October 2, 2016

The Birds (1963)

"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 there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness."

Do you have ornithophobia? Do feathery things terrify you? No? Me neither, but there are some poor souls out there who would absolutely wet themselves at the thought of ever watching "The Birds", and not in a sexy way.

I've still got a soft spot for "The Birds" after reading Daphne Du Maurier's novella in one of the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" collections at school. The written version is much more real than the film somehow, although in fairness, birds are usually quite harmless creatures, and you can't ever really imagine them turning against humans.

"The Birds" is almost as far-fetched as trees, grass, and other plants turning against people like in "The Happening" (2008), and I'm surprised that nobody picked up on M. Night Shyamalan's inspiration at the time. However, there's always a nagging doubt when it comes to nature or animals of any kind that they know something which we don't and will one day turn against us.

Alfred Hitchcock never explained why the birds attack, but everything seems to centre around Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and her relationship with Mitch (Rod Taylor). This has lead at least one reviewer to suggest that the birds are somehow telepathically controlled by Mitch's mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) due to her anxiety about losing her son to another woman. I think that interpretation is clever, but it's reading far too much into subtle points within the film. The way "The Birds" is structured mirrors the romantic subplot, but there's no suggestion of telepathy in the original short story.

There are several things which stand out in "The Birds" including Tippi Hedren's beauty, an early appearance by Veronica Cartwright, and how amazingly well thousands of real birds (and nearly 400 trick shots) were used. It's a good thing that Alfred Hitchcock never listened to the advice about working with children or animals, especially as it is well documented that he disliked birds himself.

Unfortunately, "The Birds" is becoming quite dated now, and the stagey dialogue is often extremely cringeworthy. In fact, the only member of the cast who seems to be able to act without affectation is the late Rod Taylor. Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette are only slightly more tolerable than the horrible overacting from Jessica Tandy, although there are unintentional laughs to be had at everyone's expense for a modern audience.

The special effects are, sadly, also not that great anymore. Some bird attack scenes look as if they belong to a bad 3D version of the movie rather than being the groundbreaking Disney Studios work they actually were, and of course, any blood is bright red like paint.

Platinum Dunes were once going to remake "The Birds", but thankfully, they seem to have given up on that idea. What would have even been the point? There's already a sequel, "The Birds II: Land's End" (1994), which should be more than enough for anyone wanting to watch badly made crap instead of the original.

If you are looking for something other than yet another slasher to watch on the run up to Hallowe'en, you could do far worse than break out this or any other Hitchcocks you might own. It may be impossible for the virtue signallers to ignore the director's alleged obsession with Tippi Hedren behind the scenes, but "The Birds" still stands as one of Alfred Hitchcock's more entertaining movies.

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