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Classic movie: The Birds (1963)

2009-01-19 10:46
The Birds

I hate most birds, especially pigeons. They're basically rats with wings. One summer morning, as I was enjoying an indulgent sleep-in, a bloody pigeon decided to wake me up by flying straight into my room. It'd somehow contrived its way through the curtains and gone crashing into cupboards, vases and mirrors and everything else in its way. As inconvenient as this little incident was, my reaction to it was much more hysterical. Instead of fleeing the room or trying to somehow shoo the thing out, I lost my marbles and ran screaming from the house.

The neighbours, of course, thought I was a raving lunatic, flailing about in the street in my nightie at 11 in the morning, but as I'd watched Alfred Hitchcock's slow-burning avian horror The Birds just the week before, I felt my behaviour was only logical.

But, like many things, I'd completely missed the point about The Birds after my first viewing. While the enduring image of the movie is of masses of murderous birds in attack mode as helpless kids run for their lives, it's the eerie human relationships unveiled throughout, that really raises eyebrows. Because, as you'll begin to notice, this is no eco-revenge tale where man inevitably comes up short in a battle against nature. Instead it explores Freud's Oedipus theory in a claustrophobia-inducing scenario that feels like its taking place on another planet.

Prim and pretty Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a San Francisco socialite with a bit of a reputation - the Paris Hilton of the Kennedy era if you like – who meets the handsome but juvenile Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a pet store where they are both in the market for birds. The attraction is instant and the two resort to games in order to get each other's attention. This is right up Melanie's alley and she contrives a way to spend more time with Mitch, driving off to the coastal village of Bodega Boy where he spends the weekends with his over-bearing mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and his 11-year-old sister Cathy.

Once Melanie steps off the little motorboat that transports her across the bay to Mitch's house, it's as if she enters the Twilight Zone. The area seems to exist as a remote island, and Melanie is treated as something of an intruder into the Brenners' little contained universe. Lydia in particular is disapproving of her son's budding relationship with the cold and vain Melanie. And Mitch, like so many mommies' boys, is completely unaware of the tension between the women in his life.

It's just as well, since the thrillingly macabre bird attacks that punctuate the stilted performances come as light relief. During Cathy's outdoor birthday party, flocks of possessed gulls decide to dive-bomb the kids, an attack that comes just after Melanie opens up to Mitch about her hurt at being abandoned by her mother as a child. Melanie is attacked by a lone gull, just as she and Mitch are about to be consummate the flirting game they started back in the pet store. While no clear explanation is given for these unprovoked attacks, it seems, at least to the audience, that these crazed birds are purely out to ruin any chance of a meaningful relationship for any of the characters. It's as if Melanie's fairytale ideas of love and happy endings are transformed into a nightmare she is unable to wake up from.

In the closing scene of The Birds, as Mitch drives off in search of rescue, with his mother, sister and a vegetative Melanie in tow, we see the horror that exists outside – an endless landscape that's been blanketed by birds perching as far as the eye can see. They remain passive, curiously allowing the car to trundle its way out of town. The scene offers a ghastly alternative to the 'yellow brick road' ideal of a promised land. According to Hitchcock's apocalyptic vision, you can just forget about all that.

A bit of triva: (from

- Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird in one of the shots.

- The scene where Tippi Hedren is ravaged by birds near the end of the movie took a week to shoot. The birds were attached to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away.

- The shoot took its toll on Hedren who was hospitalised with exhaustion after a week of shooting the scene where Melanie is trapped in the upstairs room with the birds. Hitchcock was reported to have been particularly cruel in his treatment of this leading lady.

- Rod Taylor claims that the seagulls were fed a mixture of wheat and whiskey. It was the only way to get them to stand around so much.


Mitch Brenner:
I'd like to see you. Maybe we could go swimming or something. Mother tells me you like to swim.
Melanie Daniels: How does Mother know what I like to do?
Mitch Brenner: I guess we read the same gossip columns.

Cathy Brenner: Mitch, can I bring the lovebirds in here?
Lydia Brenner: No!
Cathy Brenner: But Mom, they're in a cage.
Lydia Brenner: They're birds, aren't they?

Mitch Brenner: I just thought you might like to know what it's like to be on the other end of a gag. What do you think of that?
Melanie Daniels: I think you're a louse.
Mitch Brenner: I am.

Hitchcock made better films, but The Birds is his most perversely terrifying. Here's why you'll never look at budgies the same way again.

lidija 2009/01/18 10:51 AM
  • Rating:
i love this movie!
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