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Cinematic Shorts: The Birds


The Birds (1963)

Your first reaction to the rating above might be: “What? Rachel thinks a Hitchcock movie is only so-so?” Implausible as it might seem, I nevertheless concluded after multiple viewings over the years that The Birds is a Hitchcock thriller better suited for collecting dust.

The greatest flaw for me is our lead actress, Tippi Hendren. A sorry stand-in for Grace Kelly — whom Hitchcock had planned this and the Marnie role for but who declined to leave her princess duties — Hendren is not only a disappointing actress, but really annoying to watch in that silly hairdo and ugly green suit. I particularly cannot stand her performance toward the end after being attacked nearly to death by the birds when she sits on the couch gazing and muttering child-like things. Fortunately for society, after Marnie, Hitchcock still held an exclusive contract over Hendren that prevented her in appearing in films for a couple of years.

The film is certainly not without its artistic value, however. Hitchcock cleverly created the entire film without a musical soundtrack. The opening credits offer nothing but the sound of squawking and flapping birds.

The iconic closing sequence is also eerie because of a lack of sound other than the deep chirps of surrounding crows, which has inspired such parodies as a “Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” segment called “Night of the Dolphins”.

The story is based on a Daphne du Maurier novel, who also wrote Rebecca, and chronicles a small California coastal town upon which masses of birds descend and attack and kill people. The occurrence is in tandem with Hendren’s arrival in the town as she pursues Rod Taylor. The end offers no explanation as to the cause of the phenomenon, and a variety of theories have been offered, including that the birds are a manifestation of Taylor’s mother’s (Jessica Tandy) rage over Hendren trying to take her middle-aged son away from her. This does not fully work as an answer for me, however, because once the mother warms up to the intruding woman, the birds do not desist. Plus they put the mother in danger as well. Although film endings without explanation can be a chance for the viewer to form his own conclusions, I find The Birds‘ ending to be most unsatisfying because there is not enough evidence to work with in forming a hypothesis.

The Birds is among the Alfred Hitchcock films that everyone should experience at least once in his life, but it contains certain qualities that detract from its enjoyability for me. I’ll take an evening with Notorious instead, please.

Dang it. She’s still alive.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light


5 Responses

  1. Disagree big time Rachel. Love The Birds!

    It was the early 60’s so Tippi’s hair-do and olive green outfit were quite the happinin’ ensemble. I can’t hold that against her. I thought she looked really put together.

    Maybe her catatonic state and rambling dialogue was the result of being nearly pecked to death. I know if that happened to me I’d be muttering crazy-assed stuff too!

    It never bothered me that there was no clear explanation as to why the birds attacked. I think it’s even more unsettling to not know why.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your take on it as I have all your reviews.

  2. I do agree with Hitchcock removing the toupee stealing scene from the final cut of the picture. This bit of comic relief featured the birds swooping down and stealing the toupees off the heads of balding middle-aged men. Later on in the film some of the attacking birds can be seen wearing the hairpieces. This footage was also removed.

  3. Yes, I too recall on a re-watch of this that the acting was poor however as a teenager when I first watched it, I thought it was quite spectacular! I was indeed caught up in the action and what was going to happen next. I would still give it a thumbs up!!

  4. I have read the short story, and I must say: it is soooo much better than the film. I agree with your assessment, Rachel.

  5. It has always bothered me that this movie, and I share your admiration for Hitch, has absolutely no semblance of a plot–nada–none. I can only forgive him on the basis of such a rich history of production, he had this really bad movie.

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