(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Though less pretentious and preposterous than Torn Curtain and Topaz, less ludicrous than Marnie, and less offensive than Frenzy, [Family Plot] is still late Hitchcock, and not very good. (p. 84)

There are moments of inventiveness, here and there. When a woman tries to escape from a man in a cemetery whose paths are laid out like lines in a Mondrian painting (Hitchcock's own simile), there is something amusingly nutty about the pair's puny convergences and divergences, when mere cutting across a lawn could put an end to it all…. Let no one tell me that Hitchcock is not expressing once again his deep-rooted dislike of women, which first struck me in his treatment of the Madeleine Carroll character in The 39 Steps, and which reached its unappetizing apogee in a couple of scenes in Frenzy. Yet I could forgive the antifeminism, but not the contrivance and overextension.

And speaking of miraculous rescue, do you know what breaks the impetus of that car hurtling toward disaster? A large wooden cross, of a kind unlikely in this landscape. And when are the miscreants apprehended? When their victim is a bishop, kidnapped from a cathedral during a religious service. And how is the heroine alerted to the danger that threatens her? By a telltale glimpse of the bishop's cope in a place where it shouldn't be. And what is the name of the chief malefactor? Adamson, the son of Adam and inheritor of his curse. And so on. French film critics and their disciples have long indulged in tracking down Catholic symbolism, hints of salvation through faith, in Hitchcock's work. What if the director denies such unconscious symbolism—might it not be unconscious, and all the more ingrained? In any case, Family Plot, with its deceptive cenotaph that may itself be religiously construed, should provide a happy symbol-hunting ground.

What it does not provide, along with suspense, is interesting clues. (pp. 84-5)

John Simon, "Old Man Out," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 9, No. 16, April 19, 1976, pp. 84-6.