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Imagine Hitchcock trying to sell this idea to the film studios: the lives of a mundane country family are shattered when vicious rooks attack. Why? No particular reason. And what then? They fly away. and then? They come back again and attack. And then go and then . .. It seems like an impossible plot to pull off, but Hitchcock does it, slowly building up the tension which spasmodically swells and subsides. Younger viewers may get irritated with the slow stealth of the opening scenes and may want to thrash the T.V. when the film comes to its beautifully droll conclusion, but form once those birds start attacking, every viewer is riveted. It was fine Hitchcockian innovation that took this very slim, cock-a-mamy story and turned in to a tense thriller. But the greatest innovation is the film score - there isn't any. No director is more closely identified with the music of their films, but in Birds, Hitchcock created a horror that is uniquely quiet. The great man appreciated something that so few others do - the atmospheric potency of silence, and how, in different settings, silences can differ in character. Yet so many who watch the film seem to forget that the music isn't there. That's the film's greatest attribute.
Despite spending most of his career within the realms of the thriller
genre, Alfred Hitchcock hasn't restricted himself where variation is
concerned. Most of his best work represents a different type of
thriller, and The Birds is no different. It is often said that Psycho
is Hitchcock's first foray into the horror side of the thriller, and it
is indeed; but it's not the complete horror film that The Birds is.
Often cited as an obvious influence for Night of the Living Dead, The
Birds follows Melanie Daniels as she travels to the seaside town of
Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds for Mitch Brenner, an eligible
bachelor that she met in a pet shop in San Francisco. However, while
there the birds of the coastal town begin to attack the residents and
so begins a terrifying tale of man's feathered friends waging a war
It could be said that the plot of The Birds is ridiculous, and it is. The idea of birds, a type of animal that isn't aggressive, attacking humans despite living with us for millions of years is preposterous and is never likely to happen. However; it is here where the film's horror potency lies. Birds live with us in harmony; we're so used to them that for the most part we don't even realise that they're there, and the idea of something that we don't notice suddenly becoming malicious is truly terrifying. Especially when that something is unstoppable, as the birds are portrayed as being in this film. The fact that the birds' motive is never really explained only serves in making it more terrifying, as it would appear that somewhere along the line they've just decided to attack. Of course, the film could be interpreted as having Melanie's arrival, or the presence of the lovebirds as the cause for it all; but we don't really know. This bounds the film in reality as if there was a reason given, it might be improbable; but there's no true reason given (although there are several theories), so it can't be improbable!
The first forty minutes of the film feature hardly any - if any - horror at all. Hitchcock spends this part of the movie developing the characters and installing their situation in the viewers' minds, so that when the horror does finally come along, it has a definite potency that it would not have had otherwise. In fact, at first the birds themselves come across as a co-star in their own movie as there are brief references towards them, but they never get their full dues. However, once the horror does start, it comes thick and fast. Hitchcock, the master craftsman as always, uses his famous montage effects and never really shows you anything; but because you're being bombarded with so many different shots, you'd never realise it. Many people have tried to copy this technique, but most have failed. Hitchcock, however, has it down to an art and this is maybe the film that shows off that talent the best. There are numerous moments of suspense as well, many of which are truly nail biting. We see the birds amassing and ready to strike - but they don't. And this is much more frightening than showing an attack from the off. Hitchcock knows this. The final thirty minutes of The Birds is perhaps the most thrilling of his entire oeuvre. First, Hitchcock gives us an intriguing situation where numerous inhabitants of the town give their views on the events, and also explains the birds' situation with humans, even giving the audience an angle of expertise from an ornithologist's point of view. He then follows it up with a truly breathtaking sequence of horror that hasn't been matched since for relentless shock value.
Hitchcock has made many great films, and this certainly stands up as one of them. Here, Hitchcock gives a lesson in film directing and creates a truly macabre piece of work in the process. I dread to think what the state of cinema would have been if Hitchcock had never picked up a camera, but luckily for us; he most certainly did.
