The Birds (1963)

The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier
(number 350)

I first watched this some time in the early to mid 2000s when I was trying to watch as many Hitchcock films as possible. I’d say it’s in my top 5 of Hitchcocks, but definitely not my favourite. Anna had never seen it before and watched while writing school reports.

It’s a strange, slow burning film. Scenes of weird unexplained bird terror interspersed with quiet introspective relationship scenes. I have the colourised version on DVD and I love the lushness of the greens, especially the ones that Tippi Hedren’s Melanie wears.

Hitchcock’s treatment of Tippi Hedren in this film was famously awful. One has to imagine that the birds acting in this film were also poorly treated, and those things do make the film harder to watch.

It seems almost like blasphemy but watching this I did keep being reminded of the hilariously awful Birdemic: shock and terror – amazing that the film made so much later and with computer special effects is so much less convincing. Well, even with inflation I’m sure Hithcock had more funding. I think one of the strengths of The Birds is in never explaining why the birds are coming after people – it’s speculated about by the ornthilogist but generally everyone is asking ‘why’ more than anything else. It creates a strange, nightmareish mood which I enjoy in a film. Birdemic by contrast is ham fisted with its explanations for why the birds are attacking.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely – Melanie more than anyone, but you definitely feel for Lydia with her emotional hangups and Annie, the lonely possibly gay school teacher. Generally the people in this movie aren’t good or bad, just ordinary people dealing with a strange situation. The characterisations of minor parts is subtle and believable.

Cathy and Melanies quick friendship is also believable. Seeing how cold and formal Lydia is, even self centred, you an imagine that meeting a woman who is kind, open with her emotions, fun loving and stylish would be appealing to an eleven year old.

Bechdel test: Passes all over the place. First up Melanie talks to the pet shop clerk called Mrs Macgruder. Cathy talks to Melanie about the love birds, about her party. Melanie talks to Annie and Lydia several times, and only about half the time about Mitch or other men. It’s lovely – of the main four characters only one of them is a man, then the main secondary character is Annie. Good times.

I really like Mrs Bundy the ornithologist as well. She knows a lot about birds.

Best line:

Melanie Daniels: On Mondays and Wednesdays I work for the Travelers Aid at the airport.
Mitch Brenner: Helping travelers?
Melanie Daniels: No, misdirecting them.

Mother in Diner: [to Melanie] Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all of this. I think you’re evil. EVIL!

State of Mind: Still awesome. Anna was particularly pleased with how everything is so clearly explained and wrapped up in the end… no seriously, she enjoyed it well enough. She laughed at the jokes and was generally disturbed by the enthusiasm the birds show in attacking. She agreed with the crazy lady in the diner that it all did seem to be Melanie’s fault.

Watched movie count


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