Saturday, August 13, 2011

Family Plot

Title: Family Plot
Year: 1976
Studio: A Universal Picture
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Source Material: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Running Time: 115 minutes

Saturday 13th August, 10:15am
It's Alfred Hitchcock's 112th birthday today! The perfect time to watch his final film. So, this is it... the blog that started in May 2010 is finally coming to an end. I will do a sort of conclusion after this, but I might as well say now that it has been at some times enjoyable and at other times a chore. It's only the write ups which tend to be the hard part - the synopses are almost a waste of time but there's this part of me which feels the need to be reasonably complete. If I was doing this as a great academic study, I would have put even more time into them. However, it is not - it's just for fun.

I was a little hungover this morning thanks to a tad too much wine partaken with my friend Michael last night, but I had to get up early and make a lemon drizzle cake (again - that's the fourth one in the past few weeks!) this time for my mate Rohan's birthday (he shares it with Hitch - that's so cool!)
Once that was out on the cooling wires, I was able to take my mug of Yorkshire Gold tea and then plop myself down on the settee, armed with a pen and notepad, for one last venture.

It's all rather bitter-sweet, really.

Frances - Karen Black
George Lumley - Bruce Dern
Blanche Tyler - Barbara Harris
Arthur Adamson - William Devane
Joseph Maloney - Ed Lauter
Julia Rainbird - Cathleen Nesbitt
Mrs. Maloney - Katherine Helmond
Grandison - Warren J Kemmerling
Mrs Clay - Edith Atwater
Bishop - William Prince
Constantin - Nicholas Colasanto
Andy Bush - John Lehne
Wheeler - Charles Tyner
Parson - Alexander Lockwood
Sanger - Martin West

Blanche Tyler is a spiritualist, or at least, that's what she tells her clients.
She is currently working with the 78 year old Miss Julia Rainbird. Blanche channels her spirit guide 'Henry' in order to contact Julia's late sister Harriet. Apparently, Harriet wants Julia to put things right - 40 years ago, Harriet had given birth to an illegitimate baby and Julia has insisted it be given up for adoption. Julia's guilt forces her to admit she needs to find the heir to the Rainbird fortune and says she will pay $10,000 if Blanche can help find the son.
Blanche agrees and leaves Miss Rainbird's home. Blanche's boyfriend, George Lumley, picks her up and they discuss the case. It appears Blanche is not as psychic as she makes out and uses tips that George discovers through a bit of snooping.

As they drive through the night, they almost hit a tall blonde woman in a black hat and overcoat, but brake just in time.
This woman, named Frances, then goes to the police where she picks up a large diamond. She does not speak to anyone, merely holds all at bay with her gun and passes over notes.
One says:
Mr Constantin will be unconscious but in perfect condition when picked up. Just let him sleep off the drug.

Having received the 'payment', she leaves via the helicopter the police have provided. She directs the pilot to a golf course where she alights and heads off into the words to meet her cohort - a crooked jeweller named Arthur Adamson. They dash off with the diamond, leaving the unconscious body of Mr Constantin to be discovered by the pilot.
In their getaway vehicle, the blonde woman removes her hat, wig and six inch heels to show her true colours.
They pull into their garage and head to the basement where they clean up the hidden room behind the false wall in the basement where they had kept their kidnap victim.
He hides their prize within the crystals on the chandelier in the hallway.

Mr Constantin is back where he belongs and he is furious. He wants to know why the cops have not caught the kidnappers. They ask him questions about his ordeal in order to get a clue as to the whereabouts of the place he was held captive - or even to find some description of the people behind the crime.
They have little to go on.

