`Family Plot' is generally regarded as a disappointing entry into the Hitchcock canon, further burdened by the fact that it became his final film whereas other lighthearted Hitch pictures like `The Trouble With Harry' (another underrated gem) could be accepted for what they were, `Family Plot' buckles under the critical weight and expectation of what should constitute the final film of a cinema master.
Once you throw all that in the bin, however, `Family Plot' is a marvellous, light-hearted comedy/thriller.
Hitchcock had begun, in his later films, to cast lesser-known actors because (a) having been established in the era of the studio system, he saw no need to pay exorbitant sums for actors whom he viewed as just as important in the film-making process as technical crew who were paid less and (b) he wanted to avoid the audience making assumptions about character based purely on who had been cast in a role.
The performances of the four leads in `Family Plot' are consistently excellent. Barbara Harris is hilarious, showing touches of Madeleine Kahn in her role as fake psychic Blanche, Bruce Dern is endearing as her flakey sidekick Frank McBride, Karen Black brilliantly plays it straight-down-the-line (despite the silly disguises she wears) as a partner in crime to kidnapper-jeweler Arthur Adamson, played with deliciously subtle menace by William Devane.
The music, provided by John Williams in a first-time collaboration with Hitchcock, works a treat, avoiding the bombastic overtones of some of his worst Hollywood-esque scores and harking back to the classic days of Bernard Herrmann.
Being drawn into the web of the intricate plot that sees these four characters being drawn together, and seeing the sparks fly in the witty dialogue (penned by `North by Northwest' screenwriter Ernest Lehman) is enough but the set pieces (a rollercoaster ride in an out-of-control car in the mountains, the kidnapping of a priest in the middle of a service, to name a few) elevate this film to a delightful popcorn experience that you will want to return to again there are subtleties and layers in the performances that will be guaranteed to keep you coming back for more.