#197) The Birds (1963)

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#197) The Birds (1963)

OR “SEAGULLS! (Stop It Now)”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Evan Hunter. Based on the novelette by Daphne du Maurier.

Class of 2016

The Plot: Socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is the butt of a prank by lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). She gets her revenge by sending a pair of lovebirds to Mitch’s family home in Bodega Bay, California (you had to be there). She is caught, but ends up spending the weekend with Mitch, his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), and local schoolteacher/Mitch’s ex Annie (Suzanne Pleshette). There’s a lot of complicated emotions going on, but then several species of birds start attacking the town and it’s still quite chilling so who cares?

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Hitch for “deftly moving from anxiety-inducing horror to glossy entertainment and suspense, with bold forays into psychological terrain.”

But Does It Really?: This is another one of the “Wasn’t This Already on the List?” films. How one of the most suspenseful films ever made didn’t make the cut before “Top Gun” I’ll never know. Hitchcock knew how to prey on people’s primal fears. Birds will never not be scary, and the film survives on that simple idea. The main cast members do fine work, but as is the case with most of Hitch’s projects, the star is the premise and Hitchcock himself. “The Birds” doesn’t stand up next to Hitch’s earlier films, but it’s the best of his post-“Psycho” work and a film whose lasting iconic status earns it a place on the list.

Everybody Gets One: Tippi Hedren, as well as supporting players Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette.

Wow, That’s Dated: Rear projection. Rear projection for days.

Take a Shot: The phrase “the birds” is said occasionally throughout. Keep a drink at the ready, but pay attention.

Seriously, Oscars?: One of the biggest hits of 1963, “The Birds” received one Oscar nomination: Visual Effects. Despite bringing in longtime Disney legend Ub Iwerks to oversee the revolutionary sodium vapor process, the film lost to “Cleopatra”, known for its outstanding…matte paintings? That win was mostly 20thCentury Fox buying votes in the hopes of making their money back (the budget for “Cleopatra” was literally 10 times the budget for “The Birds”).

Other notes

  • The original short story is the same basic premise, but set in du Maurier’s native Cornwall, England and with a whole different set of characters.
  • Tippi Hedren’s real name is Nathalie. Her family gave her the nickname “Tippi” as a variation on “tupsa”, a Swedish word for “little girl” or “sweetheart” (sources vary).
  • Cute dogs, Hitch.
  • Ah, the Union Square of the early ‘60s. You know it’s a work of fiction because Mitch finds street parking with no problem.
  • Like Gig Young before him, Mel Cooley is here to deliver a huge clunky case of exposition.
  • So everyone in Bodega Bay is from Maine?
  • The shrewdest part of the film is that Hitchcock knew what audiences expected from “a Hitchcock film”. If you’d never seen one of his films before you’d think that the first half hour or so is incredibly boring, but Hitch knew his audience was expecting a bird attack, so delaying it for as long as possible provided him with maximum suspense.
  • This seems like a long way to go for a prank. Melanie wouldn’t rather be jet-setting or something like that?
  • Is every one of Veronica Cartwright’s lines dubbed? I didn’t realize that when they say your voice changes, they meant in post.
  • Annie Hayworth may be operating the first Airbnb.
  • Mitch has a clingy, possessive mother? Cool your jets, Hitch. Perhaps Lydia would lighten up if she had a charismatic, worldly-wise chauffeur.
  • The characters in this movie may be Hitchcock’s ultimate MacGuffin. There’s no plot for any of them to advance, nor any happy ending or resolution. The stars of the film are the birds themselves and everything else is filler.
  • Cathy is having the worst birthday.
  • Speaking of, Cathy turns 11 in this film. Veronica Cartwright was 13 during filming, Rod Taylor was 32, Jessica Tandy was 53. Biologically, this could all happen, but it’s weird they never mention the massive age-gap between Cathy and Mitch.
  • And now I have “Risseldy, Rosseldy” stuck in my head for the next six months. Thanks movie.
  • Surprise cameo by Miss Marple. Is anyone in this town actually from California?
  • All I will say about the bird attack in the diner is “Boy, that escalated quickly.” And where would the phone booth attack happen now? A charging station?
  • Does Mitch have some sort of natural bird repellent? He doesn’t have a mark on him the whole time. He’s like Tony Curtis during the “Great Race” pie fight.
  • “The Birds” is not without its flaws, but it’s still very nerve-wracking to watch. Hitch, you were a garbage human, but a hell of a director.

Legacy

  • Tippi Hedren worked with Hitch on his next picture, “Marnie”. After a work relationship that I’ll understatedly call “tense”, Hitch and Tippi never worked together again, and Hitch used his clout to bring her career to a halt.
  • Tippi’s relationship with Hitch became the 2012 TV movie “The Girl” with Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. The real Tippi Hedren gave her eventual approval, stating that it was accurate, though never highlighted her positive experiences with the director.
  • This is the film that started what I call “The Hedren Dynasty”. Every 25 years or so we get another generation of this acting family, as well as excellent proof that patriarchies are overrated.
  • “The Birds” has a sequel for some reason. Tippi’s in it as a completely different character so why even bother?
  • Hollywood occasionally threatens us with a remake, but it keeps getting postponed, so we’re safe for now.
  • Lots and lots of parodies. We’ll start with “High Anxiety” and “The Simpsons”.

6 thoughts on “#197) The Birds (1963)”

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