Seems silly to give a 10 to "The Birds" what can I give to "Notorius" then? Or "Rear Window"? A 20? It doesn't matter, a 10 shouldn't mean the best but one of the best. Best as in degrees of enjoyment, best as in time of enjoyment, 10 for the kind of enjoyment. "The Birds" is a ten for all of the above. Hitchcock's world varied consistently, it depended very much on his travelling companions. Writers first and foremost then composers. There is no music in "The Birds" so most of my questions are directed to the eclectic Evan Hunter who dissected Daphne de Maurier's original story and transformed it into something that not even Hitchcock had attempted before. A lyrically surreal horror soap opera kind of thing. It visits many of Hitchcock's obsession's of course, an icy blond and a castrating mother. Tippi Hedren follows a long line of Hitchcock blonds, from Madeline Carroll and Ingrid Bergman to Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint and Doris Day as Jessica Tandy follows Madame Constantin, Jesse Royce Landis and Louise Latham not to mention Mrs. Bates. Evan Hunter was behind films like Richard Brooks's "Blackboard Jungle" and a semi forgotten gem Frank Perry's "Last Summer" As well as having Akira Kurosawa based his film noir "The Ransom" on one of his novels. Here, he follows Hitchcock's needs with religious reverence and at the same time comes out with something quite unique. I love the light weightiness of the heaviness. I've always loved the daringness of the pacing. The car trip to to Bodega Bay or the long shots of Jessica Tandy's truck driving away in horror from the farm. This movie is also a reminder to the filmmakers, depending in special effects, that effects tend to age a movie far too fast. The effects should be at the service of the characters and not the other way round. Rod Taylor, a charming, versatile matinée idol with a brain and the scrumptious Suzanne Pleshette ad to the many pleasures this 10 of a film will keep in store for generations to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some films are so well made that watching them unfold sequence by
sequence creates the feeling of surrender to a higher force. Hitchcock,
no stranger to spellbinding his audience, was known for bringing a
sense of intense masochism into the viewer's eyes. In THE MAN WHO KNEW
TOO MUCH the Albert Hall sequence is a perfect crescendo of images and
music in which Jo McKenna sees a man who is the key to her son's safety
prepare to commit a crime with deadly slowness. In PSYCHO, Marion Crane
takes a fatal shower and gets a vicious visitor. In VERTIGO, Scotty and
Judy begin a dizzying affair which itself is as obsessive as narcotic
and culminates high above the bell tower, filled with revelations upon
THE BIRDS is by far one of Hitchcock's most deadly incursions into cinematic masochism. In itself, it's a masterpiece of misdirection. Hitchcock has no wrong man in his story, no chase sequences (or at least, none that involve Cary Grant and some Bad Guys), and no double-crosses. All he presents here is Tippi Hedren's arrival to the small town of Bodega Bay, a series of Meet Cutes between her and Rod Taylor, what could pass as romantic suspense, and the most impressive sweeping of the rug right out from under the audience's feet at precisely halfway through the movie when the plot makes a left turn into uncharted territory. Who else can lay claim to that feat? Hitchcock, in revealing the black petals of his deadly flower revealing themselves, opening up, and swallowing the viewer whole at this precise mark is one of the un-topped achievements in cinema history.
And so begins a sequence of events that proceed at the vertiginous crescendo of domino's falling. We've seen the birds amass and attack in increasing ferocity. We've seen the damage they've done to the little city. Hitchcock, of course, has one better on the viewers during the film's overpowering climax: making their presence oppressive and omniscient through the use of sound imitating their shrieks until it becomes deafening and everyone is twisting and turning in revulsion among the corners of the house in reaction not only to their fury but to what they might imagine as their horrible deaths. Hitchcock never once gives an emotional release, and then he outdoes himself in using the most hackneyed excuse for a plot device: Melanie ascending the stairs because she heard a rustling noise, the quintessential "Don't go there," which is the oldest trick in the book. Because we know what lies on the other side of the door....
The stroboscopic effect of the last attack is petrifying as it is unflinching. Melanie, waving the flashlight in a weak signal for help, being slammed against the door, as Mitch tries to get inside but finds he cannot. As Melanie begins slumping and surrenders to the birds' attack, she has an odd mixture of horror and pleasure. We, of course, can't do anything but watch and watch and watch.
