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Family Plot (1976) - quotes

Quotations relating to Family Plot (1976)...


After the success of ''Frenzy'', my father decided to do an adaptation of ''The Rainbird Pattern'', a book by British novelist Victor Canning. The story of the book was very different from the film. It was set in the English countryside, not on the West Coast. And Madame Blanche had real psychic powers. But most importantly, the overall tone of the book was very dark. The film was carefully designed and prepared, and Ernest Lehman, who had worked on ''North by Northwest'', was brought in. Everything was important in a Hitchcock picture. He paid attention to all the details. That's why he liked to work with the same people on his films.

The first day, I was supposed to meet Mr. Hitchcock up in his office... and show him the costumes for the film. Except that I wasn't wearing the costume. I was carrying the costume. And, of course, in the '70s, you had layers. So, I sort of had a big black hat on and I had a little suit. And then under the suit was something and then something with something else. So I met him and I said, "This isn't the costume for the movie. This is just what I was wearing." He said, "Oh, thank God. I thought this was going to be a movie about a nightmare."

Karen Black (2001)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), and pre-production

Hitchcock had long been known to be one of the early directors to storyboard and do conceptual designs. And, of course, with the conceptual designs that came from the production designer, Henry Bumstead. But Hitchcock, personally, would do some of the storyboards, and then he'd commission Tommy Wright to do a number of the storyboards for him. And he would meet with Tommy and tell him exactly how he saw it. He'd look at those drawings and make adjustments.


When I met him in '63, when we were doing ''Marnie'', I was the flashback sequence in ''Marnie''. So, we shot on another stage from the stage that Tippi and Sean Connery and everybody was working on, which was the main stage, and he would come over to the stage I was on. And he shot the flashback sequence with a huge lens. It was a German lens that looked like a lightbulb, and what it did was it distorted everything in the foreground, but made everything in the background sharp focus. And so, it was neat because I had Mr. Hitchcock to myself. He had no other distractions except me. So, he really took time to get to know me a little bit. And every year, then, he made sure I did a guest-starring appearance on ''Alfred Hitchcock Presents''.

And 12 years went by, and he was casting ''Family Plot''. I wasn't the first choice. I think Al Pacino was the first choice. And Mr. Hitchcock didn't like to pay actors. And he was very upset that he had to pay Julie Andrews and Paul Newman $750,000 apiece to do ''Torn Curtain'', and he never got over that.

So, when he got to ''Family Plot'', to get even over a $100,000 was, like, amazing. And he didn't want to pay Al Pacino whatever his price was then. And he'd just done ''Serpico'' and ''The Godfather'', and all that, so he was, like, big stuff. And so, then they were going to go to the next on the list. And I certainly wasn't the next on the list. I was about 15th on the list. But he jumped right away. He jumped over everybody. And he called my agent, and he said, you know, "I liked Bruce. I think Bruce would be good for the film."

And so I went, and I saw him. I said, "Why would you want me to play this part?" He said, "Bruce, I-I never know what you're gonna do next. "I know that the frame is perfect. I know the shot works perfectly. All I want is to be entertained. I make entertaining movies."

Bruce Dern (2001)

While I was in Vienna, I was shooting a movie called ''Crime and Passion'' for Ivan Passer with Omar Sharif. And I was offered two pictures. One was the W.C. Fields biographical film and Hitchcock's film. And, of course, there was no choice. You know, working with Hitchcock was going to be the thrill of a lifetime. But I wanted the other part. I wanted the Barbara Harris part. I wanted to be, you know, the kind of clairvoyant who really wasn't all so clairvoyant. And I imagined her, and I thought she could have a Southern accent and kind of a low blouse. I had this whole idea of what she should be like, and I thought it would be very funny. So I passed that along, and Mr. Hitchcock wouldn't hear of it. So I was very thrilled. I came back to town to do ''Family Plot''.

Karen Black (2001)

Hitchcock wanted Bill Devane, but Bill Devane was not available. So, his second choice was Roy Thinnes, and we cast Roy Thinnes and began shooting the picture with Roy. I believe it was five days or six days after we were shooting with Roy Thinnes that Mr. Hitchcock found out that William Devane was available, and so he made the switch during production. Now, that meant we had to go back and reshoot some of the material.

