REVIEW: “The Birds”

BIRDS POSTER

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.

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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.

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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.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Birds”

  1. Hi Keith! I saw this years ago with one of my brothers I think, I remember being so terrified by it. I should rewatch it again so I can fully appreciate the non-horror aspect, such as the quirky vibe you speak of.

  2. Yessir, can’t disagree with this review! One of the few Hitchcock pictures I’ve seen. I need to check out much more from him. I’m thinking Rear Window or Vertigo is next

  3. I really love this movie, but a lot of it is pure nostalgia, to be honest. It really does show what a great director can do with a questionable narrative. Great review!

    • Thanks my friends. Your words are spot on. Hitch was a wonder and sometimes his genius made up for other not so effective things.

  4. I love this movie a lot and it always feels to me like there was something going on underneath what you see on screen. Melanie’s an interesting character who I could never quite figure out.
    I agree about the abrupt ending. The original ending featured the car driving away, with Bodega Bay in ruins, dead birds everywhere and cars in flames. When Melanie and Mitch finally arrive in San Francisco they stop in shock to find Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds. Sadly because of time constraints this version had to be shelved.

  5. Nice review Keith. I would disagree with you about the ending. I like the ambiguous feel to it, making the film even more chilling.

    Did you watch this via blu-ray? The version I had often ran into the picture freezing and the audio cutting off for some reason.

    • I’ve seen it a couple of times in the past but I watched a DVR version from Turner Classic Movies this time. Didn’t really notice any technical issues.

  6. I always felt ‘Birds’ as one of the lesser films of Hitchcock. It is one of the original films ever made but it never brought me to the edge of my seat the way Psycho, Vertigo or Rear Window did.

    Also Tippi Hedren was no Grace Kelly or Janet Leigh.

    I liked the ambiguity of the story but mostly it felt like a cheap thrill film to me.

    • Interesting. I definitely enjoy it a bit more than you although I can see where you are coming from. It’s far from my favorite Hitchcock film but I do think its quite fun.

  7. I haven’t seen enough of his work yet, but this is one is my favourite so far. What the hell was making those birds so vicious?! I loved it.

    Great write up as per usual keith

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