Family Plot (1976)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Plotting Family Plot (48:23)
Storyboards
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-(2) 1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 115:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (92:23) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Karen Black
Bruce Dern
Barbara Harris
William Devane
Ed Lauter
Cathleen Nesbit
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† Alfred Hitchcock made fifty three films during his directorial career and whilst not too many could name his first film, I am willing to bet that far more could name his last film. Family Plot is something of an anachronism as a film. For one thing, it demonstrates how much removed from the winds of change in Hollywood Alfred Hitchcock truly was. Remember that Family Plot was released the year before Star Wars: A New Hope and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and the year after Jaws. The era of the nice little suspense film was over and the big blockbuster was now ruling the house. Audiences tastes had changed and Family Plot was not the sort of film that modern film audiences were flocking to see. This is a very sixties film that unfortunately came a decade too late. You could say that if Alfred Hitchcock made fifty three films, perhaps it would have been wiser had he made only fifty two.

††† However, nothing the maestro made was truly without merit and at least this last film has far more going for it than say the last, utterly lamentable effort of Stanley Kubrick, and there is no denying the fact that Family Plot to some extent tosses aside a whole bunch of Hitchcock staples: no fish out of water story here, no stunning blonde femme fatale here, no handsome leading man here. Equally however, other staples like a story that keeps you engrossed from start to finish are missing, and the result is such an atypical Alfred Hitchcock film that you would barely recognise it as a Hitchcock film.

††† Family Plot is the story of two couples whose lives intersect but for a brief time, but whose impact upon each other in that brief time is quite damaging. In order we have Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a charlatan of a psychic medium who is conspiring to rip off a wealthy old woman, Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbit), out of at least some of her fortune. Her partner is George Lumley (Bruce Dern), a sometime cabbie and con man who aids Blanche in her little activities. Julia has a family secret that she wishes to rectify before her death, namely to restore to his rightful rank her nephew, the sole heir of the Rainbow fortune. It turns out that her nephew was spirited off in semi-scandalous circumstances shortly after his birth, and was raised by friends of the Rainbow family chauffeur and his whereabouts are unknown. Julia seeks Blanche's assistance, since she is such a strong medium, in locating her nephew in exchange for $10,000. Trouble is that there is no name, no address, no details whatsoever about the nephew. The other couple happens to be Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his girlfriend Frances (Karen Black). He is a respectable jeweller but also happens to be the mastermind behind some kidnapping capers that are used to obtain some serious ransom payments - in the form of serious sized diamonds.

††† Seen where this is heading yet? With no information at all, Blanche and George manage to come up with a name for the nephew - Edward Shoebridge - and follow the only lead they have, all the way to Joe Maloney (Ed Lauter) in Barlow's Creek, via a cemetery with little apparent joy for them. Turns out that Joe has a secret he has to keep and that raises George's hackles a tad, which would be a lot higher if George knew exactly who Joe went to visit. And as George and Blanche slowly close in on the name under which Edward Shoebridge now goes, so the paths of the two couples slowly come to a four way intersection.

††† Like so many a Hitchcock film, the story is quite simple. Unlike so many a Hitchcock film however, the characterisations are not of the highest quality and the castings were not entirely convincing. It should be said though that pitching this as something of a comedic suspense story probably aided the whole film somewhat. Certainly the dialogue has what at the time would have been plenty of titillating double meanings, even though it is now so passť that most will find little of amusement here. With all due respect to the cast, this is pretty much B-grade fare, although the reason for that is well noted in the documentary - after the expense of Torn Curtain, Hitch was not apparently keen on spending big money on leading actors, so consciously went the B-grade route. As B-grade fare, Bruce Dern and Karen Black are decent enough without being spectacular. William Devane was perhaps the strong point of the cast, with a reasonable sort of menace amongst the almost larrikin aspect of the film - nicely balanced too by Barbara Harris, but the film just exudes a feeling that Hitch was perhaps not quite up for the task.

††† Whilst the general quality of his metier is without doubt amongst the greatest collection of work ever committed to film, the very last contribution to that collection is not one of the high points. Indeed, amongst the general body of his work, Family Plot would be in the lower echelons to my mind. But nothing that Alfred Hitchcock did is without some sort of merit - it is just that there are plenty of better efforts from the man to collect before this one.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† Thankfully, this particular single release from the Alfred Hitchcock Collection Volume 2 is presented in its proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as well as being 16x9 enhanced, but that is possibly the very best thing that you can say about the video transfer as a whole.

