Film review by Jason Day of The Birds, the classic Alfred Hitchcock suspense about birds suddenly and inexplicably attacking humans. Starring ‘Tippi’ Hedren and Rod Taylor.
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Melanie Daniels (‘Tippi’ Hedren) is a privileged society girl who enjoys living life to the full. After a recent, minor scandal whilst on holiday in Europe, she visits a pet store to purchase a gift. When the handsome businessman Mitch (Rod Taylor) visits at the same time and patronises her for that holiday indiscretion, she resolves to teach him a lesson.
Buying him a pair of love birds, she finds he has vacated San Francisco so she follows him to his coastal retreat Bodega Bay. Despite facing hostility from his mother (Jessica Tandy) and locals who include an ex (Suzanne Pleshette), she stays over for a night.
The next day suddenly and without warning or reason, the town is attacked by birds of all kinds. The locals blame Melanie’s presence, but what is going on?
Review, by @Reelreviewer
I sometimes go to bird shops on Fridays…
Do you ever have the feeling people don’t want you around?
I might suffer from paranoia, perhaps I take the slightest slight to heart, but I take succor that some movie characters are in the same position.
Like ‘Melanie Daniels’ in this classic Hitchcock sack of red herrings. When she arrives suddenly in the austere, remote hamlet of Bodega Bay, the reaction from the villagers is wholly negative and unwelcoming.
Unlike her, I have never been attacked by avian assassins during such negative interactions – not yet, at least – but Melanie certainly puts the Bodega cats among its psychotic pigeons.
Hitch was renowned for making his blonde and beautiful leading ladies go through seven levels of cinematic hell to please him and no actress suffered more for him than ‘Tippi’.
In the movie’s most famous scene where Melanie is trapped in a bedroom, ‘Tippi’ experienced the final level. Hitch had technicians throw real-life birds at her and even had them trapped to her. She sustained an eye injury after being pecked by the understandably bothered birds.
From the second she arrives in Bodega Bay, Melanie’s presence is treated with suspicion – a woman who spies her for a second shields her child and hurries her away. The owner of the local store is perturbed by her and annoyed by her questions.
Even when she hires an outboard to leave Mitch a present of a par of lovebirds, the boat owner questions her with head scratching concern.
How could this entity, as beautiful and charming as the birds that sway comically from side to side in her car as she careers toward Bodega, arrive in their isolated hamlet? Why would she? What is her motive?
Is it in response to Melanie that the birds attack? Are they summoned by some supernatural, collective ESP from the community?
Does Mitch’s Oedipus-attached neurotic mother (Jessica Tandy) have some unknown power over them?
Or is there a more mundane explanation, as dear old twittering ornithologist Mrs Grundy (Ethel Griffies) explains. Perhaps the birds really are aroused by harbour lights…in broad daylight. Just like the birds, she appears unannounced, fluttering around Bodega Bay’s worried citizens. Perhaps she, sympathetic as she is to the plight of the animals she has devoted her life to studying, has stoked their anger and conjured their presence.
Despite some ridiculous moment (most involving the annoying school children looked after by stilted, stunning teacher and Mitch’s spurned-ex Annie (a fantastically frosty Suzanne Pleshette) and The Birds generally and genuinely ranking at the lower end of his classic offerings, he still turns out some magnificent and memorable scenes:
- The opening pet shop scene in which Mitch captures an escaped bird and declares “Back in your cage, Melanie Daniels.” Touche, this theme of the trapped beauty will reoccur again and again
- The ‘climbing frame’ moment, a masterstroke of building tension. Melanie sucks languidly on a cigarette waiting for the children, who trill a song contentedly in the background, to leave the school. A single crow sits on the frame behind her. Then a few more. Then, a huge, menacing flock
- In the most famous and parodied sequence, Melanie and the Bodega local’s take refuge in the town diner as the birds destroy the town. Melanie spots a man smoking a cigar as fuel from a dropped petrol nozzle spews down the road toward him. A bird swoops and makes him drop his match. Hitchcock cuts between static shots of the fire travelling back up the road and Melanie’s anguished face. Montage, n’est pas.
Rod Taylor, a minor matinee idol of the late 50’s and 60’s, turns out to be one of the more rugged and helpful of male leads for Hitch’s imperiled women. He continues the Hitch tradition of being relaxed and confident with women, if not slightly hen-pecked, but he is also good with a hammer and other tools that are useful around the house.
Making an early appearance, when she was a talented child actress, is Veronica Cartwright as Mitch’s improbably younger sister Cathy. There must be a 25 year age gap between them. No wonder Mitch and Mommy have those Oedipus issues!
Cast & credits
Director: Alfred Hitchcock. 1hr 59mins/119mins. Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions/Universal. (15)
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock.
Writer: Evan Hunter.
Camera: Robert Burks.
Sets: Robert F. Boyle.
‘Tippi’ Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Ethel Griffies, Charles McGraw, Ruth McDevitt, Lonny Chapman, Joe Mantell.