I think it's always horrible when any actor is dismissed or fired. I think it's worse when you're not fired for any particular reason other than you were the second choice and the first choice is now available. I believe it was that very same evening when Hitchcock was having dinner at Jack's restaurant in San Francisco... that Roy Thinnes walked up to his table and said something to the fact, "You've dismissed me," or "Why did you dismiss me?" or "You did wrong." And he just stared him down, and Hitchcock was speechless, and in a very difficult situation and didn't like being there. And they just looked at each other for a long while, and then eventually Roy Thinnes left.

After Roy Thinnes left, we had to go back to Grace Cathedral and shoot the one scene where the bishop is kidnapped as well as other scenes had to be retaken. Now, if there were any shots in the sequence that didn't have Roy Thinnes in, then we only picked up those shots to replace the actor. We didn't shoot-necessarily shoot the entire scene over.

The Production Process

One of the things he did at the very last minute, which was quite unusual for Hitchcock, was to really take away the set that it was originally designed in, or the period and location. Hitchcock had been famous for traveling the world and really opening up locations in filmmaking. And he said to me, "I want to take away anything "that said Northern California. I don't want any names on police cars. I don't want names on badges. I want you to investigate every person's name in the screenplay and make sure that that person really doesn't exist. And if he does, change it. I want it no city." And he never gave me an explanation for that. But it was a challenge to change it so that it became a nondescript city. We shot in San Francisco, we shot a great deal on the stages, but it was nondescript.

There's some shots with Roy in the picture. Some of the longer shots in San Francisco, actually, after that church sequence, when they're dragging the body out to the car. That's all Roy. I think I worked about six weeks on it, out of a ten-week shoot. It was quite an experience because, basically, you went to work at 9:00 in the morning and you went home at 5:00, like you were working at a bank.

Hitch loved Barbara Harris. He just loved her and would tell all these wonderful stories with her, you know. I would sit around and hear all these wonderful stories. Never heard him tell the same story twice. The nice thing was that he understood the parent-child relationship, director to actor. I also, again, was a novice. I had very little film experience.

William Devane (2001)

Hitchcock tried to use the same crew over and over again, at least the ones he liked, as do all of us. Edith Head did the costumes, and Henry Bumstead, who had won two Oscars at that time and a number of nominations, was the production designer. Lenny South, the cameraman, was actually recommended by the studio but had worked as only Hitch's operator in the past, not as a cameraman. Some of the other key positions were new. But he liked to be comfortable. But even though he worked with these people, there were very few who ever talked to him.

Hitch had wanted to shoot in San Francisco. I had looked for two days for this location, for this spooky house on a corner with a garage situation, and the set was all lit. So, up drives Hitch with his driver, Ole, and the window went down just a little bit. And Hitch says, "What are we doing here?" So, I says, this is exterior so on, so on, this and that, And he says, "Why are we doing it here?" I said, "Hitch, you wanted to do it here." And he says, "Well, how do you expect me to get a performance out of my actors in this cold weather?" And he said, "That's the trouble with you young art directors." He says, "You have no imagination. I think we'd better do it back at the studio." With that, the window went up, and the car drove off. So, the whole schedule changed.

But anyway, we built the set, and it was very nice. Now, comes to the time to shoot the set... Hitch always drove right on the stage with his car, took six or seven steps to his chair and now he says, "This is more like it. This is nice." "Well, do you like it?" He says, "It's beautiful." So I said, "Well, then, everything's okay?" And he says, "Fine." Well, I never stay with the company, and once Hitch says it's okay — or any director — I'm off, 'cause I'm working ahead of the company. And I'd taken about ten steps, and Hitch says, "Bummy, my friends in San Francisco tell me that of all the corners in San Francisco, "you picked the coldest. How did you manage?" So, what could I say? I just said, "It wasn't easy, Hitch."

Hitch always had two or three things he was very adamant about. In ''Family Plot'', he was very adamant about that high shot in the cemetery. You really followed what he had in mind on those, and gave him what he wanted, you know.

