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The film starts with a Spooky Seance contacted by Blanche Tyler (Harris). Her latest client is elderly Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), who wants to locate her last living relative. Said relative being the illegitimate son of her sister, given for adoption decades ago. Now that boy is supposed to inherite the family fortune. Julia offers Blanche 10,000 dollars to find her heir. Blanche is actually a Phony Psychic. The facts she reports to her clients are the results of some detective work by her boyfriend. Said boyfriend, George Lumley (Dern), is an unemployed actor and part-time cab driver. The two bumbling detectives now have proper motivation to find that heir.
The scene shift to the heir Arthur Adamson (Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Black). They are both Wicked Cultured. Arthur murdered his foster parents many years before. He works as a jeweler and upper-class house. He and Fran actually earn most of their money from a highly-successful career as kidnappers. Their targets being millionaires and dignitaries. By the time the film starts, the thrill of the work has become part of their motivation. Danger turns them on and really helps their sexual activities. These two are dangerous people.
Naturally, seeking out the two master criminals turns out to be a more dangerous mission than Blanche and George expected.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Displacement: The film is loosely based on The Rainbird Pattern (1972), a thriller novel by Victor Canning. Due to its connection with Hitchckock, it is now better remembered than the novel.
- The Cameo: Alfred Hitchcock makes an appearance in silhouette behind the door marked Register of Births and Deaths.
- City with No Name: Unlike most Hitchcock films which feature an iconic city or landmark, Family Plot was filmed in San Francisco, but all references to the city's name were removed from the script.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The dialogue is loaded with Double Entendre.
- John Williams: Scored the Film. His one and only collaboration with Hitchcock.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Rare for a Hitchcock film. In the final frame Blanche winks at the audience.
- Phony Psychic: Blanche Tyler.
- Possibly subverted in the very last scene.
- Vehicular Sabotage: The brakes on George's car are tampered with, sending he and Blanche hysterically careening down a winding mountain road.
- Throw It In: The actors were told that they could ad lib parts of their dialogue.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Arthur Adamson is a respected jeweler, but behind the scenes he's a successful kidnapper and jewel thief.
- What Could Have Been: Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson were considered for the role of Lumley.
- Originally Alfred Hitchcock himself was supposed to walk down the stairs and wink at the audience instead of Barbara Harris. Ultimately he decided against it.