The Birds (1963)

Horror, Thriller
Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy
A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.
Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Alfred Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history.
  • Universal Pictures Company:
  • TV-PG Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 30 May 1963 Released:
  • 28 Mar 2000 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Daphne Du Maurier, Evan Hunter Writer:
  • Alfred Hitchcock Director:
  • N/A Website:

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A highly innovative horror10/10

Imagine Hitchcock trying to sell this idea to the film studios: the lives of a mundane country family are shattered when vicious rooks attack. Why? No particular reason. And what then? They fly away. and then? They come back again and attack. And then go and then . .. It seems like an impossible plot to pull off, but Hitchcock does it, slowly building up the tension which spasmodically swells and subsides. Younger viewers may get irritated with the slow stealth of the opening scenes and may want to thrash the T.V. when the film comes to its beautifully droll conclusion, but form once those birds start attacking, every viewer is riveted. It was fine Hitchcockian innovation that took this very slim, cock-a-mamy story and turned in to a tense thriller. But the greatest innovation is the film score - there isn't any. No director is more closely identified with the music of their films, but in Birds, Hitchcock created a horror that is uniquely quiet. The great man appreciated something that so few others do - the atmospheric potency of silence, and how, in different settings, silences can differ in character. Yet so many who watch the film seem to forget that the music isn't there. That's the film's greatest attribute.
Tippi Feathers With Mother10/10
Seems silly to give a 10 to "The Birds" what can I give to "Notorius" then? Or "Rear Window"? A 20? It doesn't matter, a 10 shouldn't mean the best but one of the best. Best as in degrees of enjoyment, best as in time of enjoyment, 10 for the kind of enjoyment. "The Birds" is a ten for all of the above. Hitchcock's world varied consistently, it depended very much on his travelling companions. Writers first and foremost then composers. There is no music in "The Birds" so most of my questions are directed to the eclectic Evan Hunter who dissected Daphne de Maurier's original story and transformed it into something that not even Hitchcock had attempted before. A lyrically surreal horror soap opera kind of thing. It visits many of Hitchcock's obsession's of course, an icy blond and a castrating mother. Tippi Hedren follows a long line of Hitchcock blonds, from Madeline Carroll and Ingrid Bergman to Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint and Doris Day as Jessica Tandy follows Madame Constantin, Jesse Royce Landis and Louise Latham not to mention Mrs. Bates. Evan Hunter was behind films like Richard Brooks's "Blackboard Jungle" and a semi forgotten gem Frank Perry's "Last Summer" As well as having Akira Kurosawa based his film noir "The Ransom" on one of his novels. Here, he follows Hitchcock's needs with religious reverence and at the same time comes out with something quite unique. I love the light weightiness of the heaviness. I've always loved the daringness of the pacing. The car trip to to Bodega Bay or the long shots of Jessica Tandy's truck driving away in horror from the farm. This movie is also a reminder to the filmmakers, depending in special effects, that effects tend to age a movie far too fast. The effects should be at the service of the characters and not the other way round. Rod Taylor, a charming, versatile matinee idol with a brain and the scrumptious Suzanne Pleshette ad to the many pleasures this 10 of a film will keep in store for generations to come.
The last movie Senator Gill ever saw10/10
An old friend, the late State Senator Ted Gill, of Holyoke, Colorado, once told me that The Birds was the last movie he ever saw. He gave up movies after seeing this flick...they were just getting too weird and disturbing for an old rancher like him. It's still pretty terrifying, even if you've seen it again and again. You know what bad, brutal scenes are coming and don't want to see the carnage again, but can't help yourself. It's ominous as the crows flock tighter and tighter, always more and more, on the schoolyard Monkey-Bars and it's also exciting to see the school kids chased down by the crows a few minutes later. Subplots like the pitiful neurosis of Lydia Brenner, Mitch & Annie's lost-love-affair, Mitch's indifference to the needs of others, and the poor-little-rich-girl Melanie, who still just wants her mommie, are all well-written and acted. Loved best by me is Hitchcock's humorous characters who are CHARACTERS! The old drunk at the bar quoting Holy Scripture, the nosy neighbor done wonderfully by Richard Deacon, the dowdily-dressed old intellectual in the cafe buying her cigarettes and evidently a scientific expert for any field. Sir Alfred's macabre touches of comedy are unmatched, even in today's thrillers. I'm repulsed and attracted by such scenes as the one in the farmhouse, where Jessica Tandy discovers an old friend pecked to death, with his eye sockets bloody and empty. I find myself still searching for gory details on the farmer's body because Hitch didn't let the camera dwell on the horrible face too long. But he DID give us two rapid jump-cuts with closer and closer close-ups, and we end up seeing just as much detail as Jessica just did - enough to know that "We gotta git outta there!" Overall, a fine time. 119 minutes of revolting fun!
Obsessions Under the Strobelight.10/10
Some films are so well made that watching them unfold sequence by sequence creates the feeling of surrender to a higher force. Hitchcock, no stranger to spellbinding his audience, was known for bringing a sense of intense masochism into the viewer's eyes. In THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH the Albert Hall sequence is a perfect crescendo of images and music in which Jo McKenna sees a man who is the key to her son's safety prepare to commit a crime with deadly slowness. In PSYCHO, Marion Crane takes a fatal shower and gets a vicious visitor. In VERTIGO, Scotty and Judy begin a dizzying affair which itself is as obsessive as narcotic and culminates high above the bell tower, filled with revelations upon revelations.

