the birds | alfred hitchcock | evan hunter | rod taylor | tippi hedren | suzanne pleshette | united states | animal attack | drama | mystery | romance | jessica tandy | veronica cartwright | ethel griffies | charles mcgraw | ruth mcdevitt | lonny chapman | joe mantell
Film: The Birds
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Evan Hunter
Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Jessica Tandy
This is a film that at least one of my parents introduced to me. I know for a fact when it came out, it terrified my father. Since that first watch, I’ve seen this one quite a few times, including at the Gateway Film Center. The most recent was with my wife, Jaime, as I got it on 4K. It also was a Traverse through the Threes for me.
Synopsis: a wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people.
As the synopsis states, we start with a woman going into a pet shop. She is Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). She is a strong, independent woman and we see that with how she speaks to the woman working there. Her order isn’t ready yet and she is going to get her way. We then meet Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). He knows her as she pulled a prank on someone that caused damage and had to go to court. He messes her and she is intrigued by him. She decides to go to his mother’s home, where he goes every weekend in Bodega Bay. I should point out that she pulls strings at her father’s newspaper to learn this information.
She ends up staying to have dinner with him. The film doesn’t waste too much time as she is attacked by a seagull before she can get off the boat she rented. These attacks become more and more frequent and the number of birds continues to grow.
I went light on my recap as I’m assuming most everyone has seen this at one time or another in their life. To delve a bit more into my history with it, it is a movie that I loved growing up. The concept is terrifying as for the fact that there are so many birds not just around us every day, but in the world. If they decided to do what this film has them doing, we would be in a lot of trouble. They outnumber us and when they attack by force, the bigger birds could do some damage. My viewing in the theater, I left a bit disappointed. I’ll come back to this though.
Another thing that is scary, we do not ever get why they are doing it. The people in this can’t make sense of it as they don’t continually attack or anything. Mitch points out that they flock together, attack and then leave. They repeat this pattern. The other people in this town are scared by not knowing. I can’t blame them. They even go as far as say that it is Melanie’s fault because it started when she got there. I could buy this as it is becoming hysterical. It is fitting for human nature.
Since I’ve brought up the two leads, the love story is where I’ll go next. From the beginning, we see that Melanie and Mitch have a connection. I really think that Hitchcock did a good job at developing their relationship. They don’t fall for each other immediately. They bump heads. It seems natural to build. Something I really noticed in these last couple viewings is the development of the characters. We get scenes where the birds are in the background. Characters may or may not notice them, but we as viewers do. It is another way that Hitchcock builds tension and makes him the master of suspense. This is more of a character study where the bird attacks bring the characters together.
It isn’t just these two though. I was telling Jaime during this watch that this was better than I remembered. I used to have issues with how much this slows down as it is building the characters. It was during this watch that it makes more sense though. Mitch looks down on Melanie. She digs it, but also wants to prove him wrong. Lydia (Jessica Tandy) who is Mitch’s mother is struggling because her husband has passed away. She looks to Mitch as a replacement of sorts. She also needs to approve whomever Mitch sees whether it is officially set up that way. There is also Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and Anne Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). The latter dated Mitch and her talks with Melanie are interesting.
Since the important characters have been brought up, let me go through the performances. Taylor is a great hero. What is most interesting is his interactions with Lydia. She is broken and hard on him, but he can disarm her without making problems. He keeps his cool. Hedren is beautiful and becomes a great damsel in distress. My problem though is that she is built up to be the main character. During the climax she goes catatonic and we see Mitch taking over. I didn’t care for this shift. I think that’s more the era though. Tandy is solid as the mother. Seeing a young Cartwright is crazy. She does so well at playing up the hysterics without going over the top. Pleshette doesn’t have a lot of time in this film, but what she does is good. She helps in filling backstory. The rest of the cast rounded the film out for what they needed.
All that is left is filmmaking. The effects are where I’ll start. I thought they were well done for the time. They used superimposing images on top of each other, which works. There is a scene in the house where it doesn’t. It doesn’t look great, but it is still effective. I’m also watching this in 4K, which does highlight things as well. I do give them credit for getting as many birds as they do. What I can’t discredit is the cinematography. This is shot beautifully. Hitchcock just knows how to frame a shot. What also impressed me was the soundtrack. The music doesn’t stand out, but it didn’t need to. There is a song that Melanie hears while waiting for Annie who is teaching. We get this somewhat cheery song the children are singing, but you hear the birds making noise as they gather in the playground. I liked that build. The sounds of the different birds in general here are good as well.
In conclusion, this is a solid, early animals attack film. The idea of birds turning on us like they do is terrifying for how badly we’re outnumbered. This is even stated in the movie itself. The story isn’t overly complex, but I love that we don’t know why these birds or doing this. The hysteria it causes helps the tension. The acting was good. I’d even go as far to say that this is more of a character study and seeing the relationship developed between Mitch and Melanie. This is a well-made movie from the cinematography to the soundtrack. This is a classic Hitchcock film that should be watched at least once for sure.
My Rating: 9 out of 10