THE BIRDS (1963 United States)

the-birds“The Birds Is Coming!” screamed the promotional posters in the spring of 1963. Indeed. They came, they cawed, they conquered. No, seriously. Watching this really ruffles my feathers. Tippi Hedren is a little wooden and is caked in soft focus to mask her bland acting. The initial storyline sees her stalking Rod Taylor all the way from San Francisco to Bodega Bay. She goes to a lot of trouble just to get into a bloke’s pants, doesn’t she? What a skank!

The Birds marked a fixed reverse in attitude towards B movies in general (until ’63, they were not quite the marketable successes they are today), horror movies and even the more mainstream ‘noir thrillers of the 1940s. Modern directors (like Spielberg) owe a bit of gratitude to the late `Master of Suspense.’ The Birds marked a definitive breakthrough in films that dealt with the `Nature Gone Mental’ thriller themes many genre fans have become all too familiar with in the past forty years.

Without this one, films like `Frogs’ (a camp personal favorite of mine, which works on a few notable levels), and ‘Jaws’ would have been only inferior products of entertainment, had it not been for this flick. The plot of The Birds centers on a flighty, somewhat daredevil socialite Melanie Daniels and Mitch Brenner (a ‘mama’s boy’) whom she becomes romantically involved with. Together, this unlikely pair (she’s a beautiful heiress and he’s handsome, but there is no obvious chemistry to link them as an item) do their darned best to shoo away an awesome flock of dangerous birds.

These would be crows, seagulls and finches that have chosen to repeatedly convene and descend upon Mitch’s Pacific coast hometown of Bodega Bay. They dive bomb the locals as if they were an ornathological Luftwaffe flying their sorties during the Blitz. Unlike Herman Goring’s chaps, these blighters are way more successful in wiping out the doomed enemy legions below. (That’s us, people) I believe the real reason they attacked Bodega Bay lies in the unconscious mind of Lydia Brenner.

Hitchcock 1963 The Birds

She feels Melanie is a privileged slut who wants to take her son from her. Local teacher Annie Hayworth is a plain Jane who likewise feels Melanie is a shallow tramp who wants to take her man – crush away. Mitch is the rock star of Bodega Bay. So my theory goes like this: the birds are persuaded by Lydia’s Freudian urges to wipe this interfering bitch out. Hell hath no fury like a mother who thinks hubba hubba when her son walks by. At least its a theory and you need one to discuss The Birds. The special effects in this were a breakthrough achievement for their time. Which means they’ve dated quite badly!  Technically, the film is full of trick shots. I’m not entirely sure 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. The cinematography is a little too bright. But that was typical of many colour pictures from this era. There are some truly classic scenes to feast on – the light innocence of child song juxtaposed with the massing crows; the unexpected horror of the gouged eyes; a beautiful, silent aerial shot of the garage gradually filled with squawking gulls – are vital to the film’s worth. The understated conclusion, meanwhile, is probably one of the ten best climaxes cinema has to offer. There isn’t even the comfort of an “end” caption, leaving the effects of the film to continue unresolved in the mind of the audience. When told there’s no reason for the attacks, Rod Taylor replies “it’s happening – isn’t that a reason?” Yep. You can never solve this virtually Biblical mystery. It has a tone, a vibe, a something you can never put you’re finger on… but it is there.

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