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The Birds

1963 horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Birdemic ain't got nothing on this...

  • Aug 17, 2012
***1/2 out of ****

It would be too easy writing off Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" as dated or foul. This is the kind of thriller that makes younger audiences laugh with its now-silly special effects and seemingly imperfect performances. This is really the only reason why the film does not enjoy much success with a younger generation; well that and the people which I speak of are accustomed to thrillers and horror movies that move at a faster pace, ignoring the details that Hitchcock - as a prolific and defining filmmaker with suspense as his area of expertise - was so very fond of. But in moving the plot slowly, Hitchcock is able to make the film more than what the sum of its parts may imply. You've got your killer bird movies, and then you've got THE killer bird movie. This is a cleverly crafted portrait of cinematic tension and fear; and I do not believe any of the suspense has worn off from the film over time.

Wealthy blonde Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) travels to Bodega Bay, California to deliver a pair of lovebirds to the successful lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) for his sister after he visits the bird shop and mistakes Melanie for an employee. While still in the city, Melanie looks up at the sky and sees hundreds and thousands of birds flying in large groups overhead. Migrating, perhaps, is the first thought that crosses her mind. She's forgotten about it once in Bodega Bay and staying at her friend Annie's (Suzanne Pleshette) place. Then, once she delivers the birds to the Brenner estate, a seagull attacks her. And yet again, she fails to acknowledge it as anything more than coincidence.

During her stay, Melanie spends a lot of time with Mitch and the rest of his family, including his uptight mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). As she gets more involved with their lives, the stranger the behavior of the birds becomes. Soon, they are homicidal and dive-bombing every living human being outside and in sight. And they can break and enter into homes through the windows too. We're talking crows attacking a school, seagulls descending onto a group of young children, and a large swarm of sparrows coming in through the chimney. It's surreal and at the time of its release it was all genuinely frightening; from the moment the birds start attacking to the second the humans start fighting back with firepower and their own general intelligence. Never before had we been lead to fear such seemingly harmless animals; but that's the power of good cinema.

The screenplay is completely uncanny. It's a mixture of genuinely nerve-wracking suspense and somewhat unsubtle feminist politics. In many ways, this is a feminist film in itself. A lot of the important characters are females and the film carefully examines how they all fit into Mitch's life, since he's clearly the only real man in this situation, although he's surrounded by a plethora of less crucial supporting male characters. The film could also be seen as a metaphor for terrorism, a social critique, or an assault on the sensibilities of a B-movie; which "The Birds" certainly is not. The script is handled real well by Hitchcock; who treats his themes with care and allows the story to unfold at a pace that will agree with any viewer who values true suspense in their pictures but will also surely anger the aforementioned younger generation of movie-goers.

But I say fuck that. Most thrillers and horror pictures today tell us that suspense is approximately two-to-ten minutes of silence and then a jump scare. The ugly truth is that most filmmakers just don't have the chops to make this method feel impressive or fresh; although there are a few who take a lot of their cues from Master Hitchcock himself. This film is damn well near perfect; my only real nitpick being that the bird attack sequences have lost a lot of their impact over time. They are well-photographed just like the rest of the film and you'll get more thrills from these "yellow screen" birdies than you will any lame CGI feathered fowls; but you can't deny that it feels a bit silly today. But this wasn't supposed to be a special effects extravaganza. Hitchcock keeps the suspense consistent and therefore thoroughly engages his audiences; keeping us guessing, on the edge of our seats, etc. I cannot give it a perfect score for this problem alone; but it's a perfectly stimulating and spectacular cinematic experience regardless.

There were two methods of building tension that I admired most of all. One was the island setting, which lends the story and the characters a certain layer of vulnerability; I suppose one does not merely "get out of town" like they do in so many other movies, thus these people are sort of trapped. Then there's the decision to skip a more traditional Bernard Hermann score and depend on sound effects such as the birds screeching and the wings flapping (all this was supervised by Hermann, mind you). I thought this was really effective in the context of the film. It gives the film the grand gift of silence and broadens the horizon as far as the overall effect goes. Sure, a musical score might have improved the best of thrills - such as the revelation of a man dead in his house with his bloody eyeballs plucked from their sockets - but overall I think the quiet nature of the more "frightening scenes" separates this one from the rest of Hitchcock's films. The man himself once said that this might be the most frightening motion picture he's ever made. I'm not sure I agree with him entirely; but oh, "The Birds" is still just so damn good anyways.

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More The Birds reviews
Quick Tip by . May 27, 2010
A great movie - yet I'm still wondering what made the birds go nuts!! Leave it Hitchcock to make you wonder!
Quick Tip by . August 30, 2009
Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds starring Tippi Hendron and Rod Taylor....different, terrifying at times- Based on Daphne Du Maurier's book.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Based upon a story by Daphne Du Marier.
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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Horror, Romance, Thriller
Release Date: January 1, 1963
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Evan Hunter
Runtime: 1hr 59min
Studio: Universal Pictures, Alfred Hitchcock Productions
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