SUSPENSE AND SHOCK BEYOND ANYTHING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN OR IMAGINED!
There are billions of birds all over the world. What if they all suddenly turned on us? Why, we wouldn’t stand a chance, as one of the characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic says. That’s a frightening thought, but my problem is that I still don’t find birds to be particularly scary. The special effects are ambitious but they don’t really convince me. Fortunately, there are other ingredients to savor in this film, the Jurassic Park of its day.
The birds are always there. The story begins with an obligatory Hitch cameo outside a pet store and continues inside where Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) runs into the handsome Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) who wants to buy a couple of lovebirds for his young sister. The store is out of lovebirds but Melanie wants to see Mitch again, so when the birds arrive she brings them to the small California coastal town of Bodega Bay where Mitch is currently visiting his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and sister. Lydia is not thrilled about her son dating the infamous socialite, but Mitch doesn’t mind inviting Melanie into his life. The only problem is that the minute she arrived in Bodega Bay, every bird in sight started acting up and it doesn’t take them long to start killing people…
Preposterous notion in need of laughs
There’s no real tension here until the birds go on the rampage. Instead, the filmmakers prefer to focus on the banter between the main characters who refuse to admit that they’ve got the hots for each other. Hitchcock once again shows interest in the relationship between an overprotective mother and her son and includes a good sense of humor, which admittedly is a great idea. There’s a fun sequence where some of Bodega Bay’s colorful residents gather at the local diner to discuss the recent bird attacks. Birds preparing war on humanity is such a preposterous notion it needs a few laughs. The director introduced another gorgeous blonde star to the world – Hedren was a former model who decided to try acting and she is quite charming as the young lady who faces the birds with some strength until she finally succumbs to them. Taylor has the thankless job of portraying the lawyer who ends up rescuing Melanie; he does his best but neither the director nor the writer seem to have cared much about his character. Tandy is appropriately stern as his mother.
And then we have the birds themselves. A lot of real birds were used as well as models; the most memorable scene could be the one where Melanie is waiting for Mitch’s sister outside the school and the birds start gathering, but there are several other bits where the visual effects are less than satisfactory. There’s no music in the film, just the noises the birds are making – that’s a neat trick, but there are moments when I wouldn’t mind the horror a great music score can bring. The cinematography blends real pictures with fairly good matte paintings and makes it a very pretty film to watch. Save for one particularly grisly scene, The Birds is not really a startling experience, though. It does not make me want to kick a pigeon.
The Birds 1963-U.S. 120 min. Color. Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay: Evan Hunter. Novel: Daphne du Maurier. Cinematography: Robert Burks. Cast: Rod Taylor (Mitch Brenner), Tippi Hedren (Melanie Daniels), Jessica Tandy (Lydia Brenner), Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Ethel Griffies.
Trivia: The filmmakers intended to shoot a scene with the Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds, but the budget wouldn’t allow it. Followed by a TV movie, The Birds II: Land’s End (1994).
Last word: “One of the first questions I asked when I read the script was: ‘Mr. Hitchcock, why would I go up those stairs all by myself in that house?’ And he said ‘Because I tell you to.’ OK, that’s fine. And he said we’d use mechanical birds and I didn’t think another thing about it. Then the Monday morning we were to start that scene, the assistant director, the late Jim Brown, came in and said, ‘The mechanical birds don’t work. We have to use real ones.’ And out the door he sailed. I picked my jaw up from the floor because I had seen how harmful these birds can be.” (Hedren, HBO)