Audrey Hepburn was so selective in the final years of her screen career, often letting years lapse between projects, that it’s disappointing most of her latter-day output is rotten. She returned from a long hiatus to play Maid Marian in Richard Lester’s wonderfully melancholy adventure/romance Robin and Marian (1976), and it was downhill from there, beginning with this overstuffed potboiler adapted from one of Sidney Sheldon’s lowest-common-denominator novels. As always, Hepburn comes across well, her natural elegance and poise allowing her to rise above even the silliest scenes, but Bloodline does nothing to embellish her well-deserved reputation as one of the most magical performers ever to step in front of a movie camera.
The story’s hackneyed inciting incident is the death of a pharmaceutical tycoon named Sam Roffe, which pits his only child, Elizabeth Roffe (Hepburn), against myriad cousins who want to sell the family’s massive international operation for some quick cash. Naturally, each of the cousins is some gradation of Eurotrash, plagued by adulterous entanglements, crushing debts, impending scandals, or all of the above. Just as naturally, Elizabeth is the only saint in the family, so not only does she block attempts to liquidate the company—the better to honor her beloved father’s wishes—but she becomes an active participant in the investigation of her father’s death. Oh, and during all of this, she falls in love with an executive at the family company, chain-smoking smoothie Rhys Williams (Ben Gazzara at his most intolerably smug). Yet that’s not quite enough material for Sheldon’s voracious narrative appetite, so Bloodline also follows myriad subplots relating to the cousins. Ivo (Omar Sharif) tries to keep his wife and three children separate from his mistress and his other three children. Alec (James Mason) digs himself into a deep hole with gambling losses, even as his beautiful younger wife, Vivian (Michelle Phillips), whores herself out to placate creditors. And so on. All the while, intrepid European cop Max (Gert Fröbe, the Artist Forever Known as Goldfinger) pieces clues together with the help of a supercomputer—as in, during many of his scenes, Max chats with the computer, which responds in a mechanized voice.
Anyway, let’s see, what are we forgetting from this recitation of the film’s major elements? Oh, right—the subplot about the bald psycho killing women in snuff films.
Yeah, Bloodline is that sort of picture, a semi-serious but simple-minded piece of escapism that periodically and ventures into the realm of exploitation cinema, resulting in dissonance. Picture a Ross Hunter movie suddenly morphing into a William Castle production, and you get the idea. To be clear, director Terence Young does his usual slick work within scenes, but the task of reconciling all of Bloodline’s incompatible elements would have defeated any filmmaker. Still, it’s impossible to completely dismiss Bloodline for a number of reasons, Hepburn’s presence being the most important of those. Furthermore, the cast is rich with talent, and Ennio Morricone’s score is characteristically adventurous, at one point going full-bore into a Giorgio Moroder-type disco groove. There’s always something colorful happening in Bloodline, good taste and logic be damned.