Henry Bumstead (2001)

One of the major scenes of the picture was the cemetery scene which we shot in Sierra Madre, California. And, of course, all of the tombstones that you read on screen you have to supply. In those days, and probably today, you're not to reveal somebody's name, because somebody could call up and say, "You've shown my wife's tombstone with her name on it, and I'm upset about it."

Actually, that did happen. Later on, somebody called up, and I was brought in. I had to look at the film, and I said, "That may be somebody's name, but we provided that tombstone. It's not their tombstone." So, by coincidence, there was somebody else buried in a California cemetery with that name. But in providing those cemeteries, Hitchcock had an idea. And when he had a press junket arrive at the cemetery, many of the tombstones had those people's names on it.

keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), Sierra Madre, and production

I had never heard that Mr. Hitchcock drew everything and then shot it. And you have to remember that I was from the '70s, where at that particular point in the history of film people were throwing up a lot in films, and they were sweating and drooling and improvising and walking off camera, and if things were blurry, that was okay, and they were using at lot of zooms. So, his style was very different from what I was used to.

Karen Black (2001)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), and production

To pre-edit a scene, and then shoot it the way you want to edit it... and then edit it is... insane, because it's not possible. You'll never get a good scene that way. But Hitchcock got a great scene every time. What's exceptional, really, isn't that he was so adamant and such a perfectionist. What's amazing is that it worked!

Usually, you have in your mind a notion of how this scene is going to look, how it's going to run, how it's going to feel. And then you put it there like you imagine it... it doesn't work!! So, you have to re-edit, and then you have to re-edit that. Then you have to reedit that. But what he did was almost supernatural when you think about it. He pre-thought it so thoroughly and with such an accurate imagination that when you cut it, it worked just the way he thought it would... every time, every scene, every movie!

Karen Black (2001)
Black talks about how Hitchcock pre-edited his films before filming began
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), and production

He said, "Bruce,you know what would make this scene work?" And I didn't know. So, he had to explain it to me. He said, "Well, what I do is I do close-ups of you and Barbara, "and I do the car's point of view of the road. And I never show you the car. I show you the car when the oil's coming out of the brake thing, and then I let the car go. And I just cut to you and the car's point of view of the road. That way, the audience thinks they're you and are going through the trip." He does that on all his movies. I mean, that's the way to keep suspense. I didn't know that. I didn't know that's why it worked in a movie.

Then at the end, we have the car crash. And the first thing you see is the car is upside down, and here's Barbara's head peeking out of the top. And then she's going to try to get out of the car. She starts climbing out, and her foot is on my face, 'cause the car is upside down like that. Well, that's just, you know... Hitchcock said, "Women always walk on men. They walk all over 'em." So, why not, you know?

Then I come underneath the car with my head out that way, and he said, "You be a worm, and she'll be a bird." Well, that's inventive.

Bruce Dern (2001)
Dern describes the runaway car scene

I have a scene where I say something like "Merry Christmas." And I said, "Merry Chris..." Cut. I said, "Hitch, wh... what are you doing? I have to say 'Merry Christmas'." "No. No, Bruce. Because when you say the 'mas,' I'm going to be over here. So, we don't need to shoot it now." So, when I tell directors that on ''Family Plot'' we only shot 110,000 feet of film, period, and printed 55,000. That's a two-to-one ratio on a two-hour-and-20-minute movie.

Bruce Dern (2001)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), and production

The scene in the kitchen was very difficult to do for an actor because it was a scene in which you started the scene and 30 or 40 seconds into the scene, you wept. That's hard to do because usually you're prepared, and then they start shooting. Then you can cry rather easily. So this was very difficult.

They shot it twice, and the second time, it was very good. I cried just when I should have, and I thought it was wonderful. But he printed only the first one, and I went to find him. And he was sitting sort of near the kitchen turned away from the camera. And I said, "Mr. Hitchcock, please, I was so much better in the second take. I really wept when I should, and I..." And he said, "All right. Print the second one as well. Yeah, that's fine." And then when I saw the movie, of course, you never see the scene. You only hear the scene. It's Bruce Dern listening to the people in the kitchen. You never see it. So, that explained it.

