Release Date: March 28th, 1963
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Based on: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Charles McGraw
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Universal Pictures, 119 Minutes
I don’t really know what it is about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but it has captivated me since I was a little kid. While Psycho is the superior picture out of his horror offerings, I still enjoy The Birds more. But like Psycho, it is pretty close to perfect.
The Birds also features Tippi Hedren who did a more than satisfactory job with this being her first big acting gig. She is also glamorous in that old school Hollywood sort of way. She almost feels like the second-coming of Grace Kelly, who mesmerized audiences in some of Hitchcock’s previous work. It is easy to see how the director became infatuated with her behind the scenes.
Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels is one of my favorite female characters from any Hitchcock picture. She is witty, smart, funny, enjoyable and very determined. She is a really strong character that is enhanced by her charm and also benefits from her great chemistry with Rod Taylor’s Mitch Brenner. Man, Taylor is so solid in this too.
Jessica Tandy and a young Veronica Cartwright round out the Brenner family and both actresses do a fine job. Tandy plays Mitch’s mother. Her character’s struggle to accept the women in her son’s life is a really good plot thread that ends on a beautiful note.
I also really enjoyed Suzanne Pleshette as the school teacher and former love interest of Mitch. She was an alluring brunette in contrast to the blonde Hedren. She was also heroic and a strong female character that probably deserved a much better fate.
The Birds is unique in that it doesn’t employ any music, unless you count the song the children can be heard singing in the schoolhouse. Instead, it relies on silence and the unsettling sounds of the birds themselves. The lack of music creates an intense sense of dread that feels very natural. Everything in the film feels so organic that the use of music would probably have made the really important scenes a lot less effective.
For instance, the scene where Hedren is sitting on the bench outside of the school in silence, where the birds quietly amass on the jungle gym directly behind her, wouldn’t have been as terrifying had there been music. It’s the surprise, the shock and awe of Hedren turning around, seeing this army of birds behind her that wasn’t there a minute earlier, that makes the film’s threat work. The stealth-like nature of the birds is more frightening than the attacks themselves.
The special effects in this film are so good, even for the time, that it still looks much better than the CGI-loaded pictures of today. You know that most of the birds on the screen aren’t actually in the scene but it looks as real as it possibly can. Never does it distract from the film or take the viewer out of the experience. I can’t say as much about some of the modern special effects techniques.
The Birds is a magnificent motion picture. Many creature features have come and gone for several decades but none, other than the original Jaws, have had as strong of an effect.