October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
When the final credits role on 'Family Plot,' it's hard to fathom that it was Hitchcock's final movie before his death in 1980. It was a complete 180-degree turn from the dark, menacing serial killer movie he had made in 1972. 'Frenzy' featured graphic nudity and some scenes of homicide that are still as brutal and visceral as they've ever been. 'Family Plot,' on the other hand, has much more in common with a movie like 'Clue' than any of Hitchcock's darker films. That's what makes it so fun though. Combining the comedic elements of 'The Trouble with Harry' and sandwiching them together with the suspenseful elements of 'Rear Window' Hitchcock crafted a playful caper for his final film.
After 'The Birds' the movies in this set are less well-known to the general public. While many of Hitch's later films have gone on to receive critical praise after the fact, they still remain in that nebulous realm of second-tier Hitchcock movies. However, that's not to say a movie like 'Family Plot' isn't worth watching. The way Hitchcock mixes real suspense with the lanky goofiness that only Bruce Dern can bring to a role is remarkable. Dern is in his element here because the movie works around him. It's never too sinister that he wouldn't be able to function. It's got a little camp, so Dern can glide along effortlessly without much trouble. Think of what Dern is like in 'The 'Burbs' and you'll know what you're getting here.
There's a lot going on in 'Family Plot.' It's a story filled with kidnappings, ransomed diamonds, huge fortunes, lost heirs, and psychic tomfoolery. Blanche Tyler (Barbra Harris) is a psychic. Well, she purports to be one, but she simply swindles people out of money from information she learns. Her informant is George Lumley (Dern), who drives taxis and investigates for his girlfriend Blanche. In a seemingly unrelated plotline, professional kidnappers are stashing people in a secret room in their basement until their ransoms are paid in diamonds. Arthur Adamson (William Devane) appears to be a respectable jeweler, but has ambitions of ransoming on the side. He uses Fran (Karen Black) as his accomplice in the crimes. Soon these two stories will converge, but finding out how they do is half the fun. I won't spoil it here, because this might be one of those Hitchcock movies that you haven't seen up until now.
The playful, breezy nature of the movie is counterbalanced by some perfectly suspenseful scenes full of those brilliantly subtle Hitchcock touches that we've come to adore. John Williams' score (yes, that John Williams) adds to the movie's light-hearted approach, providing a very 'Clue'-esque type of atmosphere.
When the movie focuses on Blanche and George it has the makings of a loveable screwball comedy. Both of them are such outlandish characters it's hard not to laugh at everything they do. When the movie focuses on Arthur and Fran it takes on that classic Hitchcockian suspenseful tone. Even though the movie constantly switches tones up until the movie's inevitable climax, it never feels like Hitchcock is losing control of the movie. He masterfully weaves together these two drastically different elements and creates a movie that resembles other movies he's done, and yet, it doesn't.
'Family Plot' is a fun little romp through classic Hitchcock. This isn't a nail-biting thriller like 'Rear Window' or a historical cinematic masterpiece like 'Vertigo.' That doesn't matter though because there's plenty of Hitchcock's influence to be felt throughout the movie to make it worth anyone's while. It's just too bad it was his last.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there.
We've reached the end of Hitchcock's filmography and the end of this set. However, as far as the video presentation is concerned there is no good news to be had. 'Family Plot's 1080p transfer is the worst of the bunch by a long margin. Its inconsistent ugliness is a constant drag on this wonderful little film. It's a shame that it looks the way it does.
Right at the outset, after the titles fade away, we see Blanche giving a psychic reading to an older woman. This scene, along with numerous scenes after it, is slathered in horrible noisy grain. This isn't natural grain either; this is some other kind of monster. It almost looks like an image after applying a noise filter in Photoshop. It runs amok on skin, making it look like the two women have flesh-colored ants crawling all over their faces. This same scene also features noticeable color fluctuations that are present rather frequently throughout the movie.
Film damage is also noticeable and, at times, inexcusable. The scene at the very end, where Blanche sits down on the stairs right before the credits role, a large gash in the film is easily seen just to the right of her head. It's a static scratch that sits there until the fade-out. Specks, flecks, and large scratches pop up frequently and never die down.
Blacks have a horrendous crushing aspect, which is not helped by the outrageous pixelated grain that is slathered over the movie. The processed shots, like in this interior of cars have never looked good on DVD or VHS. Here they don't look any better. There are awful white-green halos around people. Nighttime interior car shots have extremely flat looking blacks, which take on the dreaded bluish twinge.
There are some decent looking scenes with some nice detail, but they're few and far between. The sequence where George visits the cemetery has some nice detail in the full daylight. Still, the skies are crawling with that the overzealous noise that really destroys much of the visuals throughout the movie. This is truly a shame that 'Family Plot' looks this way. It's never really looked good on home video, but this was the time for that to change. Sadly, it didn't at all.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix at least makes up for the dire visuals, even if it is just by a little. The one constant thing throughout this set is that most of the films have been given nicely rounded lossless mixes that have had minimal problems.
The audio here stays on course with clear, concise dialogue. There is never any hint of technical woes like hissing or dropped dialogue. Williams' score almost feels like it's being pumped out of more than two speakers. It has a very weighty presence to it which is very welcome. Sound effects are also nicely produced. Like many of the previous films in this set, 'Family Plot' has a solid audio mix that will indeed please most fans out there.
It's really sad that Hitchcock's final film has received such a sub-par Blu-ray transfer. The problems with previous home video releases should have been attended to, but it appears that not much has happened in that department. What it turns into is the worst video presentation in the set. It's sad, but true. The audio is fine though and the movie is very enjoyable. Hopefully, Universal will revisit it and maybe put together a new master and transfer, although I wouldn't hold your breath. Good flick, bad disc.