The Birds (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter

What…the…hell. What the hell? No, seriously, what the hell, or better yet, where the hell? Where, the hell, does Alfred Hitchcock get off? Okay, I have seen 28 of Hitchcock’s 54 feature films in his career and I don’t think he has made a bad film. Maybe one or two of the one’s I have seen, which include almost all of his early British work, were mediocre, but everything seems like it is brilliant. This film is brilliant. I don’t know what it is, what he has, or how he does it, but Alfred Hitchcock just doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem fair that someone would be this talented and be able to make films like this. Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t quite live up to the likes of Rear Window, North By Northwest or Vertigo, but what does. Seriously? What does, even non-Hitchcock, and maybe particularly non-Hitchcock films can’t live up to those films, which means I can’t call The Birds one of Hitch’s best, but I am 100% confident any other director would take it as their own so they too could have a masterpiece.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is the somewhat childish daughter of a newspaper giant in San Francisco. One day, while at a bird shop, she feigns being a salesperson in order to flirt with a dashing man, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who is looking for a pair of love birds for his kid sister. When Melanie shows up at Mr. Brenner’s doorstep with the birds however, she is informed that he spends his weekends with his mother and sister up at Bodega Bay. So Melanie wisps up the coast to surprise her new friend with the birds. Once there, a romance appears to blossom under the watchful eye of the bitter mother (Jessica Tandy) while Melanie stays with the schoolteacher, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), an old flame of Mitch’s. But something else is watching the affairs of Bodega Bay: the gathering flocks of birds who begin to attack the town’s residents, causing them flee to their homes for safety.

Over my viewing experience of the Master’s films, the one common thread I have always noticed is his mastery of genre. He is known as the master of suspense and has a good number of suspense/thriller/horror films, though I think it would be a stretch to call any of his films horror, except maybe Psycho and this film, which also borders on the horror with the freak threat of the birds. But when I talk of Hitchcock’s mastery, I go much further than the genre’s he is pegged under. There is also often a mix of romance and comedy in his films which is handled with such care and precision, and The Birds is no different. Heck, I think this film would work as a simple melodrama between Melanie, Mitch, Lydia (the mother) and Annie. The dynamic’s between all of them are not only so well developed in the script, but the performances/chemistry is great too. I think any scene between Hedren and Pleshette was brilliant. They really came off as the girls talking about boys, but with some real, compelling stakes too.

But then you bring in the concept of the attacking birds and Hitch spins the audience on its head and shows his unparalleled ability to create tension and an unbearable level of suspense. Everything builds and is hinted at throughout the film, and I loved when a random lady shouts at Melanie, blaming her evilness for bringing the birds upon them. The symbolism is wide open on the use of the birds, and maybe they don’t symbolize anything, but their mere presence makes it a great plot theme and a question to ponder. Not to mention the fact that the way Hitchcock puts his images together just creates fear and apprehension about ever going outside again. And a lot of that also has to do with the special effects, which is the only thing I remember from my viewing of the film when I was a kid. Back then I was not impressed, claiming you could see the strings the birds were on, blah blah blah. But the reality of the situation is that the effects are utterly brilliant, especially considering the film was made in the early 60s.

If I had one complaint with the film it would be that it could have gone longer on some of the character development before the bird attacks. I was having such a great time with the romance and the awkward dynamic between the ladies and Mitch that I wanted more of it. I really almost feel like if the film would have been three hours instead of two, we may be calling The Birds the definitive Hitchcock masterpiece. But as it stands, it is merely a two hour perfect melding of genres that escapes into the brilliant filmography of Hitchcock, even when it would be held as some of the best by any director who is a mere mortal. Hitchcock just has that ability, or better that sensibility to know just exactly how to construct the story in front of the audience’s eyes. He strings together the images like no director I have seen, and he even manages to capture some truly remarkable shots in this film.And on a closing note, I saw this film in the theater, and Hitchcock on the big screen really is like nothing else you will experience, and further proof that films are meant for the theater.

 

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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