Hitchcock had always been attracted to the theme of rape. Because his (professional) relationship with Tippi Hedren was brittle at best, this sequence, somehow out of place and character, seems more in tune with his love-hate attitude towards blonde women and his need for their total submission. Beginning with the emotional rape Jo McKenna suffers with the disappearance of her son, the psychological stripping of Madeleine's identity in VERTIGO, Marion's violent death at the Bates Motel in PSYCHO in and culminating in the barbaric rape sequence of FRENZY, he possessed a desire to destroy that which he loved or desired the most.
I notice how he makes Rod Taylor's character suddenly incapable of saving Melanie right at the end (which heightens the viewers agony -- they want, they need her to survive the birds' attack). It's almost as if he, the Director as Ringmaster, were pushing the Heroine right to the edge of the abyss for one last moment before bringing her back to the (relative) safety of family. Even then, with the vague ending, Hitchcock seems to sort of wink at the audience and tell them that it's still not over -- and this is the sort of thing only a sadistic imp of a personality would do. THE BIRDS is his obsessions at its most explicit (as they were implicit in VERTIGO) and is the kind of cinematic experience that can always be rediscovered even when its tricks become evident. It's been considered Hitchcock's last masterpiece before returning to almost full form for FRENZY, and in many ways, it is the setup for the more graphic, cruel violence of the latter film.
An old friend, the late State Senator Ted Gill, of Holyoke, Colorado, once told me that The Birds was the last movie he ever saw. He gave up movies after seeing this flick...they were just getting too weird and disturbing for an old rancher like him. It's still pretty terrifying, even if you've seen it again and again. You know what bad, brutal scenes are coming and don't want to see the carnage again, but can't help yourself. It's ominous as the crows flock tighter and tighter, always more and more, on the schoolyard Monkey-Bars and it's also exciting to see the school kids chased down by the crows a few minutes later. Subplots like the pitiful neurosis of Lydia Brenner, Mitch & Annie's lost-love-affair, Mitch's indifference to the needs of others, and the poor-little-rich-girl Melanie, who still just wants her mommie, are all well-written and acted. Loved best by me is Hitchcock's humorous characters who are CHARACTERS! The old drunk at the bar quoting Holy Scripture, the nosy neighbor done wonderfully by Richard Deacon, the dowdily-dressed old intellectual in the cafe buying her cigarettes and evidently a scientific expert for any field. Sir Alfred's macabre touches of comedy are unmatched, even in today's thrillers. I'm repulsed and attracted by such scenes as the one in the farmhouse, where Jessica Tandy discovers an old friend pecked to death, with his eye sockets bloody and empty. I find myself still searching for gory details on the farmer's body because Hitch didn't let the camera dwell on the horrible face too long. But he DID give us two rapid jump-cuts with closer and closer close-ups, and we end up seeing just as much detail as Jessica just did - enough to know that "We gotta git outta there!" Overall, a fine time. 119 minutes of revolting fun!
This is one of Hitchcock's most well-known movies. Along with Psycho,
it's the movie that most people identify with him. Many pages have been
written about it and surely there will be more. I know that the superb
technical aspects of the movie have been discussed a lot, so I'll try
to focus on something I noticed yesterday when I watched it.
It's scarier when there are no birds on screen. The tension, the silence, the uncertainty, the mystery. That's what suspense is about.
I was amazed of how carefully Hitchcock builds the suspense in this movie. You watch the birds standing there, and they do not move, they are just waiting. Even when you think they are dumb something tells you they are thinking. They are analyzing your moves.
This was possible with the aid of a top-notch screenplay, and great performances of the actors. This was probably the most difficult film for Hitchcock, specially for the technical aspects that were involved, but when you watch it, it really was worth the pain.
The main plot is well-known: Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren),a young girl goes to Bodega Bay looking for Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor),a handsome man she met in San Francisco, when suddenly, the birds start attacking humans by no reason. Pretty straight forward, and by this date very outdated, but Hitchcock adds his magic and the script spices this with the very complex relationships between the characters.
The complex relationship between Mitch and his mother Lydia(played by Jessica Tandy), and the conflict that she has with Melanie is very interesting and brings back memories from Psycho. Also, Melanie's relationship with her own mother and the bond that she creates with Lydia and Mitch's 11 years old sister Cathy(Veronica Cartwright) is fascinating.
