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The Birds

October 13, 2019

The Birds (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy

Image result for the birds film

Synopsis: San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), takes her penchant for practical joking a touch too far when she stalks lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), all the way back to his home village of Bodega Bay – some way north of San Francisco. There, a sudden wave of violent bird attacks threatens the whole Bodega Bay community.

Review: The Birds is Hitchcock at his best, wrapping up in his somewhat hokum narrative a clever essay on belated maturation and another of his wonderful cinematographic discourses on time and space.

It’s somewhat of a distant cousin to Psycho. There is the character and plot driven exposition at the opening, taking a lapsed female protagonist on a car journey to a new location where those early narrative threads are seemingly jettisoned by a descent into a classic horror scenario. Of course, like with Psycho, Hitchcock is both inviting us to make a moral connection between the opening act and the later action twists, while also mocking those literary conventions. I do think though this is a less radical exercise in narrative deconstruction than Psycho, as all the characters (Melanie, Mitch and Lydia) with their pride, vanity and stubbornness, leave the story in a much more chastened state than they entered it; the birds could almost be seen as a metaphorical plague on their foibles.

I wonder how the film would be viewed by one of today’s millennials? Would they mock the ropy special effects? Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s so much more expressionistic value in Hitchcock’s flock of birds (they’re as much a visual and aural manifestation of terror) than the MCU’s inane visual universe of CGI force-fields, lasers and infinity stones etc. Hitchcock’s mastery of editing and cinematography is at its finest here too. The way Bodega Bay almost becomes an entire space locked in by Hitchcock’s camera, and how he gorges on the voyeuristic possibilities of showing how each part of the community is interconnected, is masterly. This is probably best exemplified in the extended shot of Melanie hiring a boat to sneak up on Mitch’s house on the far side of the bay, and the way she plays cat and mouse with him in trying to slip the ironic gift of caged lovebirds in his house. All the while, each of them is voyeuristically spying on the other (brilliantly affected by Hitchcock’s camera), and is there significance that just as Mitch is about to intercept Melanie back in the dock of Bodega Bay and their silly playfulness would receive some blithe romantic ending, the first brutal bird attack – a seagull flying into Melanie’s skull – takes place?

The Birds is not just clever and scary though; it’s also great fun. Tippi Hedren, making her de facto film debut, is right up there with Kim Novak, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint as one of the great Hitchcock heroines. She’s classy, assured, and her voice is superb for the part – she almost purrs like the cat who got the cream. There are also some lovely playful asides in The Birds too. Perhaps my favourite is the visual gag where Melanie drives up the coastal highway to Bodega Bay with her lovebirds in tow, and when she speeds around tight bends, the birds tip to one side, like the nervous passengers they are! It’s a lovely image, in a lovely film – a top thriller and a great psychological picture all in one. (October 2019)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Bloecher permalink
    July 18, 2020 5:20 pm

    Thank you for a fresh and perceptive review of a great film!


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