THE BIRDS is by far one of Hitchcock's most deadly incursions into cinematic masochism. In itself, it's a masterpiece of misdirection. Hitchcock has no wrong man in his story, no chase sequences (or at least, none that involve Cary Grant and some Bad Guys), and no double-crosses. All he presents here is Tippi Hedren's arrival to the small town of Bodega Bay, a series of Meet Cutes between her and Rod Taylor, what could pass as romantic suspense, and the most impressive sweeping of the rug right out from under the audience's feet at precisely halfway through the movie when the plot makes a left turn into uncharted territory. Who else can lay claim to that feat? Hitchcock, in revealing the black petals of his deadly flower revealing themselves, opening up, and swallowing the viewer whole at this precise mark is one of the un-topped achievements in cinema history.

And so begins a sequence of events that proceed at the vertiginous crescendo of domino's falling. We've seen the birds amass and attack in increasing ferocity. We've seen the damage they've done to the little city. Hitchcock, of course, has one better on the viewers during the film's overpowering climax: making their presence oppressive and omniscient through the use of sound imitating their shrieks until it becomes deafening and everyone is twisting and turning in revulsion among the corners of the house in reaction not only to their fury but to what they might imagine as their horrible deaths. Hitchcock never once gives an emotional release, and then he outdoes himself in using the most hackneyed excuse for a plot device: Melanie ascending the stairs because she heard a rustling noise, the quintessential "Don't go there," which is the oldest trick in the book. Because we know what lies on the other side of the door....

The stroboscopic effect of the last attack is petrifying as it is unflinching. Melanie, waving the flashlight in a weak signal for help, being slammed against the door, as Mitch tries to get inside but finds he cannot. As Melanie begins slumping and surrenders to the birds' attack, she has an odd mixture of horror and pleasure. We, of course, can't do anything but watch and watch and watch.

Hitchcock had always been attracted to the theme of rape. Because his (professional) relationship with Tippi Hedren was brittle at best, this sequence, somehow out of place and character, seems more in tune with his love-hate attitude towards blonde women and his need for their total submission. Beginning with the emotional rape Jo McKenna suffers with the disappearance of her son, the psychological stripping of Madeleine's identity in VERTIGO, Marion's violent death at the Bates Motel in PSYCHO in and culminating in the barbaric rape sequence of FRENZY, he possessed a desire to destroy that which he loved or desired the most.