The scene when the four of them are trapped inside the house with the birds waiting outside is classic; not only is, as I wrote above, a perfect example of the use of suspense, it is an awesome study of the characters and how their relation grows. I think that this particular movie was main inspiration for George A. Romero's claustrophobic climax in his landmark film "Night of the Living Dead"(1968).
The technical aspects may be the focus of many studies, but the characters deserve to be praised, even the support cast with a few lines develop a personality of their own. The restaurant scene is Hitchcock at his best with witty dialogs that are both humorous and creepy. Very good ensemble.
Overall, this is an awesome movie, many reviewers have said it, I know. But I wanted to point that beyond the technical advances this experimental movie features, it is a perfect example of why Alfred Hitchcock is considered, "The Master of Suspense".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recall watching "The Birds" for the first time when I was about 8 years
old and afterwards I was afraid of birds for years. (I'd still be freaked
one flew into a room I was in!)
I've probably watched "The Birds" over 25 times since I first saw it in the 1970's and it still impresses me. By what exactly? Many things.
First, the special effects were amazing for a film from 1963. How did Hitchcock get the birds to attack (I read that Hitchcock once joked when asked that question: "They were well paid!)
Secondly, the detailed camera angles that Hitchcock put into the film. You notice this almost immediately in the Bird Shop when the bird is flying around loose. Who would ever think to film "arms and the ceiling"? Later in the Phone Booth the scene is filmed as if Melanie is in a "bird cage". Other astounding angles include when the birds attack the house, not to mention the final attack in the bedroom. So many directors shoot scenes in a boring manner, but not Hitchcock.
The more times I view "The Birds" the more I understand the ending, but I do agree that at first I was not satisfied with it. I wanted the birds to either finish the job or to be challenged by something (Mitch did hear on Melanie's car radio that perhaps the military might be called in!) but we never saw anything like that. I guess that's why we have imaginations!
'Tippi' Hedren was a beautiful cool blonde who played Melanie Daniels as she should have - icy and yet ultimately very vulnerable. Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner seemed a good reason for her to travel to Bodega Bay. Jessica Tandy as Lydia was what you'd expect of an older, widowed, small town woman from that time. Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth, the school teacher, with her dark beauty was quite a contrast to Melanie and I felt awful at her death by the birds. Veronica Cartwright as Kathy Brenner was a little annoying when she cried but then that IS what young girls do!!
Of course some of the dialogue is dated but that's with most films.
There is really nothing I dislike about "The Birds" as you can probably tell. Others may disagree, and they're entitled to their opinion. I just think everyone should re-watch "The Birds" a little deeper; perhaps it will change their perspective on it.
Another film to prove that Hitchcock really was one of the most gifted film
makers ever. His films are more 'fresh' today than any of current Hollywood
The screeching bird soundtrack in itself was chilling.
The absence of backgound music added a sense of calm before the storm which made the bird attack scenes all the more intense.
The film builds up slowly and that serves to build up the tension and edginess.
The most chilling scene was definitely when Melanie (Tippi Hedren) was waiting outside the school while the singing was going on in the school. At each loop of the song, a few more crows would perch on the climbing frame. The site of them was truly grotesque. This scene is a lesson to all the "subtle as a sledge hammer" so called 'thrillers' that are churned out today.
By the end of the film, there is no conclusion, no neat result. It is somewhat uncomfortable watching a film like this and not seeing a conclusion. How will it end? Why did the birds attack?
Why spoil the film with an explanation?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hitchcock topped himself in 1960, basically inspiring all modern horror
pictures with PSYCHO, a new kind of fright flick never seen before. 3 years
later, he made a foray into the supernatural with THE BIRDS. If you have
not seen the film and do not think a bunch of gulls and sparrows can hold
you in suspense, think again. The great thing about a Hitchcock movie is
that you always know you are about to enter a world where all is not right.
