The Birds (1963)
Rod Taylor has Bird Trouble
Can I bring the lovebirds, Mitch? they haven't harmed anyone - Cathy Brenner
One of the best things about Hitchcock movies is because of his notoriety as the master of suspense you go into them expecting the unexpected. And with "The Birds" it feels like Hitchcock is playing on that notoriety by keeping us guessing as to what is going on during the first half of the movie, making us think one thing then another and making us question the motives of everyone. But if that wasn't enough Hitchcock gives us a lesson in terror with "The Birds" getting us to the edge of our seats, gripped, engrossed, shocked and genuinely frightened by the ferocity of the attacks, the spine tingling bird sounds and by their sheer ominous presence. My only criticism is that "The Birds" feels like an unfinished symphony, delivering an abrupt and ambiguous ending which I am sure appeals to those who like to over analyse Hitchcock's movies and motives but left me disappointed and frustrated.
After a comical first meeting in a pet shop, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren - Marnie) sets out after handsome bachelor Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor - The Time Machine), showing up in Bodega Bay where Mitch spends his weekends with his mother and little sister. But whilst there Melanie is inexplicably attacked by a gull and before long there are hundreds of birds congregating around the town. Not only that but these birds are behaving strangely, viciously attacking anyone who lives in the town from school children to old women. As the attacks become increasingly violent Melanie and Mitch must fight for their lives against these birds and their inexplicable behaviour.
What is so spectacular, and I do mean spectacular, is "The Birds" starts out as one thing, almost a romantic comedy as we watch the initial meeting between Melanie and Mitch in the pet shop, but then slowly grows darker and more suspenseful morphing into a horror movie. It is brilliantly done because thanks to Hitchcock's notoriety you are not entirely sure as to what is going on, a subtle look, an icy stare, an open ended question it makes you think and you question the motives of the various characters. All of which makes "The Birds" so much fun because it leads you deep into the story, trying to work out what is what and as to why the birds are behaving strangely.
And the cleverness continues as it shifts in tone to become a horror movie although I actually prefer to think of "The Birds" as a terror movie. From the initial bird attack on Melanie through to the attack on the school and beyond to the big finale at Mitch's home the level of tension increases and increases. Hitchcock draws us to the edge of our seats as we witness the birds congregating, assembling outside homes and schools. Then gets us cowering back through the terrifying noise of screeching birds and the ferocity of the actual attacks. It is truly frightening stuff, the sort of thing which could make people frightened of big flocks of birds in real life.
As such it has to be said that "The Birds" is visually brilliant. The footage of the bird attacks are stunning especially the ferocious visuals of gulls smashing through windows and biting hands but it is also just the sight of these birds congregating outside buildings which help create a real sense of impending doom. And credit must go to the whole technical team, the bird wranglers and special effects guys who manage to make all of this work. Although in fairness some of the effects are obvious, using projected backdrops but there is so much which is good that to criticise these minor issues of an old movie would be harsh.
Plus Hitchcock adds a touch of dark humour to "The Birds" making it even more unsettling. The scene where Melanie is sitting outside the school and the camera keeps on cutting from her to the climbing frame behind where each time more Crows are gathering is devilishly amusing. And so is the almost comical scene where a dropped match causes a huge explosion. It's this added touch of dark humour which helps makes "The Birds" shockingly amusing but also shockingly frightening.
As for the acting well the main duo of Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren as Mitch and Melanie do a solid enough job, although I found myself struggling to be excited by either the pairing or what they brought to the movie. The chemistry just seemed to be missing and between their heroics and scares it all seemed a bit over acted. But then you have Jessica Tandy as Mitch's mother and just an icy stare, an ominous look delivers so much suspense it is brilliant. And the same can be said of Suzanne Pleshette who does an equally good job of making us question the motives of her character Annie Hayworth.
But here is the thing for about 115 minutes Hitchcock and "The Birds" had me, I was absolutely loving every single second of it, the shift in tone, the sense of Hitchcock playing on his notoriety of being the master of suspense. And then it is for me ruined by the most abrupt and ambiguous ending going making it feel like it was unfinished, as if no one could come up with a decent ending so they just stopped. As such it intentionally leaves things in the air, important questions unanswered and I really hate this. For some the whole ambiguity and abruptness will be wonderful as they analyse the deeper context of the movie, but not for me.
What this all boils down to is that "The Birds" is a brilliant movie as it leads us to think one thing then another as it goes from feeling like a romantic comedy into a full on horror. It is genuinely frightening both through what you see, the ferocious attacks, but also what you hear and as such it gets you gripped, deeply immersed into these bird attacks as you want to know why. But then for me it is ruined by the intentionally abrupt and ambiguous ending which leaves too many important questions unanswered.
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