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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.
While attending a medical conference in Paris, American physician Dr. Ben McKenna, his wife, retired musical theater actress and singer Jo McKenna née Conway, and their adolescent son Hank McKenna decide to take a side trip to among other places Marrekesh, French Morocco. With a knife plunged into his back, Frenchman Louis Bernard, who the family met earlier in their bus ride into Marrakesh and who is now masquerading as an Arab, approaches Ben, cryptically whispering into Ben's ears that there will be an attempted assassination in London of a statesman, this news whispered just before Bernard dies. Ben is reluctant to provide any information of this news to the authorities because concurrently Hank is kidnapped by British couple, Edward and Lucy Drayton, who also befriended the McKennas in Marrakesh and who probably have taken Hank out of the country back to England. Whoever the unknown people the Draytons are working for have threatened to kill Hank if Ben divulges any information ... Written by
Rarely for an Alfred Hitchcock film, at least two of the characters are representations of real people: among Jo's UK-based theatrical friends are the impresario Val Parnell and his wife Helen. See more »
When the McKennas are riding to their hotel in the horse-drawn wagon after getting off the bus, the shadows are mismatched between the foreground and the back-projected scene. In the foreground, the shadows are on the left of the characters, as if the sun is on the right of the frame; in the back-projection, the shadows are on the right of the cars, as if the sun is on the left of the frame. See more »
Partly because the rights to this film were acquired from Paramount by Universal, the Paramount VistaVision fanfare is played over the opening Universal logo. This is the way it is currently (2005) shown on television in the re-release version (1984). See more »
Alfred Hitchcock saw this remake of his 1934 film as a more professional job, and thus an improvement. It's certainly more polished, and pitched for maximum audience engagement, yet also a tad off the high standard the Master was setting for himself by the 1950s.
Dr. McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife Jo (Doris Day) are vacationing with their boy in Marrakesh when they become witnesses both to a murder and to a secret so dangerous their boy is kidnapped to secure their silence. Can they save their child by themselves? And will they be able to prevent the crime from happening without costing their son his life?
It's tough to discuss this movie, since so much that happens in it is better seen for the first time with minimal foreknowledge. Rest assured that there are some fine setpieces on display, and that Hitchcock is indeed very clever with his camera and his way of building suspense.
Yet the film seems less than completely successful. For one thing, there's an unusually slow build-up, almost a Hitchcock loyalty test, in the first thirty minutes of the film, with some particularly strained bits of comedy around a Moroccan restaurant. There are more than the usual number of plot holes and improbable coincidences on display here.
The biggest problem I have are with the two leads. While Day shows us she can be more than a perky comedienne in her more demanding scenes, both she and Stewart seem uncomfortable in their roles. The McKennas appear at times to be a singularly unhappy couple: he a domineering type who doesn't like the fact his wife was a famous singer known by something other than his last name; she a paranoid hysteric prone to winding her husband up unnecessarily. The idea of their domestic misery is gently presented ("Ben, are we about to have our monthly fight?") and then just as quickly abandoned, ironically after a scene where he arguably pulls a rather cruel stunt to keep her in line.
I'm not sure if this George-and-Martha-type film would have been better than the one I actually saw, but it would give us more of a rooting interest in the McKennas getting their act together while saving their son. Here, in the main, they are played so squarely they seem more likely to hail from Disneyland than Indianapolis.
But give the second hour credit for being one of Hitchcock's best. It could have used a bit more humor, but there's ample misdirection and a mischievous spirit guiding the proceedings. Add to that one of the great climaxes of any suspense film here, ironically not a climax here but a set up for another which is almost as good. The villains are appropriately seedy, if lacking the menacing charm of Peter Lorre in the 1934 version.
If you are a fan of Doris Day or her hit song "Que Sera, Sera," you may enjoy this film even more than I did. As a Hitchcock enthusiast, I was entertained enough not to mind the feeling of shallowness. Hitchcock was a master of surfaces as well as depth; you get a riveting example of the former here.
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