Cert: 15 Runtime: 119 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette
It’s the end of the world
IF you don’t know I am a big fan of Hitchcock movies, so as it was my birthday last week I have decided that The Birds is this weeks blast from the past. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is the modern rich socialite, part of the jet-set who always gets what she wants. When lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) sees her in a pet shop, he plays something of a practical joke on her, and she decides to return the favor. She drives about an hour north of San Francisco to Bodega Bay, where Mitch spends the weekends with his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Soon after her arrival, however, the birds in the area begin to act strangely. A seagull attacks Melanie as she is crossing the bay in a small boat, and then, Lydia finds her neighbor dead, obviously the victim of a bird attack. Soon, birds in the hundreds and thousands are attacking anyone they find out of doors. There is no explanation as to why this might be happening, and as the birds continue their vicious attacks, survival becomes the priority. Along with Psycho, The Birds was the other film in Alfred Hitchcock’s double horror attack of the early 60’s. While it isn’t as good as the former, this is still a superlative chiller from the Master of Suspense.
One of the chief strong points of The Birds is its sense of mystery. Hitchcock cleverly realized that what makes the film scary is the unknowable motivation of the title creatures. He plays upon the slight strangeness of birds, the way that we can never fully relate to them in the first place. Their subsequent assault is therefore made all the more frightening, as well as seeming plausible. Added to this is the idea that Tippi Hedren’s character is somehow a catalyst for the bird attacks. She brings a couple of caged birds to the village and from this point all hell breaks loose. It’s really left to the viewer’s own judgement if they decide to read anything into this theory, but it is certainly a nice additional angle, and it even is addressed by characters in the film when the towns folk round on Hedren and accuse her of bringing this curse upon the town.Technically the film is full of trick shots. Some are showing their age but you really have to recognize that this is a movie from the early 60’s and it clearly was cutting edge and ambitious. I’m not entirely sure, however, about Hitchcock’s insistence in shooting characters in a studio to get the right light and then superimposing them in front of the background for external shots. He does this in many occasions here and it is sometimes distractingly false looking. Still, this is a minor complaint.
Tippi Hedren is maybe my favourite cool blonde actress that Hitchcock used. For such an inexperienced thespian she really is excellent. Very beautiful and aloof; just what the character requires. Much like Marion Crane from Psycho she has a dark side to her, and she follows a similar path to Crane into the film whereby the story trajectory is such that it looks like it will develop in an entirely different way to the manner it eventually does. The ominous bird behaviour is slowly added into the film until it becomes the film. The attacks themselves are very convincing, while Hitch incorporates the birds themselves into some of his more traditional suspenseful sequences, like where all of a sudden we see the creatures massed on the children’s climbing frame, which a few moments previously had been empty. Ever the experimenter Hitchcock also effectively has no soundtrack here. A very unusual thing to do. Instead he got Bernard Herrmann to create a soundscape made up of bird noises. A fairly avant-garde approach, but it works.The Birds is one of the best horror films from the 60’s. It’s also a great film from Alfred Hitchcock. Either of these aspects should be enough for most people.