RogerBW's Blog

The Birds (1963) 17 October 2023

1963 thriller/horror, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor: IMDb / allmovie. The spoiled socialite goes to the small seaside town to track down her latest potential conquest…

Well, yes, because there are at least two separate stories going on here. On one level, Melanie chases down Mitch, and meets Annie who previously had a relationship with him but was chased away by Mitch's mother Lydia. (And, this being my third Hitchcock, I worked out at this point who would live or die among the female cast purely on the basis of their hairstyles.) Will Melanie manage to persuade Lydia that she can safely pass on the guardianship of Mitch to her, in a reversal of the traditional Western movement of a woman from father to husband? Given that this is after Psycho(1960), will Lydia turn out to be a killer? Or Annie? Will Melanie turn out to be not so spoiled after all?

Or will that plot come to a halt because, for no reason anyone cares to explore, the birds are attacking? Although it's not wildly impressive now, the part of the film that took most effort was the visual effects, particularly the attack at the garage and Melanie stuck in a phone box; Hitchcock was pushing the limits of what the technology of the day could manage.

The odd thing for me is that, while this plot takes on the clothing of a 1950s "animals attack" film like Them!, it doesn't do it whole-heartedly. We know how this goes: there are minor attacks, then big attacks that kill people, the military (if available) tries a head-on attack and fails, the scientists work out the cause and come up with the solution. The diner scene is definitely a nod to that, and doesn't otherwise advance things at all with its one-note characters we'll never meet again. But the second half is simply missing; eventually, the few people who really matter get away at night, and that's The End, not even caring about anyone else alive in the town, never mind whether the birds' homcidal mania is going to stop, continue, or spread.

Meanwhile Melanie and Lydia have managed to find compatible brokennesses so Melanie can have Mitch, yay. It's an interesting scene in which Lydia is humanised: it's a lovely soliloquy delivered by Jessica Tandy, but it really ought to be a conversation, at least with Melanie making sympathetic noises rather than just sitting there as a silent audience.

It has some very enjoyable moments, but I can't love it. Also, a puddle of petrol doesn't go up with a bang like that, it's more of a whoomph.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by DrBob at 03:05pm on 17 October 2023

    I saw The Birds for the first time only a couple of years ago. And I must admit I almost gave up watching because of the deary soap opera stuff at the start. I know the film needs to give the characters backstories and personalities to make them more than cardboard, but... yawn. It only started getting tense for me at the crows in the playground scene.

  2. Posted by David Malcolm at 02:11am on 19 October 2023

    Don’t know if you’re a Schitt’s Creek fan, but obligatory link to:

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 08:53am on 19 October 2023

    Never seen it—so many things to catch up on But in most situations involving crows they're the side I'm on.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:34pm on 19 October 2023

    Crows and indeed all corvids are pretty smart. They have demonstrated tool use.

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