††† The immediately noticeable problem with this transfer is grain. Plenty of grain. Indeed, the grain is such an issue here that it makes the overall transfer look a lot older than it actually is. I have seen films from the 1950s and 1960s that look miles better than this effort from the mid-1970s. As a result of the grain, the clarity of the transfer is very much diminished and the overall look is a little murky. Sharpness is not exactly terrific either, with something of a diffuse edge to the whole transfer. Detail is pretty decent within the context of the style of transfer, but shadow detail could have been significantly better than it is. Not at all brilliant, and not aided by a slightly dark transfer either. There also appears to be some issue with low level noise, although this again may be a residual of the grain problem. The fact that the Region 1 release sounds as if it is virtually identical in the video transfer department would suggest that the problem would seem to lie in the source material and not the mastering.

††† The colour palette is decent enough, but there is a tendency to oversaturated colours - mostly the reds, oranges and yellows. At no times is it really distracting, but it is a tad annoying. This is not what you would call a vibrant transfer at all - despite the oversaturated tones, the whole transfer has a bit of a flat look, most noticeably during the indoor scenes. The exteriors are much better looking but still lacking in vibrancy. There did not appear to be any problems with colour bleed in the transfer.

††† There did not appear to be many significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There were however plenty of film artefacts in the transfer, with plenty of noticeable dirt marks to be seen.

††† This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 92:22. This occurs mid-scene and is not the best, as it is a bit too obvious. I would have thought that a couple of better places could have been found, notably around 93:34, that would have been feasible in the data department.

††† There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are very good, missing very little in the way of essential stuff. Amongst the better efforts I have watched recently.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† There are two soundtracks on the DVD; an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

††† The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems.

††† The original music score is from some bloke named John Williams. Fresh from the success of Jaws, this is hardly in the same calibre at all. Indeed, it seems that Mr Williams perhaps did not understand the film well enough when composing the score and it does show a little. Not the best he has ever done.

††† There really is not much to say about the sound. The sound is not exactly brimming with space and certainly is not the sort of stuff I would expect from the mid-1970s. At least it is free of any serious distortions. Obviously there is nothing in the way of surround or bass channel use here at all.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† There is a decent collection of extras here, which at least tries to add something to the overall film experience.

Menus

††† Nothing much to bother about, with just the main menu having some audio enhancement - although the rather familiar music becomes a tad grating after a while. Themed in common with most of the DVDs from the first collection.

Documentary - Plotting Family Plot (48:23)

††† After the excellent effort afforded The Birds, this is a huge disappointment as it seems to fail to deliver on the guts of the film. Although it contains more behind the scenes stuff, owing to the more recent vintage of the film, there is definitely less illumination about the film itself. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is pretty average though, with obvious issues with moirť artefacting, aliasing, some pixelization in the background at times and some cross colouration issues.

Storyboards

††† This is the sequence involving the car problems on the mountain, in all the infinite detail that Alfred Hitchcock used to do. Interesting enough, but because he so meticulously planned his films on storyboard, there are no real surprises here at all. Unfortunately, these too suffer somewhat with cross colouration.

Gallery - Art

††† More like a photo gallery than an art gallery, since most of the 80 odd stills are photos, this is a not especially wonderful collection. There are a few repeats from the documentary, and the presentation too suffers from cross colouration issues. A bit of annotation might not have gone astray.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

††† Presented in a Full Frame format, it is therefore not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. This is obviously a pan and scanned effort since the credits are truncated left and right. The technical quality is pretty shocking, with oodles of film artefacts, a very grainy image and a generally diffuse look. Apart from that, it is okay.

Theatrical Trailer (1:14)

††† More like a teaser trailer than a theatrical trailer, it is presented in a Full Frame format, which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A much better looking effort overall, although still a tad diffuse. This is a genuine full frame effort, as the credits are not truncated and sit nicely mid-frame.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† The Region 4 release misses out on:

††† The Region 1 release misses out on:

††† Available reviews of the Region 1 release seem to indicate a very similar quality transfer in all respects (they mention the grain specifically, as well as the lack of definition). All things therefore being equal, there is no preference either way.

Summary

††† Family Plot is perhaps the film that Alfred Hitchcock should not have made, and for a mid-1970s film it has to be said that it is terribly dated in most respects. I would really have to be doing something of a Pinocchio effort to be recommending this one. Not the most essential purchase from amongst the films of the maestro.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, September 28, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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