A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.
Bruno Anthony thinks he has the perfect plot to rid himself of his hated father and when he meets tennis player Guy Haines on a train, he thinks he's found the partner he needs to pull it off. His plan is relatively simple. Two strangers each agree to kill someone the other person wants disposed of. For example, Guy could kill his father and he could get rid of Guy's wife Miriam, freeing him to marry Anne Morton, the beautiful daughter of a U.S. Senator. Guy dismisses it all out of hand but but Bruno goes ahead with his half of the 'bargain' and disposes of Miriam. When Guy balks, Bruno makes it quite clear that he will plant evidence to implicate Guy in her murder if he doesn't get rid of his father. Guy had also made some unfortunate statements about Miriam after she had refused him a divorce. It all leads the police to believe Guy is responsible for the murder, forcing him to deal with Bruno's mad ravings. Written by
A wonderful, rich and entertaining film. It manages to be just about all things to all men: a noirish thriller, but with plenty of humour; a matinée feature with iconic set pieces (the tennis match and the final fairground showdown) and a handsome cast led by an unspeakably beautiful Ruth Roman. The acting is good and to some depth. Robert Walker's schemer Bruno Anthony sets the standard the others follow. Farley's tennis chump (sic) Guy Haines (a character he's recycled from the earlier Rope) is likable but bubbleheaded enough to maintain the suspense; I also liked Patricia Hitchcock's Bobbie soxer sister to Roman, a good foil for Farley's character (and reminiscent of Barbara Bel Geddes' homely Midge opposite James Stewart's Scottie in Vertigo).
What I hadn't expected is the homoerotic character, not only explicit in Walker's Bruno, but also throughout the action as a strong concurrent subtext. Once I had the idea in my head that Hitchcock intended the film as a homosexual tragedy, I found it difficult to shift. Of course, it's no more than subtext, albeit a pervasive one (it's 1951 after all) but the psychosis of the queer character moves fluidly between the surface action and the implication of his relationship with Haines. It also serves as a way of explaining Haines' perplexing procrastination in involving the authorities perhaps Bruno's behaviour is that of the sexual blackmailer. As I say, such readings breed themselves. Anyway, any sympathy that Hitchcock might have been seen to be harbouring towards the orientation of Bruno, if not the character himself gets tied up neatly at the end with Haines decisively removed from the 'danger' and getting the girl.
Hitchcock seems imperiously in control of his ideas and technique in this film. I was particularly taken with a sequence at a party. He successfully shows five different, well-developed characters all benighted to different degrees and coming to their own conclusions without any need for dialogue, both racking up tension and pushing the drama forward. There's very little to take issue with here. 8/10
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