Family Plot (1976)

PG | 120 mins | Comedy | 9 April 1976

Director:

Alfred Hitchcock

Writer:

Ernest Lehman

Producer:

Alfred Hitchcock

Cinematographer:

Leonard J. South

Production Designer:

Henry Bumstead

Production Company:

Universal Pictures
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HISTORY

According to a 29 Apr 1975 LAT article, the film’s development was shrouded in secrecy, but the intentionally ambiguous working title, Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, had been recently replaced with Deceit. Universal Pictures reported that the screenplay was set to be published in book form and would include “camera angles, blocking and editing.” An 8 Jul 1975 DV news item, which announced the title change from Deceit to Family Plot, noted that the film was initially titled Deception.
       After one year of writing and preproduction, principal photography for Deceit was scheduled to begin 5 May 1975 at Universal Studios in Studio City, CA, as reported in a Box news item published the same day. Location shooting was planned for Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA. A 30 May 1975 HR article added the following CA locations: a cemetery in Sierra Madre, an estate in South Pasadena, and a cathedral in San Francisco.
       HR also described a 29 May 1975 press luncheon, which was hosted by Hitchcock during the early phase of production on the Universal back lot. Over 150 journalists were entertained by a cemetery-themed banquet, including gravestones bearing their names and years of birth and a horse-drawn hearse. The waitresses were dressed as mourning widows, music was supplied by a church organist, and the bartenders served Bloody Mary cocktails while wearing black armbands. The stars of the film were in attendance and listed as Roy Thinnes, Karen Black, Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris, but one month later, on 25 Jun ... More Less

According to a 29 Apr 1975 LAT article, the film’s development was shrouded in secrecy, but the intentionally ambiguous working title, Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, had been recently replaced with Deceit. Universal Pictures reported that the screenplay was set to be published in book form and would include “camera angles, blocking and editing.” An 8 Jul 1975 DV news item, which announced the title change from Deceit to Family Plot, noted that the film was initially titled Deception.
       After one year of writing and preproduction, principal photography for Deceit was scheduled to begin 5 May 1975 at Universal Studios in Studio City, CA, as reported in a Box news item published the same day. Location shooting was planned for Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA. A 30 May 1975 HR article added the following CA locations: a cemetery in Sierra Madre, an estate in South Pasadena, and a cathedral in San Francisco.
       HR also described a 29 May 1975 press luncheon, which was hosted by Hitchcock during the early phase of production on the Universal back lot. Over 150 journalists were entertained by a cemetery-themed banquet, including gravestones bearing their names and years of birth and a horse-drawn hearse. The waitresses were dressed as mourning widows, music was supplied by a church organist, and the bartenders served Bloody Mary cocktails while wearing black armbands. The stars of the film were in attendance and listed as Roy Thinnes, Karen Black, Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris, but one month later, on 25 Jun 1975, LAT announced that Thinnes was removed from the production and replaced by William Devane because the character “Adamson” reportedly “underwent a conceptual change.” However, Devane was working on the film prior to the LAT announcement, as a 12 Jun 1975 LAHExam news item noted that Hitchcock asked Devane to grow a moustache for a role in Deceit, then asked him to remove it. When the director changed his mind again, “the film had already started” and Devane did not have time to grow back his facial hair. The moustache was supplied by the makeup department.
       As reported in the 22 Mar 1976 DV, Family Plot made its world premiere in Los Angeles at the opening night of AFI’s Filmex on 21 Mar 1976. The screening was followed by a gala tribute to Hitchcock at the Century Plaza Hotel, despite a near cancellation due to delinquent payments to the hotel by Filmex.
       Although many critics in the U.S. and in England gave the film positive reviews, often describing Hitchcock as “the Master,” other reviews were less favorable and compared Family Plot to much of the director’s earlier work, including the 19 Apr 1976 New York, which found the comedic aspects of the film inappropriate to the suspense genre.
       Family Plot was Hitchcock’s last theatrically-released feature film before his death on 29 Apr 1980. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
5 May 1975.
---
Cosmopolitan
Jun 1976.
---
Daily Variety
8 Jul 1975.
---
Daily Variety
19 Mar 1976
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
22 Mar 1976
p. 1, 3.
Daily Variety
14 Jul 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1976
p. 3, 8.
LAHExam
12 Jun 1975.
---
LAHExam
9 Apr 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Apr 1975
Section IV, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
25 Jun 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Apr 1976
p. 14.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
7 Apr 1976.
---
New York
19 Apr 1976.
---
New York Times
10 Apr 1976.
---
New Yorker
Apr 1976.
---
Newsweek
5 Apr 1976.
---
Variety
24 Mar 1976
p. 20.
WSJ
12 Apr 1976.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir trainee
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Key grip
Dolly grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Prop master
Asst prop master
Standby painter
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
Men's cost
Men's cost
Women's cost
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Titles & opt eff
Spec eff
Blue screen specialist
MAKEUP
Make-up man
Make-up man
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to Mr. Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock's secy
Scr supv
Craft service
Transportation capt
Driver co-capt
Alfred Hitchcock's driver
Casting secy
Bit casting
Extra casting
Projectionist
Prod secy
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning (London, 1972).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Deceit
Deception
Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film
Release Date:
9 April 1976
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 21 March 1976 at Filmex in Los Angeles
Los Angeles and New York openings: 9 April 1976
Production Date:
began 5 May 1975 in Studio City, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, LLLP
Copyright Date:
9 April 1976
Copyright Number:
LP45934
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
120
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24483
SYNOPSIS

