Hitchcock’s The Birds: A Feast For Crows

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a rich socialite and a lady who always gets her heart’s desire. When lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) spots her in a pet store, he plays a joke on her, and she decides to retaliate with a joke of her own. She drives north of San Francisco to Bodega Bay, where he spends weekends with his family, who his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Now long into her arrival, the birds in the area begin to act erratically. A seagull attacks Melanie when she crosses the bay and then Lydia finds her neighbour dead, a victim of a bird attack. Soon they start attacking people who are outdoors. As they continue to attack people, survival becomes an utmost priority.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho), written by Evan Hunter and based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca), The Birds is another Hitchcock classic. The Birds was his first picture after Psycho, following his obsession with horror and violence. The Birds trumps the “weirdness” of Psycho in one scene. It’s one of the most disturbing scenes in this history of cinema. A lady walks through a house until she sees  a bloody corpse on the bedroom floor with black holes where the eyes used to be. This execution-style killing from our feathered friends is one of many uncomfortable moments in this horror movie.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) with Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) (The Birds, Universal Pictures)

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) with Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor)
(The Birds, Universal Pictures)

The Birds begins as a harmless supposed romantic comedy when Melanie Daniels (Hedren) is flirting with Mitch Brenner (Taylor). This wouldn’t be a Hitchcock picture if you didn’t expect a few corpses dotted around. And it isn’t long before we are witness to dive-bombing birds. What makes this movie even more edgy, is that absence of a musical score. It makes the horror more potent and it really can make your heart skip a beat. Bernard Herrmann put together an eerie soundtrack from ornithological sounds like caws, screeches and vibrating wings. The main intelligence of this picture is the way Hitch uses the creatures as symbols of each characters’ mental paranoia. This goes for Mitch’s mother and Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) the schoolteacher

A murder of crows appear in the playground above Bodega Bay. The children summon them when they start singing, or maybe they were called by the dazzling glow of Hedren’s skirt and jacket combo, or even the ember of her cigarettes and its ghastly smell. By the time she looks up, there’s a black smog of crows looking at her and that’s her cue to make herself scarce. This is the tale of a city girl who comes to a seaside town to play a prank on a cocky lawyer, only to have her scheme undone by the arrival of our bloodthirsty friends.This knocks her down a peg, or two…or three and I’m not just talking about her hair.

These frantic humans are a feast for the crows (The Birds, Universal Pictures)

These frantic humans are a feast for the crows
(The Birds, Universal Pictures)

The Birds is often described as Hitchcock’s last great picture, as it was made in the height of his career in the early sixties. Each time I watch this movie, I see more and more why he’s often named a filmmaking genius. This film is experimental, but also it’s reckless. He made this right after Psycho. They were reckless ventures in a world where people were okay with getting the same movies over and over again. I think The Birds breaks even more boundaries than Psycho, especially with the gore factor, feeding his lust for horrific acts of violence. Hitchcock does what Hitchcock wants and I can’t argue with that.

Deep down, Hitchcock was a bit of a sadist and we saw this with Psycho and The Birds. The Birds is audacious, well-made and well-acted through Hedren (Marnie) and Taylor (The Time Machine). There’s also great examples of technical camera work with my favourite scene being when they find eyeless corpse. Films like Psycho and The Birds paved the way for the psychological thriller genre as we know it today. Loosely based on the Du Maurier story, The Birds is one of those movies everyone needs to have watched before they die.

Having birds in your bedroom is a nofly zone (The Birds, Universal Pictures)

Having birds in your bedroom is a no-fly zone
(The Birds, Universal Pictures)

Psycho was stunted because of studio interference, but the Birds showed us what Hitchcock was capable of when he was given full creative freedom in the horror genre. The Birds glides from start to finish, is musical score-free, with nothing but the plot and the acting to push it forward, in addition to the ornithological sounds of caws, screeches and fluttering wings. All these things gel together to create a fearful and eerie atmosphere in this quaint town. The Birds is another great Hitchcock picture that everyone should watch before they die, eyes intact.