Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Handful of Toughts On Family Plot (1976)

Alfred Hitchcock’s final film is generally, though certainly not universally, rather unloved. It’s not much of a surprise either, for this peculiar comedy thriller (thriller comedy?) most of the time doesn’t feel at all like the sort of films you think about when it comes to defining an Alfred Hitchcock movie, even though it is certainly working in a genre space Hitchcock very much helped define.

Which is why I rather like the film, I think. At the very least, I find it very difficult not to respect a filmmaker who has been making movies since silent film times, and in the late 70s still goes out to make a film that’s not typical of him. Family Plot is not a stone cold Great Film mind you - it lacks that slightly abstract crystallized and unmoving quality films marked with this word not seldom suffer under; it doesn’t feel like a part of a canon but like part of a life’s work that could have gone on from there.

The film’s great strength and its great weakness lies in its playfulness, the director’s willingness to let his very wonderful, very 70s cast – particularly Karen Black, William Devane, Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris – interact in often funny ways that suggest personal histories between characters instead of explaining them, and to let them show off-beat flaws, how the film suggests all sorts of interesting stuff you couldn’t get into a film that’s interested in tight plotting. For Family Plot really is a rather meandering kind of movie, with quite a few scenes you’d just cut if its aim were are tight unified experience but which are left in here to create more of a space for the characters to inhabit. The plot for its part is weird, rather intricate, but also not at all the point of the film.

There are two nice Hitchcock suspense set pieces to enjoy too, but what really lets this film stay in my mind is how little this is “An Alfred Hitchcock movie”, and how much the work of a veteran director of huge talents trying on elements of what the new kids have been up to in the last years.

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