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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

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