The Birds

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Hallowe'en Horror Week

Released: 1963
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor


I was on the side of The Birds…

When we lived in Leatherhead we had a lovely garden that the local birds used to visit regularly for food.  Whenever we put a fat cake out, a couple of hundred starlings would flock to us – squabbling, squawking, fighting they would strip the food in a matter of minutes.  It was a sight to behold and very often I would mutter “It’s like The Birds out there”.  I hadn’t ever seen the film but the imagery of hundreds of birds flocking into an area and terrifying the resident was immediately familiar and recognisable.

Directed by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and starring Tippi Hedren this is one of the most famous creature horrors of all time.  San Francisco socialite Melanie Daniels encounters handsome lawyer Mitch Brenner in a pet shop and decides that she wants to get to know him better.  She tracks him to his hometown of Bodega Bay where he spends the weekends with his mother and sister.  Melanie travels to Bodega Bay but what initially appears to be a love triangle between Melanie, Mitch and Mitch’s ex-girlfriend Annie descends into horror as the town comes under ever more frequent and violent attack by birds.  Gulls, crows and sparrows are among the feathered fiends which pose a danger to Melanie and her blossoming romance.

I don’t think that I reacted to The Birds in the way that I was supposed to.  Instead of feeling fear and worry for the safety of the protagonists I found myself firmly on the other side of the fence.  “Peck her eyes out” I shouted at the screen.  When schoolchildren were knocked over and attacked by crows I laughed and cheered.  It may be that I’m warped and there’s no hope for me, or it may be that the characters were so irritating that a bit of pecking would do them good.

Melanie is spoiled and a bit of a crazy stalker, Mitch is smug and self-righteous, Mitch’s mother is more of a loon that Norman Bates’ mum and she has the most ridiculous run ever, wobbling from side to side on a silly angle.  I’m sure that guffawing wasn’t the desired response to the scene where a horribly mutilated body is found but the strange run overshadowed the gory corpse.

The only character to whom I could be truly sympathetic was Annie, the schoolteacher who still holds a candle for Mitch.  I think being a bit of a “plain” brunette she was supposed to be a lesser character than the blonde and beautiful Melanie, but she was more attractive in every way.

I didn’t like the characters much but I very much enjoyed the acting.  Tippi Hedren was impressive in her first major role – perfect as the spoiled but capable and resourceful Melanie, determined to get her man.  Jessica Tandy as the mother is sinister and a more frightening film would have been one about the tension in the family.

Some of the attack scenes were certainly scary.  The rush of birds through a fireplace into a living room worked well, gulls pecking at Melanie’s hands were gruesome and more frightening than attacks on the head and face, and the scene where crows slowly gather around the schoolhouse is masterful in how it builds suspense.

However, the film takes too long to get into its stride and there isn’t any real plot development.  There’s lots of birds.  They attack.  There’s no apparent reason and no way for people to fight back.  Or willingness to fight back displayed, everyone seems content to run away or hide.  No-one gets their scarecrows out, no shotguns are in sight.  Nothing.

I was expecting real scares and non-stop action.  Instead I found myself rooting for the Birds and wondering why it took so long for the story to begin.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed with a film.  I was expecting to be bowled over …

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