The Birds (1963)
Reviewed on 2007 September 20
Dated? Yes. Sixties-style wooden acting? Absolutely. Implausible? Yep.
Creepy and disturbing? Certainly. Especially when you watch it late at night, in a dark room. If you’re in the right frame of mind you might wind up so critter-phobic you’ll begin to wonder what your cat is really thinking when he stares at you.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a blonde socialite with a snarky sense of humor and good heart buried under lots of expensive clothes and jewelry. Most people dismiss her as a living cartoon, because of her perfect hair, suits that out-Chanel Chanel and because of some celebri-brat behavior in her past. While in a pet shop she encounters Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), the quintessential Eligible Bachelor with a capital “B”, and after a couple of digs from him, decides to play a joke on him — she’s going to show up at his house in Bodega Bay with a pair of love birds.
At first Melanie’s biggest problem here seems to be Mitch’s mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), who disapproves of Melanie’s “lifestyle” (of what? Wearing green suits? Buying cute pets?) and exudes the warmth of a Sub-Zero refrigerator. Mitch’s cute, precocious little sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) likes her immediately, and the townspeople are pretty friendly to Melanie, once they stop staring at her like she’s a Martian, so it seems like she might be successful in pursuing Mitch. The only dark spot on the horizon are all the birds showing up. One attacks Melanie at random and things deteriorate rapidly from there.
Hitchcock was very gifted at blending dark and absurd — imagine a big guy like Brenner being menaced by seagulls. But Hitch, God bless him, could make it work. The birds are the stars of this thing, but Hitch wove some wry observations about human behavior through the movie. That’s a common thread in all of his work but there’s even more stuff here of that nature than in Psycho. I won’t spoil it for you guys; but really focus on the diner scene and the ornithologist. And poor Veronica Cartwright, being menaced by birds, then progressing to gooey drooling aliens and the devil himself. For 1963 the effects are very good, and the music (and parts where it’s eschewed) are very effective.
Three chocolate morsels.