George borrows Blanche's car as he thinks he has found the daughter of Rainbird's chauffeur, the one who got Harriet pregnant in the first place.
He finds Mrs Hannagan working at a department store and he poses as a lawyer named Frank McBride. She tells him that her late father's best friends were called the Shoebridges, Harry & Sadie. Apparently, they moved away after adopting a boy child but sadly died in a fire. They are buried in Barlow Creek Cemetery.
He then visits the graveyard where he discovers the tombstones of Harry & Sadie but also the stone for an Edward Shoebridge who died the same year, 1950. The caretaker of the cemetery tells him that there is no body in Edward's grave and George notes that it's also a much newer stone. George then goes to see a Mr Wheeler, the man who made the headstone. He said it was paid for in cash by a man with a tow truck. At the registrar for births and deaths, George discovers that an application for a death certificate was made, but it was denied as no body was produced. The man who made this enquiry was a Joseph P Maloney - he gets the man's address.
Joe Maloney runs a petrol station and runs it alongside his wife. George goes asking some questions about the tombstone and the supposedly 'late' Eddie Shoebridge. rattled, Joe takes George's number plate down (885 DJU) as he drives off - although it is Blanche's car...

Maloney pays a visit to Arthur Adamson at the jewellery store and calls him 'Eddie'. Eddie is still alive - he just changed his name. He had planned the murder of his parents, but he had got Maloney to start the fire.
A couple of policemen turn up asking routine questions in case he has seen any strange movements of large diamonds in the circuit recently. He says he hasn't, but recommends they try the antique stores instead.

having established Blanche's address from the car's number plate, Frances and Arthur stake out the house and learn that she is a spiritualist. They witness George and Blanche have an argument outside and overhear something about a large sum money - they assume they mean the reward that's on their heads. They realise that something has to be done about these two, but Frances is not comfortable with the idea of murder.

during another séance session with Julia Rainbird, Blanche learns about the man who baptised the boy before his adoption, so George sets off to find the parson who has since become a Bishop and is situated at St Anselm Cathedral. He arrives at the moment when Frances and Arthur, in disguise, manage to drug the Bishop and drag him off in full sight of a congregation. The kidnappers leave a ransom note for $1,000,000 in a prayer book.

Maloney calls up Blanche and tells her is she wants information about Eddie Shoebridge, she must come with George to Abe and Mabel's café up in the hills. They arrive but Maloney is an apparent no-show - however, he did turn up, but only to sabotage their car.
As they retreat down the winding road again, they discover the accelerator has been tampered with and the brakes cut. They manage to swerve the oncoming traffic, narrowly missing the cliff edges and eventually come to a stop after ploughing through a fence and crashing into an embankment. Stumbling carefully back onto the road on foot, they see Maloney drive by - they refuse his offer of a lift as they know he was to blame for the accident. Maloney drives off only to return and tries to run them down. he fails and plummets over the cliff to his doom.

When Adamson learns of Moaloney's death, he says that he and Frances will have to finish them off themselves. She is not happy about this.

George attends Joe's funeral and talks to Mrs Maloney who recognises him from the service station. She is distraught but George tells her that she could be arrested for being an accessory to an attempted murder. In hysterics, she tells him that Eddie Shoebridge changed his name to Arthur Adamson.

Whilst George has to work for the taxi firm, Blanche does some investigating of her own trying to find the right Arthur Adamson. Eventually she locates the jewellers and speaks to Miss Clay, Arthur's assistant. She writes a note for him...

Dear Mr Adamson,
If the name Shoebridge means something to you, please phone 45701..
I have extremely good news for you.
Blanche Tyler

Then, Blanche decides not to leave the note but asks for his address instead so she can see him personally.
She drives by George's work and tells his colleague, Pete, to pass on her news - she has found him and she mentions the address.

When Blanche arrives at the Adamson's home, no one answers the door - because they are about to take the drugged bishop to the drop off point and pick up the latest diamond. She leaves the note on the door and then heads back to her car which, unfortunately, is blocking the garage entrance. She sees Adamson and Frances and is overjoyed at finding them at last. Arthur is aggressive at first but is then surprised to discover that she has not been investigating their crimes, merely seeking him out to tell him about his inheritance! Sadly, the Bishop's unconscious body is seen by Blanche and they have to silence her. Arthur closes the garage door, trapping her and then injects her with the drug to knock her out. They put her in the sealed room and head off for the Bishop's ransom.

