Every month the Sound On Sight staff bands together to tackle a specific filmmaker, event and/or some sort of movie related theme. This month our focus shifts towards the “Master of Suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock.
1963, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Evan Hunter, adapted by a novel by Daphne du Maurier.
Upon seeing The Birds for the first time is like the unveiling of a masterpiece. You know people who have talked about it yet you cannot really describe what you feel about it…until you have seen it with your own eyes.
The Birds is a B-movie with a Hitchcock spin when the residents of a small coastal town are mysteriously attacked by flocks of vicious birds.
The screeching credit sequence serves as a prelude as to the avian horror that gradually unfolds in this twisted tale of nature-gone-batshit-crazy.
From its intriguing beginnings where we see Tippi Hedren’s Melanie Daniels try and hook up with dashing Mitch Brenner, played by Rod Taylor.
Melanie doesn’t show a lot of emotion in her pursuit of Mitch -compared to a typical damsel in distress, we see a focused character with a clear goal in mind: to get to know Mr. Mitch Brenner. This woman heads to a small coastal town, goes into a stranger’s house without a prior invitation to drop off some birds and asks random strangers about one man without a second thought…’bunny boiler’ quickly comes to mind.
In fact, the women in the film carry the emotion – turmoil or otherwise – from the feature. Not just Hedren, but also overbearing Jessica Tandy; innocent (and also incredibly young!) Veronica Cartwright and emotionally closed Suzanne Pleshette. The more memorable attacks from the eponymous birds are directed towards the female characters in the film yet they continue to show a defiance to survive and fight.
The final attack on Melanie echoes the iconic scene in Psycho – quick edits with the character seemingly resigned to her presumed fate; there are no bloodcurdling screams and her attempts to fight off the attacks are quickly overwhelmed.
In contrast, Rod Taylor is more of a supporting actor in The Birds. Brenner’s calmness and quick direction to his family, Melanie and the other villagers are to be expected from the alpha male. However, besides this, plus the tense final sequence where we see him tensely venture amongst the seemingly infinite flock of birds amassed outside his home, Taylor’s role lacks depth and credibility.
The film starts and breeze along slowly until a random seagull dramatically changes the entire pace of The Birds from anti-romantic (perhaps borderline mundane, even) to chilling and horrific. You may consider a couple of birds cheeping on a tree branch a pleasant sight but director Hitchcock proves himself to be the master of suspense – it’s amazing what he can do with a lot of crows perching on a climbing frame. As soon as the birds take over (quite literally), it becomes an incredibly watchable film.
Giving the resources available at the time of making, he does wonders with a few wing flap sound effects and effects made by Disney to get under your skin.
By taking the idea of the unknown to keep the viewer on their toes, The Birds has a consistent rate of anticipation, starting on a slight simmer from a third into the film before peaking at the right moments.
Throughout the film, the sense of fear skims the surface of the plot; the fear of what is behind the unprovoked attacks and of what is it come. The lack of unexplained instances seem to reinforce the somber tone throughout the picture and its abrupt and ambiguous ending.
The Birds is seen as a horror against the simple idea of the human race against nature – no mentally disturbed individuals, no supernatural entities. It may not sound complex or challenging but in the eyes of some, it is an idea that could be even more frightening than some stairs creaking unexpectedly.
And they are everywhere.