Hitchcock-a-thon: Family Plot (1976)

fam

Well. Here we are. Hitchcock’s final film, made just four years before his death in 1980. After an astonishing career of over 50 years it’s hard not to feel a tad emotional now we’ve reached the end. Maybe that’s just me.

By 1976 Hitchcock was slowing down. In the last decade of his career he only directed two films, quite a step back for the man used to churn out three per year. His dwindling energy is, perhaps, reflected in the comedic thriller Family Plot. While it’s a perfectly entertaining flick, it feels slower and lighter than what we’re accustomed to from the Master of Suspense.

su1

Hitchcock’s final cameo

Family Plot presents us with two parallel story lines. Story one, a scam spiritual medium Blanche (Barbara Harris) and her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) set out to help an elderly widow track down her long lost nephew for a hefty cash reward. Story two, a married pair of crooks, Arthur (William Devane) and Fran (Karen Black), kidnap various wealthy chaps and demand diamonds as ransom.

How are these two cases connected? And who is the enigmatic Eddie Shoebridge? It’s gonna take a whole lot of snooping around graveyards to find out.

Despite its central mystery, Family Plot is a fairly laid-back film. There are a handful of thrills along the way, such as a high-speed car chase across the Californian countryside or a jewel heist at the beginning executed by Fran dressed up like Lady Gaga, but these are rare exceptions.

su1

Wants your applause

Instead of thrills, the film’s enjoyment comes from Ernest Lehman’s witty screenplay, especially when it comes to the relationship between the two leads.

Their frank and open dialogue is fun to witness, whether they’re flat out insulting each or making plans about their evening sex (“Don’t start to fret, George, or our waterbed will be no fun at all tonight; as an actor, you should know that fretting will ruin a performance.”)

Family Plot is an enjoyable final flourish, but even at its best it never comes close to matching the flirty fun of To Catch a Thief or the unabashed cheesiness of North by Northwest, even with Barbara Harris’s fourth-wall-shattering wink right at the end.

su1

T-t-t-t-t-t-that’s all, folks!

Hitchcock-a-thon: Frenzy (1972)

frenzy

Frenzy is by far the most graphic film Hitchcock ever made. Thrilling, yes. Brutal, certainly. But the subtlety had faded. Some call it Hitchcock’s last great film. I’d personally label it his last “very good” film. But it is impressive that a man who had in the business for sixty years was still capable of making something different to anything he had done before.

Having said that, there are also some familiar tropes. Our “man on the run from the police” being the most obvious one. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) is a down-on-his luck bartender, who gets falsely suspected as the Neck Tie Murderer; a serial killer who rapes his female victims before strangling them with his neckties. The London setting makes the plot feel somewhat like an updated version of The Lodger, which he made right at the beginning of his career, only this time Hitchcock had the opportunity to be far more explicit.

sus1

Whether or not you think the explicitness is a good thing is pivotal to how much you enjoy the movie. There’s a rape scene, for example, that’s the hardest sequence to watch in all of Hitchcock’s film. The scene is effective, in a brutal sort of way, but Psycho is the perfect horror/thriller because it carefully treads the line between what it reveals to you and the blanks gaps it leaves for your mind to fill in. Frenzy shows you everything.

Though there is one brilliant moment midway through the film that recapture this Psycho spirit. As the killer lures an unaware victim into his flat and closes the door, the camera backs away in a long continuous shot down the staircase and then out onto the street where people bustle to and fro on their daily business. None of them know what’s going on in the flat upstairs. But we do, even though Hitchcock doesn’t show us.

sus1

There’s also some strong bits of dark humour, such as the chief inspector’s discussions of grizzly murder while struggling to eat his wife’s disgusting attempts at exotic food (“cailles aux raisins”).

Frenzy was Hitchcock’s most skillful film in nearly a decade, but it’s “bare all” approach works against it. There are times where you remember why Hitchcock was known as the Master of Suspense and other times where it seems unnecessarily nasty. Although it does have Bernard Cribbins in it. That’s awesome.

sus1