Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1976. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the novel The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning. Cinematography by Leonard J. South. Produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Music by John Williams. Production Design by Henry Bumstead. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by J. Terry Williams. Golden Globe Awards 1976.
A wealthy dowager (Cathleen Nesbitt) enlists her psychic (Barbara Harris) to help her with a very private family matter: years ago she forced her sister to give up her illegitimate son for adoption and, now nearing her death without an heir in sight, wants to find the lost child and bequeath him her estate. What she doesn’t know is his name or whereabouts, nor is she aware (as we are thanks to Harris’ delightfully funny performance) that the woman she has hired for the job is a full-on charlatan. Harris takes the job for the $10,000 payday coming her way, bringing her struggling actor boyfriend (Bruce Dern) on board to do some investigating. His snooping around into clues about the mysterious man’s whereabouts ends up crossing paths with two violent jewel thieves (Karen Black, William Devane) who have been pulling off a series of kidnappings in order to add to their diamond collection. Goofy seances, tampered-brakes car chases, graveyard scares, secret kidnap cells and even a little intrigue in a Catholic church: Hitchcock didn’t die until four years after his last film came out, but you still get the sense he is trying to cram everything possible in for one last go in the director’s chair. The result is something awkwardly stitched together, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, but the master of suspense isn’t having enough fun playing with our expectations and Ernest Lehman’s screenplay isn’t trying nearly hard enough to keep things on track. Hitchcock clearly wants to have fun with the content that the post-censorship industry affords him but can’t bring himself to go all the way, the violence is always cut with silly humour (Harris sticking her feet up in the air when the car almost veers off the side of a mountain is just ludicrous) and the sexuality always stops well before it can get anywhere (Harris keeps begging Dern to nail her at the most inopportune times and nothing much comes of it).