The Birds (1963) Review
“…And remember, the next scream you hear could be your own!”
Synopsis: 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.
Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds is quite long, and throughout its runtime does an excellent job of building suspense, which gets broken by several moments of unintentional hilarity. It does remarkably well at making birds seem ominous and even threatening, which is no mean feat considering the effects restrictions of the time. It’s easy to see how this movie wormed its way so thoroughly into public consciousness that even after sixty years, it’s well-known… but perhaps not why some consider it one of the finest movies made.
The first hour or so of The Birds feels more like an Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy than a horror movie. It follows young socialite Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and her pursuit of potential love interest Mitch (Rod Taylor) to a small bay-side town. Though the audience eventually gets some insight into Melanie’s character that makes her seem a bit more relatable, a great deal of the first part of the movie boils down to her stalking a man she’s just met, which is more than a little uncomfortable in this day and age. Still, Mitch seems to enjoy Melanie’s crazy, and we get the sense that her search for meaning in life appeals to him… just before everything starts to go to hell.
Of course, there are numerous hints and bits of foreshadowing throughout the first hour of the movie – we do see birds starting to act oddly, and Melanie is attacked by a lone gull after she arrives in Bodega Bay. But the romance is an interesting counterpoint to the rising threat of the birds. Melanie and Mitch are engaging in their courtship, and if you didn’t know better, you might almost think this was going to be a female serial killer sort of movie after the first half. Though Mitch and his sister Cathy (played by a young Veronica Cartwright) are already smitten with Melanie by the time the birds attack, Melanie’s immediate helpfulness in the face of danger helps smooth things over with the cold matriarch of the Brenner family Lydia (Jessica Tandy).
The bird attacks are achieved through a variety of tactics, some of which work much better than others. Live birds were trained for use in a number of scenes; there’s also some puppets and mechanical props at work. Though the birds generally work well, especially for the time period, there are a number of moments within the various attacks that are laugh out loud funny. The “gore” (fake blood that honestly could be ketchup) is also fairly laughable, which at times disturbs the generally good ambiance of the movie.
I found the end very abrupt, especially considering the movie’s long run-time, and would have far preferred Hitchcock’s proposed ending, which was never shot. But I still enjoyed The Birds, even with its flaws. It does surprisingly well at presenting a credible threat, and the deft touch of Hitchcock’s direction make for an engaging movie despite the length. If you’ve been avoiding this one because it seems too silly, give it a try.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B