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Alfred Hitchcock
Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane
Writing Credits:
Ernest Lehman

A phony psychic/con artist and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend encounter a pair of serial kidnappers while trailing a missing heir in California.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
French DTS Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 12/3/13

• “Plotting Family Plot” Documentary
• Storyboards
• Production Photographs
• Trailers


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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Family Plot [Blu-Ray] (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 18, 2020)

A great career came to an end when 1976’s Family Plot hit the screens, as it represented the final flick from the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. Though Hitch wouldn’t die until 1980, he stepped away from the director’s chair after this one.

We meet a psychic named Blanche (Barbara Harris). Wealthy old lady Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) hires Blanche to use her alleged supernatural skills to locate the illegitimate child of Rainbird’s sister, a person who would be the sole heir of the family fortune. Along with her cabbie/aspiring actor boyfriend George (Bruce Dern), Blanche undertakes this search.

In the meantime, we encounter Fran (Karen Black) and Arthur (William Devane), a pair who kidnapped wealthy Victor Constantine (Nicholas Colasanto). They return him in exchange for an enormous diamond that they plan to pawn in Europe. The movie traces the two tales and how they intersect.

Since Plot represents Hitchcock’s swan song, it’d be nice to report that it qualifies as a classic. I can’t make that claim for the flick, but I think it marks a moderate return to form for the director. After the heights of 1963’s The Birds, Hitchcock created movies that ranged from mostly decent to disappointingly dull.

While Plot doesn’t soar, it does manage to keep our attention across its 120 minutes, and the dual plots that eventually intersect work pretty well. At first, it seems difficult to imagine how the film will interconnect them, but it slowly melds the two, and it does so in a smooth, believable manner.

Well, as believable as a story like this can be. We need to accept plenty of potential holes and liberties to enjoy this sort of tale, but Hitchcock makes those leaps of faith go down without too much effort. The situations and characters intrigue us enough to allow us to forgive the gaps.

Given the darkness found in so many Hitchcock films, Plot feels surprisingly light. Oh, it demonstrates some of the usual black comedy, but not to the standard degree. It comes across as almost chipper and good-natured at times, concepts I don’t expect from Hitchcock.

This doesn’t mean Plot comes across as something by a different director, as it clearly remains a Hitchcock work. I just think it’s a little softer than usual.

This doesn’t mar the flick in general, though I do dislike the comedic bent during one sequence. We see a runaway car that seems destined to crash and kill its inhabitants.

Rather than play this for its natural tension, Hitchcock turns it into a slapstick piece due to the hysterics of one of the folks involved. I’d prefer it if he’d gone for the drama, as the comedy makes the scene rather absurd.

Despite the occasional misfire, though, Family Plot remains a generally enjoyable flick. It presents an intriguing tale and allows events to unfold in a manner that keeps us involved. It’s not classic Hitchcock, but it’ll do.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Family Plot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not the soul-crushing abomination other critics made it out to be, this still was a problematic image.

Inconsistency became a hallmark of the transfer, as occasional scenes actually looked pretty decent. In particular, exteriors during George’s research trip tended to appear reasonably appealing.

Those instances stayed in the minority, though, as most of the flick suffered from a mix of problems. At times, grain overwhelmed the image, whereas in other instances, it appeared that digital noise reduction scrubbed away the grain and left a smoothed-out, artificial feel. Frozen grain also cropped up at times.

Sharpness varied as well. Edge haloes created a tentative impression much of the time, and general clarity seemed mediocre.

Neither jagged edges nor shimmering created issues, but print flaws turned into a persistent concern. From start to finish, the movie suffered from lots of small specks, and other concerns – like a big scratch at the end - created obvious distractions.

Colors were all over the place. At times, the hues seemed fairly lively and full, but many shots appeared flat and inaccurate. The colors lacked natural qualities and felt drab much of the time.

Crushed blacks became an issue, as dark tones tended to eradicate details. These elements felt mushy and indistinct, and low-light shots suffered as a result. While not the ugliest image I’ve seen, Plot nonetheless ended up as a major visual disappointment.

As for the DTS-HD MA monaural audio of Family Plot, it fared nicely after all these years. Music sounded the best, as the score was surprisingly robust and dynamic.

Effects lacked the same vivacity, but they appeared clear and accurate. Dialogue was also concise and natural, and no source noise marred the presentation. I felt pleased with this high-quality single-channel track.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the prior 2005 DVD? Audio appeared a bit more robust, but visuals were more of a wash. The Blu-ray’s occasional good spots fared better than the DVD’s, so it was the preferable version, but the Blu-ray was too erratic to become a clear upgrade.

Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here, and we locate a documentary called Plotting Family Plot. This 48-minute, 22-second program involves remarks from director’s daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, assistant director Howard Kazanjian, Universal Studios executive Hilton Green, set designer Henry Bumstead, composer John Williams and actors Bruce Dern, Karen Black, and William Devane.

We learn about the source novel and its adaptation, pre-production and working with Hitchcock, visual effects, cast and crew, locations and sets, storyboards and planning, the score, and shooting specific scenes. Most of the prior Hitchcock documentaries proved informative and engaging, and that trend continues here.

While Plotting doesn’t follow the most logical path through its subjects, it covers a lot of useful subjects and throws out plenty of fun stories. It becomes a consistently enjoyable program.

Storyboards appear for “The Chase Scene”. This area uses still frames to show the storyboards. I like the inclusion of the drawings, but I’d have preferred a split-screen running comparison to this still presentation.

The usual pieces cap off the disc. We find two moderately interesting trailers. Hitchcock appears during both, but he doesn’t add enough to make them great.

Under Production Photographs we find 87 stills. These mix shots from the set, publicity images and ads to create a good collection.

A great career came to an end with Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film. While he didn’t go out on top, he did end things with a pretty good effort, as Plot was arguably his best flick since 1963’s The Birds. The Blu-ray suffers from problematic picture but it offers good audio and the usual allotment of interesting supplements. I like the movie but the Blu-ray’s image makes it tough to take.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of FAMILY PLOT

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