Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" DVD, Movie Review (2010)

1/16/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Movie Review

“The Birds”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Evan Hunter, 120 minutes, rated PG-13.

By our guest blogger, Lauren Bull

If you were to boil an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece down to an outfit, look no further than the skirt suit his leading lady wears throughout “The Birds”--beautifully structured and fitted, but what’s with that color? It’s not magenta or neon orange, but a green that demands some kind of attention. In other words, much like the film itself, there already is something strange about it long before it’s covered in blood.

After a tense and comic run-in with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco bird shop, society girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) follows him to quaint Bodega Bay with love birds for his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Melanie drives 60 miles, tracks down local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) to confirm Cathy’s name, hires a boat to avoid being seen driving to the Brenner house, and then sneaks into said house to drop off the birds. Amazingly, this isn’t meant to be the creepy part. Melanie is hit it the head by a seagull, and from there, the bird attacks on the small town escalate, transforming a weekend of flirtation into a weekend of flirtation and apocalyptic doom.

The DVD extras include extensive commentary from select actors and crew members, focusing mainly on the film’s technical achievements. If nothing else, there is evidence of a lot of old-fashioned labor. We’re reminded more than once that the film’s effects were accomplished without the aid of computers. Also important is the absence of a traditional score. Hitchcock chose to employ electronic sounds (furious chirping, scratching, flapping) that tell us more specifically what’s coming, not just an indication of it. And like any music that's truly effective, it seems permanently linked to the film, like alarm noises that will never make you think of anything other than waking up, no matter in what context they’re heard.

But special effects only mesmerize temporarily. Maybe another reason fascination with the film has remained is that it’s so brilliantly odd, and least of all because these birds show up. There are the strange jealousies, the awkward looks exchanged between characters. When Mitch’s mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), meets Melanie for the first time, the way she stares at the outsider goes beyond overbearing mother creepiness. She looks almost comically horrified. Hitchcock risks filming characters that, upon close inspection, are not particularly loveable. Melanie is spoiled, Mitch is a know-it-all, Annie is a crazy ex-girlfriend, and Cathy is kind of annoying. That said, together they are a perfect mix--a cocktail that gets you drunk before all the guests arrive.

And why did the birds come? An argument can be (and has been) made for nearly every scene--the moment Melanie lets the bird out of the cage is when you know! But since that question will go on indefinitely, maybe it’s best to just enjoy the people, because in addition to making a renowned suspense/horror film, Hitchcock also made a quirky Sundance drama about the uncomfortable interactions between adults trapped together in a town, a house, a vehicle. It’s amazing the birds were able to fly in with the air so thick.

Grade: A+

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  1. Lauren said...

    The first time I saw The Birds was with twenty the deafening screams from my 8th grade birthday party are permanently part of the "soundtrack" that you mentioned for me, just like the flapping. I hope they included that on the DVD.