“Madame” Blanche Tyler holds a séance in the elegant Victorian home of Mrs. Julia Rainbird, elderly matron of a wealthy family. Blanche’s falsetto “trance” voice becomes a deep growl as she channels her spirit guide, Henry, who indicates a reluctant presence in the room. Julia believes it is her deceased sister, Harriet, who gave birth to an illegitimate son forty years earlier. His estrangement from the Rainbirds weighs heavily on Julia’s conscience. She offers Blanche $10,000 to locate the missing heir, as a private investigator might draw attention to this family embarrassment. Blanche walks calmly to an awaiting taxi, driven by her boyfriend, George Lumley. Once inside, she tells him that, with the help of Henry, she has secured a lucrative assignment. George reminds her that she is “as psychic as a dry salami,” and is guided by his research, not Henry. She dismisses his comments as jealousy, but asks him to continue his investigation of the Rainbirds. George refuses, until Blanche tells him about the $10,000, which puts him in an amorous mood. When he takes his eyes off the road, the car narrowly misses a tall blonde woman dressed in black and wearing dark glasses. The woman enters a police station with a pistol. She is given a large diamond, then hands the detectives a written note, assuring them that her hostage, Victor Constantine, will be returned unharmed. The detectives lead the woman to a helicopter. She communicates using hand gestures, and when the pilot doubts that her gun is loaded, she shoots a hole through the plexiglass. After the helicopter lands ... +


