A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Foul Play is a 1978 slapstick mystery with funny scenes, violent action, romantic moments, and sexual farce all overlapping. An all-out effort to stop a terrible crime is at the heart of the story. The film's very innocent heroine finds herself in danger from beginning to end, and sometimes she's aware of it and sometimes she isn't; the audience is always aware. Characters are knifed, are shot, bleed, fight fiercely, fall, are kidnapped and held hostage, careen through the streets crashing into everything, and generally find themselves in highly suspenseful situations, with scary music and effects. Sexual situations include a comic seduction (a semi-striptease by a man in an apartment designed to highlight sexuality); a sweet romance in which newly enamored characters kiss, then wake up together in the morning; and an action sequence that takes place in a sleazy massage parlor. Occasional coarse language ("damn," "s--t," "sonofabitch," "hell"); one comic scene shows two elderly women playing Scrabble using several forms of "f--k." Some social drinking occurs, characters smoke, and marijuana is offered and rejected. Best for teens and up.
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What's the story?
Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) can't catch a break in FOUL PLAY. Still wary of dating after a difficult divorce, she's focusing on her job as a librarian and spending time with friends -- at least until she meets Scott, a man who seems nice enough, at least nice enough to see a movie with. But Scott, poor guy, isn't what he seems. After he secretly places something in a Marlboro cigarette box, drops it into her purse, whispers something in her ear, then dies in the seat next to her, dripping blood into her popcorn, Gloria Mundy is in for the ride of her life. It seems everyone is after her and she has no idea why. With the help of a very attentive detective (Chevy Chase), a snake-loving landlord (Burgess Meredith), and a few other hardy souls, Gloria must outwit a gangster, a terrifying albino, a dwarf, and an evil bishop, all who are part of a nefarious plot to assassinate a very important man. And then there's that oversexed fellow (Dudley Moore) who can't seem to get out of his own way. What is in that Marlboro box? Is the pushy dwarf really a Bible salesman? What (and whom) is the bishop trying to hide? Will Gloria fall in love with the clumsy detective? And finally, what more terrifying surprises are in for the trusting librarian?
Is it any good?
In this purposefully Hitchcock-light comic-mystery, there are enough laughs and outrageous characters to compensate for its silly plot, outlandishly inept villains, and predictable romance. Both Chevy Chase and Dudley Moore had their first major motion picture roles in Foul Play, and in the case of Moore, it was a breakout performance. Over the decades, "Stanley Tibbets" (Moore) remains a vivid example of hilarious, vanity-free acting. Hawn, too, is at the height of her adorable, ingenuous sincerity. Writer-director Colin Higgins gleefully celebrates Alfred Hitchcock, borrowing music, plot elements, and suspenseful set pieces directly from the master. Seen again, decades after its theatrical release, it's an uneven film but with enough memorable and original material to remind fans why they liked it so much the first time around. Fine for teens, even mature tweens, but the graphic violence, even though much of it is meant as humor, makes it inappropriate for most kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that Foul Play has been described as a comic "tribute" (or "homage") to Alfred Hitchcock movies. If you're familiar with Hitchcock's films, what specifically reminds you of his work? Did you recognize any of the music? Any of the suspenseful scenes? How did the filmmakers make Hitchcock's original ideas humorous?
This film blends romance, comedy, and mystery. What kind of challenges do you think a filmmaking team faces when trying to combine all three genres (i.e., making a scary scene funny or a funny scene romantic)? Do you think writer-director Colin Higgins accomplished his goal?
Look up the film term "false jeopardy." Which scenes in this film fit into that category?
How does the portrayal of Gloria Mundy reveal the era in which the film was made (1978)? How might that character be different in a present-day film?
- In theaters: July 14, 1978
- On DVD or streaming: November 16, 2004
- Cast: Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Dudley Moore
- Director: Colin Higgins
- Studio: Paramount Home Media Distribution
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: adult situations, language, violence
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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