The Birds (1963)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Not a film to watch if you suffer from Ornithophobia!
This is another of Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic films, with a small seaside town coming under inexplicable attacks from huge numbers of birds. However, the film isn’t that all the way through, it surprised me by how much it is a romance. For the first 45 minutes of the film it is a love story about a man and woman who meet in a bird shop and she tracks him down. This part of the film is actually quite light and even humourous. The major bird attacking doesn’t start until a good third of the way in, though something is clearly up with the birds before that.
Where I live in Wales, there is a phenomenon called a ‘starling murmuration’, over the winter thousands of starlings flock in incredible numbers and congregate under the pier (see it here). So, for me seeing the skies darkened by huge flocks isn’t hugely unusual, but the savagely attacking people, well that was something new.
Last year the making of ‘The Birds’ was dramatised in ‘The Girl’ starring Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. Apparently that film was based upon Tippi Hedren’s account of what it was like to make the film, including Hitchcock’s use of live birds for certain scenes rather than mechanical ones. I can’t pass comment on this as I’ve not seen that film yet, but the effects were excellent, the birds appeared very real throughout, and the attack scenes are genuinely frightening in places.
I didn’t find Tippi Hedren to be much special as a leading lady, nor Rod Taylor either, sadly there was no magnetic performance like Anthony Perkins’ as Norman Bates in Psycho. Jessica Tandy (‘Driving Miss Daisy’) however was very good in the matriarchal role, that seemed to suit her nicely, and I felt like there was more there that could have been done with developing her more rather than Hedren’s character who is really a socialite who we never really get to fully understand either.
As a tense Hitccock horror the last two thirds of the film do this very well, but the first third would have been better suited in another of his films, a much lighter one. The lead roles were originally intended for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, with whom Hitchcock made ‘To Catch a Thief’ in 1955, and if you like the first third of this film, watch that one, it’s great.