I notice how he makes Rod Taylor's character suddenly incapable of saving Melanie right at the end (which heightens the viewers agony -- they want, they need her to survive the birds' attack). It's almost as if he, the Director as Ringmaster, were pushing the Heroine right to the edge of the abyss for one last moment before bringing her back to the (relative) safety of family. Even then, with the vague ending, Hitchcock seems to sort of wink at the audience and tell them that it's still not over -- and this is the sort of thing only a sadistic imp of a personality would do. THE BIRDS is his obsessions at its most explicit (as they were implicit in VERTIGO) and is the kind of cinematic experience that can always be rediscovered even when its tricks become evident. It's been considered Hitchcock's last masterpiece before returning to almost full form for FRENZY, and in many ways, it is the setup for the more graphic, cruel violence of the latter film.
Seaside gulls go mental in Hitchcock's macabre masterpiece!9/10
Despite spending most of his career within the realms of the thriller genre, Alfred Hitchcock hasn't restricted himself where variation is concerned. Most of his best work represents a different type of thriller, and The Birds is no different. It is often said that Psycho is Hitchcock's first foray into the horror side of the thriller, and it is indeed; but it's not the complete horror film that The Birds is. Often cited as an obvious influence for Night of the Living Dead, The Birds follows Melanie Daniels as she travels to the seaside town of Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds for Mitch Brenner, an eligible bachelor that she met in a pet shop in San Francisco. However, while there the birds of the coastal town begin to attack the residents and so begins a terrifying tale of man's feathered friends waging a war against humanity...

It could be said that the plot of The Birds is ridiculous, and it is. The idea of birds, a type of animal that isn't aggressive, attacking humans despite living with us for millions of years is preposterous and is never likely to happen. However; it is here where the film's horror potency lies. Birds live with us in harmony; we're so used to them that for the most part we don't even realise that they're there, and the idea of something that we don't notice suddenly becoming malicious is truly terrifying. Especially when that something is unstoppable, as the birds are portrayed as being in this film. The fact that the birds' motive is never really explained only serves in making it more terrifying, as it would appear that somewhere along the line they've just decided to attack. Of course, the film could be interpreted as having Melanie's arrival, or the presence of the lovebirds as the cause for it all; but we don't really know. This bounds the film in reality as if there was a reason given, it might be improbable; but there's no true reason given (although there are several theories), so it can't be improbable!

The first forty minutes of the film feature hardly any - if any - horror at all. Hitchcock spends this part of the movie developing the characters and installing their situation in the viewers' minds, so that when the horror does finally come along, it has a definite potency that it would not have had otherwise. In fact, at first the birds themselves come across as a co-star in their own movie as there are brief references towards them, but they never get their full dues. However, once the horror does start, it comes thick and fast. Hitchcock, the master craftsman as always, uses his famous montage effects and never really shows you anything; but because you're being bombarded with so many different shots, you'd never realise it. Many people have tried to copy this technique, but most have failed. Hitchcock, however, has it down to an art and this is maybe the film that shows off that talent the best. There are numerous moments of suspense as well, many of which are truly nail biting. We see the birds amassing and ready to strike - but they don't. And this is much more frightening than showing an attack from the off. Hitchcock knows this. The final thirty minutes of The Birds is perhaps the most thrilling of his entire oeuvre. First, Hitchcock gives us an intriguing situation where numerous inhabitants of the town give their views on the events, and also explains the birds' situation with humans, even giving the audience an angle of expertise from an ornithologist's point of view. He then follows it up with a truly breathtaking sequence of horror that hasn't been matched since for relentless shock value.

Hitchcock has made many great films, and this certainly stands up as one of them. Here, Hitchcock gives a lesson in film directing and creates a truly macabre piece of work in the process. I dread to think what the state of cinema would have been if Hitchcock had never picked up a camera, but luckily for us; he most certainly did.