatively few films for an actress nominated four times for a Golden Globe (including for Family Plot) as well as for an Academy Award (Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?).  But when she does appear before the camera, she never fails to create magic as she's demonstrated in Robert Altman's Nashville, as Jodie Foster's mother in the original Freaky Friday,  The Manchu Eagler Murder Caper Mystery, The North Avenue Irregulars and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

It's a real shame Hitchcock was in poor health and no one else thought to follow up on re-coupling Harris and Dern onscreen.  They bring out the best in each other and just one more teaming with Harris could have allowed Dern to become the leading man he showed so much promise for in this film.  (Dern, thanks to roles like Bob in Coming Home, went on to become one of the best character actors in film.)

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