One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most recognized films is “The Birds” from 1963. In many ways “The Birds” could have been an absolute mess. The concept itself (loosely based on a story by the English author and playwright Daphne du Maurier) could be considered silly and absurd on the surface. In fact many ideas such as this in the hands of many modern day filmmakers end up as originals on channels like Sci-Fi Network.
But “The Birds” isn’t silly, absurd, and it certainly isn’t a mess. It’s a great film that shows what a master filmmaker can do even with what may seem like the craziest concept. Hitchcock liked the idea of random bird attacks from du Maurier’s story and he was enthusiastic about visually creating it on screen. He instructed screenwriter Evan Hunter to create a broader story with more defined characters. The end result was an effective thriller filled with Hitchcock’s signature style and suspense.
The film featured the screen debut of Tippi Hedren. She plays Melanie Daniels, a beautiful San Francisco socialite who meets a lawyer named Mitch (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop. He’s there to buy a pair of lovebirds, but he ends up more interested in Melanie. They don’t have the best encounter and Mitch ends up leaving empty-handed. Later Melanie second guesses her reaction and after finding a pair of lovebirds traces Mitch to Bodega Bay. Her stay there spans several days and during this time violent encounters with birds begin and later intensify. Soon Melanie, Mitch, and the entire community find themselves terrorized by a wide assortment of fowl.
Hedren was a great choice to play Melanie which clearly emphasized Hitchcock’s eye for talent. Hitchcock was ultra protective of his young female lead and over the following few years their tense relationship would lead to a great deal of controversy. But in “The Birds” Hedren fits nicely into Hitch’s cinematic world. Her performance never resembles that of a newcomer and her pairing with the more seasoned Rod Taylor was a good fit. There some good supporting performances as well particularly from Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette. I also loved the assortment of peculiar townfolk which gave the community such quirky life.
Speaking of quirky, the film starts out with a subtle quirky vibe. But as Hitchcock moves us forward the story evolves into something much different. He moves into suspense where he sucks us in with his crafty and methodical buildup before plunging into what could be called shock horror. Through some amazing special effects and his unmatched eye for the camera, Hitchcock unleashes several scenes of unsettling terror that still hold up today. The film is often overlooked and underappreciated especially when lined up next to his other works. But rewatching the film and experiencing again the visual style used to create some of the film’s great scenes reminded me that the movie can’t be shoved aside.
There are a handful of narrative question marks that just don’t make a lot of sense. Also the ending, while stylish and pleasing to a degree, does feel a bit hollow and it left me wanting more out of it. These gripes may be enough to keep it from being considered the director’s best, but they certainly don’t soil the movie as a whole. Actually it’s quite the opposite. “The Birds” remains a wonderful experience. It takes a somewhat wacky concept and brilliantly creates a society turned on its head by the unlikeliest of terrors. Some today may not find it to be as unnerving or as horrifying as it was to those first audiences, but if you allow yourself to get swept up buy the buildup and the ultimate payoff “The Birds” is still extremely satisfying.