Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor
Top 100 Films-#2 Top 20 Horror Films-#2
Scott’s Review #173
Reviewed September 22, 2014
The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.
Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.
The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.
My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.