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Movie Review: THE BIRDS (1963) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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the_birds_posterTHE BIRDS, 1963
Horror/Thriller Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Daniels, Veronica Cartwright
Review by Steven Painter


A wealthy San Francisco playgirl 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.


In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock revolutionized the way movies were watched with Psycho. Three years later he would pioneer special effects techniques that were ahead of their time in The Birds (1963). Although the special effects look dated now, at the time they sent chills down audiences.

Daphne Du Maurier wrote a short story about a ton of birds attacking and eliminating human kind. Seems pretty unbelievable right? Actually while making the movie, Hitchcock spoke with farmers in California who complained that some of their cows had their eyes gouged by birds. So there had been instances of bird attacks in the area where Hitchcock’s movie takes place.

Although apocalyptic birds are interesting and what most people focus on, they are only the MacGuffin. They are the biggest MacGuffin Hitchcock developed. A MacGuffin is the same thing as a red herring. Ironically, Hitchcock frequently used birds as his MacGuffins. Like the Crane who steals $20,000 in Psycho. What The Birds is really about is the family.

The story begins in San Francisco. Socialite Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, is walking down the street and gets whistled at before walking into a pet store. This is a little joke Hitch included because he discovered Hedren while watching the “Today Show.” Hedren appeared in a commercial in which she was walking down the street and got whistled at.

Melanie enters the pet store and asks for some birds. They haven’t arrived yet, but the owner says she’ll look in the back just to make sure. When the owner leaves, lawyer Mitch Brenner strolls in and asks Melanie if she could help him find some lovebirds. He acts like he believes she works there, but he really knows who she is. He enjoys watching Melanie make a fool of herself because she doesn’t know what lovebirds look like. When the pet store’s owner returns, it is learned that store has no lovebirds. So Mitch leaves.

Having left some sort of impression on her, Melanie decides to order lovebirds as well and deliver them to Mitch for his sister’s birthday. Melanie doesn’t have much of a family. Her father is too busy running his newspaper to bother with her and she never really had a mother.

After purchasing the birds, Melanie learns that Mitch has left San Francisco for Bodega Bay, where his mother and sister live. So Melanie makes the drive up the coast. While there she and some of the locals have a problem with Mitch’s sister’s name. Melanie has to ask the school teacher, Annie Hayworth, what the little girl’s name is. Annie happens to have dated Mitch while the two were in San Francisco. She moved to Bodega Bay to be with him, but was never accepted by his mother.

You can probably see where this is all going. Cold mother eventually warms up to heroine leaving hero’s former girlfriend as a bitter rival. It almost works out this way, but there is a complication with some birds that start to act funny.The birds begin doing weird things once Melanie drops off the lovebirds in the Brenner home. While on the bay, she is attacked by a bird. Mitch happens to have seen her get injured and comes to her aid. Melanie and Mitch fight, but it is easy to tell that the two are in love.

From here, the birds increase in number and get bolder with their attacks. Eventually there seems to be nothing more Hitch can do except show that the whole world has been dominated by birds. But Hitch doesn’t do this because the true story of The Birds has concluded. Despite the reasons for the birds attacks never being explained, and there being no end in sight for their attacks, Hitch ends the movie once Mitch’s mother accepts Melanie into the Brenner family. Of course this point about the family is typically missed by a lot of people. It will almost surely be lost in the proposed remake of the movie coming out in 2009. Apparently Michael Bay has been signed on to produce. Judging by his work, the special effects will be improved, but the story will be ripped to shreds. This is sad because although the special effects seem dated, the story and suspense created are still top notch today. The Birds is the last of Hitchcock’s big four (Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho), it is the most technical one of the series.

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