Karen Black (2001)

He loved the risqué, and that's why he liked me in ''Family Plot'', because I threw caution to the wind, so to speak, and was unpredictable. He did never know what I was going to do next, but he knew it was going to be in his frame. If I'm sitting here and talk to you, and I want to talk to you like this. You're out of the shot... half out of the shot... because his frame ends here. So, if you put your hand here, it's going off-screen. And he let's you know that right at the beginning. He says, "You have no room for movement. But within the room you have, change dialogue, do whatever you want to do, just make it interesting."

He laughed out loud in the hamburger-eating scene, where she and I are talking on the phone talking to the bad guy. Two times I made him laugh out loud, so we had to do it over. That was one scene, and the other scene was I threw in a line when we're going down the mountain in the car... The car is going off the road, we have no brakes. The guy's tried to kill us by screwing our brakes up, and she's climbing all over me, and I threw in that line, "God, I gotta get off this road." And he just laughed out loud.

Bruce Dern (2001)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), and production

I walk in, I see this shadow on the glass talking to another shadow. Well, it's him!! And you don't see him. You just see his profile and the shadow. Well, come on. Is that not hip, you know, genius? I mean, that's just terrific. I said, "Congratulations." He said, "Did you see me, Bruce?" I said, "No. But I saw your image." He said, "Well, I told you I wasn't going to appear." So, he just got such a kick out of that.B

Bruce Dern (2001)
Dern describes Hitchcock's cameo in "Family Plot"
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot (1976), production, and the Hitchcock cameo


Hitchcock had used Bernard Herrmann in many of his films to write great music. And I think if you look back on Hitchcock films, music is certainly a very key ingredient. It is really almost his signature pattern. I do know before John Williams was selected, he had had a falling out with Bernard Herrmann. I remember in the scoring session how exciting it was to watch Williams conduct. And, of course, Hitchcock was there a little bit of the time.

Mr. Hitchcock had his office here at Universal Studios. And so he apparently needed a composer for this ''Family Plot'', and the executive those years in charge of music was a gentleman called Harry Garfield. So, it was Harry Garfield who recommended me as a newcomer, just having done Jaws, a very successful film, to Mr. Hitchcock. And I went to see him at his office, and we had lunch and had a chat and I left not knowing if he would engage me to do this or not. Then I got a call from Mr. Garfield the next day. It said, Hitchcock, yes, he would like you to do the score.

The business of working with Alfred Hitchcock was really very professional and very strong. We had a few meetings as I was writing the music. He didn't ask to hear any of it. I would tell him what I was doing — this or that scene — and we would talk about that, and then the conversation might change to Edward Elgar, or some other musical interest of his, you know? We chatted about that. So, on the one hand, it was very professional and very specific. On the other hand, very easy and congenial and so on.

He told me a story having nothing to do with Bernard Herrmann. Some other composer, I don't know, on a film that he made about a murder. And he instructed the composer to make the music light. So, he said he went to London to record the music, and this composer had every double bass and bassoon and timpani, and every instrument in the city of London capable of making an ominous, lugubrious sound. Just the opposite of what he wanted, so I said to him, "Mr. Hitchcock, seems like for a murder that's very appropriate." I always quote him. I remember his words exactly. He said, "Mr. Williams, murder can be fun." So, he had this idea... of irony and many sides to the prism of what one sees.

The specific details of the music in that movie was with the use of the voices having to do with this psychic. And he did have an idea of having voices. He said, "It should be like impressionistic with the women's voices." And also his ideas about music were very closely linked to a very methodical editorial process. The precision of the editing reflected the precision of the shooting.

I could tell you one little anecdote, also, about a scene in the film where we didn't have a disagreement about where the music should play but a discussion. There was a room where the criminal had been, and the camera pans to the window, which is open. And the curtains blow in the breeze, and this reveal of the camera tells us the criminal has escaped.

But the orchestra was playing to drive the energy to people to go to discover where the criminal is. Driving, driving, driving... through the point where the camera goes through the door. And I continued the music when the camera panned to the window, playing it more. And he said, "You know, if you stop the music when the camera pans to the window, "the silence will tell us that it's empty — he's gone — more emphatically, more powerfully than any musical phrase." And, of course, just the absence of music at that point... It was a wonderful lesson, really, in where to arrange the parts of the music in any film, which we call "spotting," incidentally. That is to say, the spots are where the music is.