This 'world' usually involves an innocent man wrongly accused, eventually on
the run. The world of THE BIRDS has none of this. Nature has run amok and
the characters, paper-thin as they are, will go through a truly terrifying
One of the most innovative aspects here is a lack of any musical score of any kind. Hitch's long-time partner Bernard Herrman is listed as "sound consultant" and I'm sure he had something to do with the ominous sounds of the various birds, as their building wrath is indicated by their squawks. The attack scenes are a bit dated, but considering the technology of the day was pre-historic compared to the computer generated effects of today, they come across chillingly. Some birds were props, others hand-drawn, even others real. The film surprisingly benefits from a lack of music, heightening the suspense.
Tippi Hedren is the icy blonde and a standard of Hitch's movies, the jealous or overbearing mother, is played by Jessica Tandy (in an awkwardly distant role). Performances aside, Hitch does something he wished not to do in PSYCHO. The bloody attacks are in bright technicolor, and one scene depicting a victim of the birds is quite shocking. Hitch was afraid of showing the bloody carnage of the 'shower scene' in color, leaving it to the viewer's imagination. It works here, showing the blood-red evil happening in this everyday small town.
If you are claustrophobic, I would avoid THE BIRDS. Like Janet Leigh in the PSYCHO shower scene, Tippi Hedren is caught in a phone booth in one of many tight situations, shot from overhead. Otherwise, let Sir Alfred play you like a piano, like he so often has before !
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Images of birds stay with you, long after the film has finished. Whether
sat, menacing, on the school climbing frame, or flying in screeching
monochrome against a pallid sky, those birds make a profound impact. What
One cannot help thinking of things 'coming home to roost'. Tippi Hedren (playing Melanie), an ex-wild child who enjoyed the dolce vita in Rome- however true the 'naked in fountain' allegations- confesses to trying to 'find herself' via charity work and studying linguistics! In her first film appearance (Hitchcock discovered her in a diet drink commercial) Tippi produces a wonderfully perplexing performance of tight suppression; her hairstyle alone, so smooth and well-polished, indicates neurotically tight personal packaging: when it starts to come unravelled, so does she!
Robert Boyle- the film's designer- claims that the design of the film was inspired by Munch's painting, 'The Scream'. In a direct and visual sense it is hard to see that. But, in terms of this being a film that is about personal anguish and dislocation, there are definite parallels. All is not well in sunny Bodega Bay! Mitch (played woodenly by Rod Taylor) has a dead father, a mother who never got over that bereavement, and an 'ex' who washed up as the local schoolteacher. Via an off-shot TV set we hear about meaningless violence in the outside world.
The scene in the local cafe is pivotal: when, thanks to the birds, the stone of this little community is turned over, all manner of small crawling things emerge. In the cockpit that the diner becomes people turn on each other and (metaphorically) spit as the anxiety gnaws at them. The film is worth watching for that sequence alone.
Hitchcock shows his usual and effortless mastery of the visual. There is the early humorous touch where two lovebirds in Tippi's car sway from side to side as she drives round the curves of the coast road. There is the heavily symbolic 'pieta' scene at the end where Tippi (who has no idea where her mother is, who is dead to the world after being savaged by the birds) is cradled in the lap of Jessica Tandy- playing Mitch's mother, Lydia- who is finally enabled by this new crisis to start to get over her old one (the loss of her husband): the tableau is enormously moving.
It is worth reflecting whether what makes little sense as a straight account of external events doesn't add up a great deal better as an indicative account of internal events. In the cafe scene Tippi is accused of bringing the birds with her and- in this sense- that would be true: her unresolved and pitiless internal landscape is writ large in the skies above Bodega Bay, where she has to fight, suffer, and ultimately be redeemed. Meanwhile the schoolteacher- holding a torch in self-imposed exile- is finally snuffed out.
Oh, and there is the strange case of the dog that did not bark: this is a Hitchcock film unique in that it has no music! How does that affect what it conveys?
Another wonderful feature of the narrative is the ironic inversion between birds and humans it tells of. The petshop where the action opens is full of caged birds. One escapes and briefly flutters round before being ignominiously caught under Rod Taylor's hat and bundled back in the cage. At the height of the action it is people who are caged up in their houses by the birds- to the extent where they are nailing themselves in! Yet, finally, the birds allow the carload of people to leave showing, in this respect, more liberality than their erstwhile captors. One is reminded of what Tippi says in the petshop (to Rod Taylor) "now you know how it feels to be on the other end of a gag"
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