June 30, 2010
Review - " The Birds (1963) " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedren,
Melanie Daniels, Veronica Cartwright
In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock revolutionized the way movies were watched
with Psycho. Three years later he would pioneer special effects
techniques that were ahead of their time in The Birds. Although the
special effects look dated now, at the time they sent chills down
audiences collecive spines. This is as close as you will ever get to a
straight Hitchcock horror film.
Daphne Du Maurier wrote a short story about a ton of birds attacking
and eliminating human kind. Seems pretty unbelievable right? Actually
while making the movie, Hitchcock spoke with farmers in California who
complained that some of their cows had their eyes gouged by birds. So
there had been instances of bird attacks in the area where Hitchcock’s
movie takes place.
The story begins in San Francisco. Socialite Melanie Daniels, played by
Tippi Hedren, is walking down the street and gets whistled at before
walking into a pet store. This is a little joke Hitch included because he
discovered Hedren while watching the “Today Show.” Hedren appeared
in a commercial in which she was walking down the street and got
Melanie enters the pet store and asks for some birds. They haven’t
arrived yet, but the owner says she’ll look in the back just to make sure.
When the owner leaves, lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) strolls in
and asks Melanie if she could help him find
some lovebirds. Always in pursuits of an
eligible bachelor, Melanie poses as a store
assistant to approach Mitch. He acts like he
believes she works there, but he really knows
who she is. He enjoys watching Melanie make
a fool of herself because she doesn’t know
what lovebirds look like. When the pet store’s
owner returns, it is learned that store has no
lovebirds. So Mitch leaves.
Offended, yet still very interested, Melanie
decides to visit Brenner’s hometown Bodega
Bay on the weekend to bring over a small
present. Melanie decides to order lovebirds
and deliver them to Mitch for his sister’s
So Melanie makes the drive up the coast.
When she arrives at the picturesque bay, a
weird series of events occurs. The birds
begin doing weird things once Melanie drops
off the lovebirds in the Brenner home. While
on the bay, out of the blue, she is attacked
by a seagull in broad daylight and soon
other bird encounters are reported across
the small town. Mitch happens to have seen
her get injured and comes to her aid.
Melanie and Mitch fight, but it is easy to tell
that the two are in love.
From here, the birds increase in number and
get bolder with their attacks. Thousands of
crowes, gulls, sparrows and other birds
begin to flock together over Bodega Bay and
start to prey on the horrified residents. What started as a simple lovestruck weekend trip for Melanie soon becomes a fight for
her life, as the birds grow in numbers and become increasingly aggressive, threatening to destroy everything and everyone in
their sight. Eventually there seems to be nothing more Hitch can do except show that the whole world has been dominated by
birds. But Hitch doesn’t do this because the true story of The Birds has concluded. Despite the reasons for the birds attacks
never being explained, and there being no end in sight for their attacks, Hitch ends the movie once Mitch’s mother accepts
Melanie into the Brenner family.
The Birds is the last of Hitchcock’s big four
(Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho), it is
the most technical one of the series.
Alfred Hitchcock’s unexplainable horror tale
about nature going berserk has long become
a classic. The imposing imagery of the birds,
the fabulous cast of the movie featuring Tippi
Hedren in her first feature film role, Rod
Taylor and Jessica Tandy, and the eerie
sound effects used like musical cues, create
a shuddering tale of terror that has not lost a
bit of its impact over the years. Even after
repeated viewing, "The Birds" remains a
chilling and apocalyptic film that has viewers
on the edge. Hitchcock’s skills as a director
and his perfect mastery of suspense in movies fully pays off in this movie, to the point that the fluttering screeching birds
slowly take over the entire perception of the viewer as he plunges into this incredible movie.
Whilst the film’s story is a little weak, the direction of Hitchcock certainly makes the film an entertaining one to watch. Most
directors wouldn’t try and make a serious film out of such a strange and ridiculous plot, but where most would flail, Hitchcock
thrives, producing some very memorable scenes and some fantastic pieces of cinema within this film.
Unlike most horror director’s Hitchcock works more
through the build and it’s not surprising that a
master of suspense would understand that
suspense is the basis for any great horror film.
The horror lies not in the actions of the birds, but
in the waiting for the birds to strike. The idyllic set-
up destroyed by animals out of control, the deaths
that mount, the terror that builds and finally the
slow escape that will either work or is destined for
death. The Birds brings the horror to your mind, it’
s very much a cerebral horror film from beginning
Hitchcock uses The Birds as a great opportunity
to flex his legendary film making talents.
Renowned for creating scenes of high emotion
without using any score, he implements this
beautifully into certain scenes of the film, to
create feelings of anxiety and suspense from
very little. As he spent his early days
producing silent films, he knows how to
create suspense from silence.
The Birds spoke to the changing of the times
that was occurring around 1963. The world
was changing dramatically and not always in
ways that people could understand. The
horror of The Birds is in inexplicable change.
Things we trust all of a sudden turning on us
and the world being tossed upside down on
us. Maybe that isn’t the message Hitchcock
was trying to put forth, it’s more than likely I’m
completely wrong. But, that is what I took from
The Birds and that is why it becomes a little
bit more than just another horror film.
The cast within the film were somewhat
unknown, the lead Tippi Hedren being
scouted out by Hitchcock after he saw her in a
commercial. He does well to get a very solid
and believable performance from Hedren, and
her role is supported greatly by the
supporting cast, especially from Rod Taylor,
playing Hedren’s love interest throughout the
film. Where this film differs from the norm
(more than just with the very unique script) is
the way the film builds up from suspense to
horror over the course of the film. When you
start watching it, you will already have an idea
in your head about what are going to see. But
when you start to get into the bulk of the film,
there is a change of pace that is brilliantly
placed, and this switch in intensity, and an
iconic segment towards the end that
implements Hitchcock’s special effects, make
the film highly enjoyable.
The groundbreaking visual effects don't
translate well into modern times. The special
effects are very well used, but what would
have been considered fantastic and mind
blowing back in the 60s are now tend to look
amateurish and rudimentary. You have to
watch the film from the perspective of a person
who had never seen special effects like
Transformers and Lord of the Rings, if you
want to fully appreciate it.
Despite this flaw, it’s a fantastic film nonetheless, one that is definitely worth watching, if only for the sometimes laughable
scenarios combined perfectly with Hitchcock’s brilliant directing style. The Birds typifies Hitchcock. The Birds is a true
suspense film, because it doesn’t follow a generic code – it surprises you. It makes you truly feel the suspense, when you let
yourself get absorbed into it. There are
certain shots in The Birds that are instantly
recognizable as Hitchcock. The tilting of the
camera when Mitch is tending to a hurt
Melanie to show how the power in their
relationship has now changed with Mitch on
top. The long crane shot of the town
following the explosion and the brilliant
sequence of cuts when Melanie is sitting
outside the school.
The Birds is a finely crafted horror film that
can contain any number of messages,
depending on how you are affected by the
film and its director. The Birds is a fine
addition to any horror fans catalog, and it’s
Hitchcock doing true horror, that should be
enough of a selling point on its own.