The Birds: Movie Review

thebirds69We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was a cinema genius, there’s no need to read it here on vengonofuoridallefottutepareti. But since the other day I re-watched The Birds, which he made in 1963 just after making Psycho (in 1960 – the three-years break is due to his television work), why not writing about it?

And let me tell you right away: I will refrain from commenting on the accusations made by poor Tippi Hedren (the protagonist of the film) who a few years ago in her biography accused the American director (who died in 1980) of sexual abuse. Tippi, who’s the mother of Melanie Griffith, rejected him during the making of the movie and it seems that she was constantly treated badly on the set. Above all, it seems that after working in Marnie (1964), Hitchcock ruined her career by preventing her from taking part in any other great production. With the #metoo movement and everything, I prefer not to enter into historical discussions about how past directors treated their protagonists (see Stanley Kubrick with Shelley Duvall in The Shining, 1980): it’s a delicate matter and extremely difficult to untangle!

So let’s talk about The Birds. Everyone knows the plot, I know, but here it is: the rich, famous, and silly Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), practically an ante-litteram Paris Hilton, gets infatuated with a lawyer met by chance in a bird shop in San Francisco, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). She follows him to Bodega Bay, a village 60 miles North of the city, where he spends the weekends with his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and his little sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Not only will the mother prove to be very possessive, but Melanie will be welcomed by a former girlfriend of Mitch, the local school’s teacher Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), who’s still in love with the handsome Mitch. And so far we are watching a romantic comedy.

Then, all of a sudden, a different film begins. And it’s a horror movie in which thousands of crows and seagulls begin to attack humans without any particular reason. The principle is basically the same as Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), in which the characters don’t know that their world is populated by vampires until they are attacked by a bunch of them, or Predator (1987), in which the tough soldiers led by Dutch are unaware of being the targets of a very aggressive alien creature. But of course Hitchcock did it in the 60s! From the first birds’ attack to the wonderful ending, we the audience witness a series of moments of calm alternated with moments of frenetic action in which the bloodthirsty birds seem to be able to kill each and every inhabitant of Bodega Bay.

Hitchcock is a master of tension, and here it feels like the protagonists are constantly at risk of losing their lives. It’s impossible to know who will die next, and it’s impossible to understand how those who will save themselves will succeed in doing so. Sometimes I thought that I was watching a zombie movie, and it’s no accident that another maestro like George Romero came out with The Night of the Living Dead in 1968, five years after The Birds. The ingredients are similar: the enemies are numerous and almost impossible to defeat, the protagonists are barricaded in an isolated house, and there are various sudden and unpredictable deaths!

But it’s not just that! Hitchcock filled his movie with metaphors. For instance, the young Cathy saves her caged birds, and at the same time she’s also locked up in the cage of the possessive mother together with her older brother. Not to mention the return of the difficult mother-child relationship, as in Hitchcock’s previous movie Psycho! And there are even those who read in the character of Melanie the disturbing element that manages to separate three women from Mitch (Lydia, Cathy and Annie), three women whose revenge is symbolized by the attacks of the birds! In fact, the locals openly accuse Melanie of being the cause of this inexplicable event…

Ok, it’s a great movie. But is it without flaws? No, it isn’t: as in most movies, some flaws can be found. Sometimes the characters do totally stupid things, like letting the kids out of the school which is literally surrounded by ravens, or like Melanie deciding to enter and shut herself in a room where she hears the noises of hundreds of birds. The same Tippi Hedren asked the director why her character should have done that and he simply answered: “Because I tell you to do so”. Not really the best justification plot-wise… And the special effects have not aged very well, but it’s been over 50 years!

But these are but minor details. The Birds is a great movie, and it would certainly have been interesting to see the alternate ending, written but never filmed, with a final attack on the car with which the survivors leave Bodega Bay. Ciao!


11 risposte a "The Birds: Movie Review"

  1. Love your write-up!! I found it funny when you called Tippi Hedren an ante-litteram Paris Hilton. 😀 But Tippi Hedren was so much better.
    When I came to your Blog, I though oh no, I can’t read this, but scrolling down, was glad you’ve posted one in English. Am guessing you are Italian?? I only guessed that, ‘cause of the “Ciao!” at the end of this post. Speaking of the THE BIRDS, I though it was a near-excellent movie. I like the fact it’s more psychological horror, than visual. Same with PSYCHO. And speaking of the Special Effects being outdated, I find CGI today tend to overpower the plot, and overdo things, to the extent that, the visual effects are the only good things in most movies today. Take that out, the rest of it, on it’s own, is crap. There is so much more than just special effects here, and these movies have aged well, and still appreciated, despite those minor flaws. No movie is perfect, and among B-movies, even less so. BUT, This classic comes really close to perfection.
    I agree it’s a delicate matter when it comes to how directors treated their stars, especially female ones, back then. But that’s the past, it’s over. What matters is now, it’s not allowed to happen anymore.
    Hitchcock was a great director. I never knew him personally, Ha!! had I, I might not like him as a person, but that doesn’t make him a bad filmmaker. And as a film director, there was no one like him. Hitchcock is my all time favourite director.
    By The way, am hosting a Blogathon for this month, do check it out. Hope you join.
    Cheers
    Nuwan
    P.S. If you add a line in English on your “Intro” page, for people like us, that would be great 🙂

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    1. Hi Nuwan!

      Thank you for reading my review, and thank you for your comment! I just modified the Intro page to make it clearer that we have reviews in three different languages (Italian, Spanish, and English), and yes, I’m Italian!

      I agree with you on Hitchcock being one of the best directors of all time, it was clear that he was ahead of his time and so many of his movies are still great to this day!

      And also I share with you the dislike for the CGI invasion in today’s movies (especially the blockbuster ones).

      I will certainly check out your blog and the Blogathon you mentioned, thanks!

      Ciao!

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  2. Great post 🙂 I did comment on it above a few weeks ago, but I do not mind expanding on what I already know 🙂 Maybe George A. Romero used some of the ideas here as an element for Night of the Living Dead aside from Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. How much do you want to bet that this film was Hitchcock’s response to fans of Psycho who praised it as scary. To put it in other words, Hitchcock’s response quite possibly could have been “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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