So, he was a wily professional who knew his business and could be of great assistance to a youngster such as I was at that time.

I do think it's true that Hitchcock, his own sensibility and his own belief in music and trust in it, made a great impact on audiences. Some of my earliest influences and earliest strong impressions were from the Hitchcock-Herrmann collaboration. Obviously, Bernard Herrmann's music was very striking and very strong, but Hitchcock was a director who placed his faith in that. Many directors would be afraid to have that music that loud or that emphatic. They might think it's too operatic.

It has to be said that directors before Hitchcock did wonderful things with music, and he was not alone. But there is something at the core of his faith and trust and belief in music as a character in the film metier was uniquely strong and high. And I think that every composer that worked for him benefited from that. I should say, in the contemporary scene, Steven Spielberg is similar in that his films need a lot of music. And Mr. Spielberg is very happy about relying on music, and is not disturbed by the disruption of the sense of reality that the presence of music might cause.

I remember one day very distinctly Hitchcock said to me at one of our several lunches, he said, "You know, what I'm serious about is the film industry. And film industry means to me," he said, "I come in at 6:00 in the morning, and I see the workers coming in with their lunch pails and their this and their that and their umbrellas, lining up, going into the studios." And he said, "That's my responsibility. To keep that going. My responsibility that I feel," said he, was to these people who work in the studios." And he was obviously quite serious about that aspect of his position. That he, as a creative artist, created opportunities which gave people their means of livelihood. So, yes, he was funny, but he was also serious in surprising ways.

keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann, Family Plot (1976), music scores, and post-production

Other Quotes about Family Plot (1976)

I thought it was fantastic when I saw it. It was just so great. And Barbara did it great, you know. She was cute in the movie. She was a very talented girl. I leaned to Hitch after that. I said, "You know what, Hitch? You should go up at the top of the stairs. Barbara should look at the diamond. You should pan over on the stairway, and you should start down the stairway. Not Barbara. You. And you should wink in the lights." He thought about it for a long time, maybe 15 minutes. And then he said, "No." Had the world known that was going to be his last piece of film, it would've been so fantastic.

Bruce Dern (2001)

After ''Family Plot'', there was a discussion on his next project. He'd always have one in the wings, and there was a book that he liked called ''The Short Night''. And I got involved in that much more than I had in the last few pictures of his. He was all set to go on the project, and it was going to be a great project. But I was very disappointed that he couldn't go on.

I remember the day very vividly in my mind. I was up in my office and got a call from Sue, his secretary, saying that Mr. Hitchcock wanted to see me right away and it was very important. Well, of course, I dropped everything and went down to his office and went into his office, and it was just the two of us. And he was behind his desk, and he almost had tears in his eyes. And he said, "I can't go on." I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "I can't make this picture, and I would like for you to do a favor for me." And I said, "Well, of course, I'll do a favor, but why..." He says, "I'm just not up to it, and I'm not strong enough to go on location." I said, "But we'll do it for you. You're there. You tell us what to do, and we'll do it." And he said, "No. I'm never going to make a movie again." He said, "I want you to call Mr. Wasserman and let him know. I can't face him."

And I'll never forget that. I called Mr. Wasserman and went up and told him that Mr. Hitchcock was retiring. And it was a... It was a horrible, horrible moment for me. And it was really tough on Mr. Wasserman too.

I think with most of his pictures toward the end of his career, I believe your first reaction, "Gee, is he slipping?" Or "Is this not as good as his previous pictures?" You go back to the '50s of his classic ''To Catch a Thief'' and ''Vertigo'' and ''Rear Window'' and ''North by Northwest''. Those were something when you walked out and said, "Gee, great." And with the exception of ''Psycho'' and ''The Birds'', they weren't that well-received immediately. I think they grew on you.

And I think ''Family Plot'' was one of those pictures where you come out and, "Yeah, it's okay." And then you start thinking about it, saying, "Gee, it did have this." And then you go back and see it a second time, and you start getting the Hitchcock elements that didn't jump out at you the first time you saw it.

Hilton A. Green (2001)