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USA 1963
Directed by
Alfred Hitchcock
119 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Birds

Hitchcock’s follow-up to his hugely successful Psycho (1960) and a companion piece of sorts to Marnie (1964), which also starred Tippi Hedren and which takes the hint of psychological disturbance presented in her character here and turns it into the main theme, The Birds was based on a 1952 short story by Daphne Du Maurier that was published in Good Housekeeping.
It begins in a San Francisco pet store where Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets the wealthy socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren). This leads, via a pair of love birds to the two ending up at Bodega Bay where he returns every weekend to be with his lonely widowed mother (Jessica Tandy) who resents any woman who might take her son from her. In one way or another the women (including Suzanne Pleshette as Mitch’s former girlfriend) are all troubled by their attachment to Mitch but when the birds start attacking the townsfolk things go from bad to worse.

Scripted by novelist Evan Hunter (who wrote The Blackboard Jungle), better known by his pseudonym of Ed McBain, it does not have the dramatic holding power of Marnie with little of substance going on between in the relationship between Hedren and Taylor. What does hold one tends to be the meta-level issue of trying to understand what is the symbolic function of the malevolent birds. Hitchcock would no doubt deny that there was one but he was notorious for a refusal to go beyond the surface of things (at least in his public statements). One can’t help recalling (assuming one knows of it) Freud’s 1910 essay on Leonardo and the vulture in which the good doctor (erroneously) concluded that Da Vinci was a homosexual. Certainly the birds seem to have a more sexual than apocalyptic function here, perhaps generally standing for the thanatic side of the erotic forces which Melanie has visited upon the quiet Bodega Bay hamlet.

Hitchcock makes good use of his protégé Hedren (he wanted bigger stars but the budget did not permit) although justifiably, this is really the only film of Australian expatriate Rod Taylor to have withstood the test of time. For their day the special effects of the bird attacks enhanced by a synthesized score consisting entirely of bird sounds which Hitch worked out with Bernard Herrmann, are well done, and certainly belong amongst the considerable catalogue of memorable imagery that the director has contributed to cinema history.

FYI: Hitchcock wanted to leave the end completely open but Universal insisted that "The End" be superimposed over the final shot of the waiting birds




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