The Birds

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, and Veronica Cartwright

"I have never known birds of different species to flock together.  The very concept is unimaginable.  Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance!  How could we possibly hope to fight them?"
-Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies), an Ornithologist

If you're the Master of Suspense, what do you do after decades of landmark filmmaking that culminated with the greatest horror movie of all time?  That was the dilemma facing world-renowned director Alfred Hitchcock after his runaway success with Psycho.  As the aforementioned quote suggests, Hitch turned to some feathered friends for his next idea.  He decided to scare the hell out of moviegoers with some really menacing birds.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the memorable Hitchcock thriller The Birds.  In honor of this film's legacy, let's revisit Bodega Bay to remember the hell through which Hitchcock put Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren some half a century ago.

At a bird shop in San Francisco, attorney Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets a lady named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren).  He's there to purchase two lovebirds for his sister's eleventh birthday.  Recognizing Melanie as someone he's met previously because of her penchant for practical jokes, Mitch plays a joke of his own and pretends that she's the salesperson at the shop.  There are no lovebirds at this particular store, but Mitch continues to string Melanie along.  Upon realizing the prank, Melanie is irate.  To get back at him, she decides to play a prank of her own.  She does her homework on Mitch and learns that he lives in Bodega Bay with his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright).  With two lovebirds, Melanie drives up to Bodega Bay with a personal delivery for Mitch.

Upon arriving, Melanie asks an attendant at a local gas station for the Brenner address.  He directs her to Cathy's schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette).  Melanie reaches out to Annie for the address and later learns that the teacher is also Mitch's ex-lover.  With the information she needs, Melanie rents a boat and secretly drops off the lovebirds in Mitch's house.  While escaping, she's attacked and injured by a seagull.  Mitch witnesses this and invites her to dinner with his mother and sister.  After dinner and an invitation to Cathy's birthday party, Melanie spends the night at Annie's house.  There, another bizarre incident occurs when a gull kills itself by flying into the front door.  At Cathy's birthday party, a flock of seagulls descends upon the children.  At this point, they all realize something is awry in Bodega Bay.  The birds are out for blood.

With The Birds, Hitchcock once again demonstrates that nobody can create terror quite like him.  He builds fear in two ways throughout the film — sound and visuals.  Unlike most films from Hitch, The Birds has no score.  All we get are the cacophonous sounds of birds as they furiously swarm or the more unnerving silence of not knowing what they're doing.  Coupling this with visuals, Hitch also treats us to some seriously menacing feathered foes.  When the birds perch and just wait for the opportune moment to attack, it's quite unsettling.  As the film progresses, the birds multiply and their attacks grow in intensity.  Likewise, the sounds and visuals Hitchcock masterfully employs become more and more striking.  When these birds finally begin launching their all-out assault, a frightening chaos ensues that will make you think twice about the feathered friends chirping above you.  I can quite honestly say that seagulls and crows have never been so terrifying as they are here in Hitchcock's The Birds.

The cast of The Birds does some outstanding work here as well.  As our leading man Mitch Brenner, Rod Taylor brings a lot of strength to the big screen, but he also brings a lot of warmth as a lover, brother, and son.  As Taylor's on-screen romantic interest, Tippi Hedren steals the show.  As this prankster socialite, Hedren brings a bubbly, charismatic personality to the screen that really adds some levity to an otherwise macabre film.  We also have Suzanne Pleshette as Brenner's ex-lover Annie Hayworth.  Pleshette adds a spunky, saucy personality to the film and keeps us amused.  Finally, we have Jessica Tandy as Brenner's mother Lydia.  The eldest principle cast member, Tandy gives a seasoned performance as this often-jealous mother.  It's not surprising, since the actress always had a certain talent for playing tougher women on the big screen.  Beyond each of their individual performances, the cast as a whole really helps Hitch to bring his nightmarish vision to life as they all deftly incorporate the element of fear into their performances.

An interesting thing to note is that the only male figure in the film is Taylor's Mitch Brenner.  What's interesting about this is that he seems to be defined by the women in his life, all the other main characters.  That includes his clingy and possessive mother Lydia, his innocent little sister for whom he cares deeply, and his ex-lover Annie who still remains a significant part of his life.  All of this is disrupted when Melanie arrives.  An outsider, she wreaks havoc upon Mitch's delicate balance of relationships with the women in his life.  To them, she's attacking.  Symbolically, this may be what the film's bird attacks represent.  The bird attacks in Bodega Bay begin upon the San Francisco socialite's arrival.  Hitchcock crafts quite a powerful parallel here.

I'm a big fan of The Birds.  It's not Hitchcock's finest, but it is better than almost anything you'll find today.  This classic thriller has stood the test of time and offers a good look at what would happen if the 100 billion birds on the planet ever decided to turn on us.  We would be completely outmatched, and that's quite frightening.  Hitchcock took a big bet on this one, and it paid off.  The Birds gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.