The Birds (1963) - review

Door Janreviews gepubliceerd op Thursday 31 March 16:03

“The Birds” is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films. After having watched “Hitchcock” recently, I decided to rent this film and see why it has become such a classic.

Melanie Daniels is a wealthy young woman who meets Mitch Brenner in a bird shop. Mitch knows that she is not a shop assistant, but makes her believe he does when he asks her about lovebirds for his sister as a birthday gift. She makes a fool of herself by going along with the joke, but she eventually buys him a pair of lovebirds for his sister. She drives up north to the town he lives in on the weekends to drop off the gift. In order to surprise Mitch, Melanie sneaks into the house and leaves the cage in the living room. On her way back to the town centre, a bird pecks her on the head, leaving a nasty cut. Mitch tends to the wound and invites her to dinner. After dinner, Mitch’s sister invites Melanie to her birthday party. No one could foresee what would happen the next day and what would mark merely the beginning of a series of horrific events.

“The Birds” has a small cast of well-developed characters. We learn the backstories of each major character. Sadly, Tippi Hedren’s performance as Melanie is really dull. She really came across as a Stepford wife in the first and second act, primarily because of the way she delivered her lines. She hardly has any lines in the third act, when the birds have started attacking. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is your average knight in shining armour, who is a tad too affectionate toward his intimidating mother, played by Jessica Tandy, who delivers the only noteworthy acting in the film. I was convinced that Suzanne Pleshette, who plays Annie Hayworth, played a lesbian character, because of the way she looked at and talked to Melanie, but we learn that she used to be Mitch’s lover. Mitch appears to be three times older than his sister, but there is no explanation for this whatsoever and I found this very confusing. For the record, Rod Taylor is nineteen years older than Veronica Cartwright.

This film definitely passes the Bechdel test, but for some reason I expected the women in an Alfred Hitchcock film to be more emancipated. At the beginning of the film, Melanie appears to be quite independent, but it went downhill from the third act onwards. She acts very irrationally a number of times throughout the film and she is always saved by Mitch. Hedren even asked Hitchcock about something stupid her character does toward the end: “Hitch, why would I do this?”, and Hitchcock replied: “Because I tell you to.” I clearly had the wrong idea about women in a Hitchcock film.

The special effects are ridiculous to today’s standards, but apparently they were unique in the 1960s. The birds, which are supposed to scare us, often look comical, especially in the intense attacks. It’s really easy to see that many of the scenes were filmed in front of a backdrop. Hitchcock despised shooting on location, but the film looks ludicrously fake at times, which also is a look, I suppose. I think it’s hilarious that this film was nominated for an Academy Award for special effects.

I do appreciate that the film doesn’t force some far-fetched explanation for the birds’ violence down our throats. This makes the film scary: no one knows why the birds have started attacking.

“The Birds” is still one of the most famous Hitchcock films, but I just don’t see what the appeal is. You could say that the film doesn’t really age well: all the female characters have to be saved by the man, the special effects look very cheap and the film hardly has an ending. 

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