“Madame” Blanche Tyler holds a séance in the elegant Victorian home of Mrs. Julia Rainbird, elderly matron of a wealthy family. Blanche’s falsetto “trance” voice becomes a deep growl as she channels her spirit guide, Henry, who indicates a reluctant presence in the room. Julia believes it is her deceased sister, Harriet, who gave birth to an illegitimate son forty years earlier. His estrangement from the Rainbirds weighs heavily on Julia’s conscience. She offers Blanche $10,000 to locate the missing heir, as a private investigator might draw attention to this family embarrassment. Blanche walks calmly to an awaiting taxi, driven by her boyfriend, George Lumley. Once inside, she tells him that, with the help of Henry, she has secured a lucrative assignment. George reminds her that she is “as psychic as a dry salami,” and is guided by his research, not Henry. She dismisses his comments as jealousy, but asks him to continue his investigation of the Rainbirds. George refuses, until Blanche tells him about the $10,000, which puts him in an amorous mood. When he takes his eyes off the road, the car narrowly misses a tall blonde woman dressed in black and wearing dark glasses. The woman enters a police station with a pistol. She is given a large diamond, then hands the detectives a written note, assuring them that her hostage, Victor Constantine, will be returned unharmed. The detectives lead the woman to a helicopter. She communicates using hand gestures, and when the pilot doubts that her gun is loaded, she shoots a hole through the plexiglass. After the helicopter lands on a golf course, the woman walks to a wooded area, where her male accomplice waits with Constantine. The pilot runs to the woods as the kidnapers, Arthur Adamson and his wife, Fran, drive away. Inside the car, Fran complains about her six-inch high heels as she removes her hat and wig, but also assures Arthur that she made no mistakes. Arthur smugly reminds her that the police will be looking for a tall blonde woman. He also indicates that he is planning another kidnapping. After returning home, they clean the secret room in the basement that held Constantine. Fran and Arthur find danger to be an aphrodisiac, and before they retire to the bedroom, Arthur hangs the diamond on the crystal chandelier near the staircase, where it will never be noticed. The next day, Constantine is questioned in his office by detectives, but is unable to describe the kidnappers. Meanwhile, Blanche gives a psychic reading to Ida Cookson, a close friend of Julia’s. She wants to contact Michael, the Rainbird’s deceased chauffer, who facilitated the adoption of Harriet’s son. George signals Blanche from the kitchen, and she feigns a trance as she leaves the living room. He needs her car for a meeting with Vera Hannagan, Michael’s daughter. At a department store counter, George, alias Frank McBride, Esq., questions Vera, who tells him about her father’s friend, Harry Shoebridge, and his wife, Sadie, who after several miscarriages, moved to a town called Barlow Creek and adopted an infant boy named Eddie. Both later died in a house fire, and the son may have died with them. George finds the graves of the three Shoebridges at the Barlow Creek cemetery, all of whom died in 1950. He asks the gravedigger why the son’s stone looks so much newer than that of his parents, and why there are two graves for three people. The gravedigger ignores George’s questions and returns to work. George next visits Mr. Wheeler, the engraver, who made the stone for Eddie Shoebridge in 1965. Wheeler remembers that it was purchased by a tow-truck driver, and that people blamed Eddie for the death of his parents, especially because his grave is empty. At the County Registrar’s office, George learns that a mechanic named Joseph P. Maloney applied for Eddie’s death certificate, which was denied. George parks across the road from Maloney’s gas station for several minutes before entering. Maloney is openly suspicious, and when George questions him, Maloney admits nothing and copies George’s license plate number as he drives away. Later, Maloney appears at Arthur’s jewelry store, greeting the jeweler as “Eddie.” Arthur leads him to the office, assuming that Maloney once again needs money. Maloney informs Arthur of George’s visit, and that he has traced the car to Blanche’s address. He offers to kill George and Blanche, just as he killed the Shoebridges at Arthur’s request. As Arthur declines the offer, he is called away by a pair of police detectives inquiring about the ransom diamond, of which Arthur admits no knowledge. When he returns to his office, Maloney is gone and the window is open. That night, Arthur and Fran drive to Blanche’s home, where they overhear George and Blanche arguing about sex, the search for Eddie Shoebridge, and a large sum of money. Fran suggests that the latter might be the reward offered for Constantine’s kidnappers. Later, at the Rainbird home, Blanche reveals all of the information George has gathered, with Henry getting the credit. Julia remembers that Bishop Wood, who baptized Harriet’s child, might have more information. George attends the bishop’s Sunday service, as does Fran, disguised as an older woman. She faints in front of the bishop, while Arthur, disguised as a deacon, sedates him. The kidnapping proceeds without interference. In the car, Arthur expresses his lifelong resentment toward the bishop, while congratulating himself on his brilliant plan. They agree that George’s presence was no coincidence, and Arthur decides to have Maloney kill George and Blanche, despite Fran’s disapproval. That afternoon, Maloney calls George and Blanche, claiming to have information on Eddie Shoebridge. They are to meet him at a diner in a remote, mountainous area. Blanche insists that they go, ignoring George’s reservations. They arrive at the diner and wait inside, while Maloney quietly sabotages Blanche’s car outside. After several beers, they decide to leave. As George navigates the car down the winding mountain road, brake fluid leaks from the rear wheels. Blanche panics as George narrowly misses oncoming vehicles and steep cliffs before running the car off the road, where it lands on its side. Neither is injured, although Blanche is standing on George’s face. As they walk back up the road, Maloney drives by, offering a ride. George declines, knowing that Maloney sabotaged the car. Maloney leaves, but quickly returns with the intent of running over George and Blanche. He swerves to avoid an oncoming car, drives off a cliff, and dies in a fiery wreck. The next day, Fran enters Arthur’s jewelry store, posing as a customer. She updates him on the bishop’s ransom and delivers the news of Maloney’s death, which makes Arthur smile. When he demands that she collaborate on the murder of George and Blanche, she is horrified and leaves. At Maloney’s funeral, George forces Mrs. Maloney to reveal Arthur’s true identity. George informs Blanche, who begins her search without his assistance. When she arrives at Adamson’s Jewelry Store, Blanche convinces Mrs. Clay, the clerk, to give her Arthur’s home address, which she includes in a note for George. At the Adamson house, Arthur and Fran are about to deliver the bishop when Blanche rings the doorbell. Believing she has left, they continue their preparations. The garage door opens as Blanche passes, and she excitedly tells Arthur about his inheritance, until Fran opens a car door and reveals the unconscious bishop. Blanche is trapped, and after a struggle, she is sedated and locked in the secret room. The Adamsons, convinced that Blanche’s whereabouts are unknown, carry on without concern. While they drive home with their new diamond, George arrives at the house searching for Blanche. He enters through a basement window and hides when the Adamsons return. George overhears Arthur’s plans to stage Blanche’s “suicide,” despite protests from Fran. He quietly follows Arthur to the basement, where he wakes Blanche after Arthur leaves. When the Adamsons return for Blanche, she escapes and George locks them inside. Thrilled as they are about the reward, George is sure that it would be increased if they can locate the diamonds. Blanche goes into a trance and leads George to the diamond hidden in the chandelier, convincing George that she is truly psychic. As he phones the police, Blanche winks and smiles. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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