The Birds (1963)

4.5/5

USA; Alfred Hitchcock

Parental Guidance – Moderate Bloody Violence

 

A spoilt, obstinate San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), sets out to win the heart – or maybe more than that – of a cool-headed lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), she met in a pet shop, and consequently chases him in a small country resort. She is met with mitigated cordiality by the locals, who immediately realize she’s after the womanizer Mitch. Though, she wins the fond affection of Mitch’s young pubescent sister and the friendship of a brunette school mistress, who happens to be one of Mitch’s former love interests. Playing the elaborate game of love by the rules is Melanie’s forte, but increasingly bizarre phenomena slowly erode the triangle’s security. Vicious, violent birds attack and what started as an absurd joke of nature builds up to a frantic fight for survival…  

With The Birds, Hitchcock delivers another gripping, chilling yarn centering on isolated groups of individuals pitted against hostile forces and unfathomable evolutions. He displays the same art of controlled chaos permeating insidiously and gradually reality, and teases us throughout with the knowledge (that evidently the characters don’t possess) that this is a Hitchcock movie. The first half resembles very much a Hollywoodian romantic comedy, and indeed a superior one. The characters are finely drawn and touching, likeable despite of their flaws, and a playful levity shrouds even the most serious issues. There’s however, a distant hum of sexual malaise and discomfort, which establishes soon the much-speculated metaphorical weight ascribed to the birds’ attacks: the hormonal storm of female sexuality. Tippi Hedren delivers a spellbinding turn, drifting between glib, gamine siliness and the determination of someone with - still - too much to lose to give up.

Nowadays, the Master Suspense stands out as a prophetic, staggeringly modern auteur and the horror his films convey hasn’t subsided, even if their violence did. Still, there’s nothing uncanny or malefic about Hitchcock’s ability to create lip-gnawing, brooding tension: he merely creates characters of flesh and blood, letting the audience explore and discover them, their desires and their weakness, insidiously nurturing in us a love for his creations, before plunging them into extreme life-threatening situations. This is particularly true of The Birds. Less psychologically acute or diabolically intelligent than prior works (Psycho and Vertigo, with their byzantine plots and shocking U-turns), The Birds is possibly more affecting because of the care that went into its “introduction”, and Hitchcock takes his nerve-wracking game to new heights. 

Fifty years later, The Birds is a lesson in how to build up a successful horror: keep it anchored into a human story and never let the characters grow into strident, screaming puppets. Despite a frustratingly coy ending (especially as the film itself is very conventional) and a few missteps, this is an upsetting sit, woozy with fear and pent-up paranoia, that doesn’t default Hithcock’s knack for unexpected humor and satire.    

 

The birds 1

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