Whilst they are gone, George has got off his shift and has followed Blanche via the message she left with Pete. He finds the note on the door, Blanche's car empty with the keys in the ignition and no sign of Blanche. He sneaks around the back of the house and breaks in through a small window leading into the basement. He searches the place and finds Blanche's handbag. As he looks upstairs, he hears the crooks return. He hides and waits and overhears them talk about their plans for killing Blanche - making it look like suicide.
George watches as Arthur checks on Blanche who is apparently still unconscious. Arthur goes to prepare a hose for the 'suicide' and George goes into the secret room where he discovers Blanche awake. When Frances and Arthur come to get Blanche, she fights them off and runs out of the room and she and George seal it closed with the crooks locked inside.

Relieved that it is all over, they know they will get a mighty reward - but an even bigger one if they can return the diamonds.
Something possesses Blanche and she enters a trance. She walks up the stairs out of the basement and into the hall where she finds the diamond hidden in the chandelier. George is now convinced she is actually not a fake psychic., but has actual powers. He goes to ring the police to tell them the good news and also to phone Miss Rainbird to tell her the bad.


Great Lines
George: "Without my research, you're about as psychic as a dry salami."

Blanche: "Nasty. Nasty, nasty."

George: "I'm sick and tired that you have me by the crystal balls."

Blanche: "Leave your crystal balls out of this, George!"

The cops question Constantin about the female partner in crime:

Cop: "How old is she?"

Constantin: "25"

Cop: "Why?"

Constantin: "Why? Because if a man my age is gonna get kidnapped by a woman, he wants her to be 25, that's why!!"


The kidnapped Bishop is not ready to be returned to his home due to the pleasant catering provided...

Bishop: "But I haven't finished the chicken!"

Ah, finishing on a comedy. Some people say Hitchcock didn't do many comedies, and it's true in the broader sense of the term. The closest thing he came to screw-ball comedy was Mr & Mrs Smith and to some extent, The Lady Vanishes but he did do a lot of black comedy like The Trouble With Harry, Strangers on a Train and (in Hitch's own words) Psycho.
This film is a much more obvious and recognisable comedy thriller, mainly due to the wonderful central performance by Barbara Harris (whom I had always loved as a child in Disney's Freaky Friday alongside Jodie Foster.
She is the main element of comedy in the film, but there are some deliciously dark toned moments throughout too. Frances proving her gun is loaded in the helicopter by shooting the window, Arthur's reaction to Maloney's death (laughter) and of course the white-knuckle drive down the road - it's sweat-inducing tension, but played hilariously as Bruce Dern tries to control the car and fend off Barbara Harris' manic Blanche.
However, my favourite 'comedy' scene is when Blanche is trying all the people named "A. Adamson" in the phone book. They are either too old, too female, too black or, in one case, too... 'two' - they are twins. Brilliantly edited and played for laughs. Top stuff.

My favourite Hitchcockian touch is the overhead camera above the graveyard as George and Mrs Maloney wander the various paths before meeting up. Hitch is very fond of his overhead shots and he knows how effective they are. It's almost like watching live-action Pac-Man. (No doubt there's an idea for Hollywood... *sigh*)

The darkest scene of all is the attack on Blanche in the garage - suddenly, it's not so funny any more as Arthur overpowers her and injects her with the drug as Frances stands uselessly by - it is the moment when you thoroughly despise Adamson and you certainly don't want him to get away with his crimes. No one manhandles a Disney actress and gets away with it.

Lastly, it's nice for Bruce Dern to have a bigger role in a Hitchcock film. His previous film for Hitch was Marnie in which he played the sailor - nasty!

My Verdict
Fun. It's not Hitch's finest, but as an unexpected 'farewell', it's a thoroughly entertaining romp. 7/10

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