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The Birds

review by Anthony D.

 

Studio: Universal

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright and Suzanne Pleshette

Screenplay by Evan Hunter, from the short story by Daphne DuMaurier

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Documentary, Storyboard Sequence, Deleted Scene, Newsreels, Original Ending, Production Photos, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 French, English Subtitles, Chapter Search

Stunning sophisticated, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) wanders into a San Francisco pet store to buy a Mynah bird for her aunt. When dapper lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) enters to buy some lovebirds for his sister's brithday, Melanie assumes the role of a clerk, stunning everyone with her lack of knowledge of birds. It's quite a charming scene establishing the two characters whose humor we will rarely see again in "The Birds."

For after that initial meeting, "The Birds" launches into it's magnificent tale of nature run amok. Alfred Hitchcock bravely treads into technical film making with this excursion concerning those winged creatures wreaking havoc on a small, Northern California ocean-side village.

Melanie tracks Mitch down, and follows him to Bodega Bay, where he shares a house with his mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Her visit, she claims, is to bring the lovebirds to Cathy, as well as visit an "old friend," (Suzanne Pleshette). Does Melanie also bring with her the random bird attacks? Melanie is assaulted by a gull while in a boat, Cathy's birthday party is crashed by a flock of seagulls (not the '80's new wave band), sparrows fly down the chimney into the Brenner's living room, the Faucett farm is mysteriously broken into under cover of night, huge, black crows sover the jungle gym of the schoolhouse before launching an attack on the schoolchildren, the town square is disturbingly devastated by birds of every kind, and then when you think that Hitchcock could'nt take the film any further - - he shocks the audience with an incredibly violent attack in an upstairs bedroom.

Evan Hunter's character-driven screenplay, from a short story by Daphne ("Rebecca") DuMaurier offers no explanations for this sudden supernatural phenomenon; the concerns here are HOW these characters relate to each other and HOW they are affected by the startling events in Bodega Bay. Nor does Hitchcock bother to shed any light on the birds motivation, almost as if the title characters were his biggest McGuffin, as well as his most frightening film villains.

Squeamish viewers should beware "The Birds," after nearly forty years, the chills are still there, even if the bloodshed is sparse in comparison to today's "slasher" flicks. And viewers seeking answers, fuggettaboutit! - there are no answers: only vividly fleshed-out characters under siege from the skies.

This Widescreen 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of "The Birds" is probably as good as it gets, given the technicalities involved in the filming, the age of the film and the heavy use of matte paintings, animation and plates. There are great textures to bo found on all the Edith Head costumes, which sometime lead to minor moiring (check out Mrs. Mundy's tweed suit in Chapter 12). Fleshtones are nicely rendered in shots NOT involving process photography; when process shots are involved, flesh tones veer unintentionally towards the grey-scale. For the most part, colors are rendered quite accurately with few instances of grain. Once again, in shots not utilizing a process or two, the picture's clarity is very good.

"The Birds" is presented with a very impressive Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Although mono, the soundtrack has a wide enough soundstage to enhance the techno sounds that play in lieu of a musical score. Thank God that some upstart "restoration expert" didn't decide to force us to listen to "The Birds" in his idea of Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, that only he thought would be faithful to "Hitch's vision."

"All about 'The Birds'" is the usual, above average "talking heads" documentary we've come to expect from Universal Collector's Editions. "AATB" tends to give away too many filmaking secrets for viewers who haven't seen "The Birds." Tippi Hedren still looking stunning in her Edith Head green suit, recounts her experiences with both with and nostalgia. Her love of working with Hitchcock comes through with every word she says, whereas Veronica Cartwright ("Alien") recounts how much Suzanne Pleshette didn't enjoy her role - - Suzanne it seems wanted the leading role, and even jokingly showed up on set in blonde wig & Tippi's costume! No wonder Suzanne isn't interviewed for the documentary - - like Connery in "The Trouble with 'Marnie," Suzanne's absence is deeply felt. Just to see the virtually unrecognizable Rod Taylor with all of his middle-age girth, is worth tuning into the documentary for.

A deleted scene, intended to follow the second mass bird attack, is presented in photos and script pages; I had to re-read the pages a couple of times, but the scene has a sardonic sense of humor not seen in the rest of the film. The scene more than likely was dropped due to time constraints, but it would have been nice if only for the humorous theories of why the birds are attacking expressed by Mitch & Melanie. This brief scene also shows a growing attraction between the two leads, which would have balanced out the remainder of the movie.

A storyboard sequence shows how meticulous Hitchcock was in his planning of this film. The sequence represented is the upstairs bedroom attack on Melanie, and is interspersed with good production shots of almost every storyboard. This is a plus for any future film makers out there.

The Original Ending, though never filmed, is presented in script form (once again, these text screens can be difficult to read), BUT it is not the ending I thought that it would be! This is not the much-discussed "flocks of birds on the Golden Gate Bridge" ending, but an ending with yet another full-fledged attack as the car carrying Melanie to the hospital careens along the rural roads! This might have taken the film to a new level of sadism toward the leading lady, and justifiably was never shot due to time constraints.

This time around, the Production Photos are presented silently - - there was no musical score for "The Birds," so it is appropriate that the images flash by sans sound - - although I would have preferred some bird sounds, like the ones on the menus. The photos offer various on and off camera shots of all the principals, as well as lobby cards and posters.

The two Universal International Newsreels, in stark black and white, have a levity about them - -the first is a promo on carrier pigeons! But that levity is taken to new extremes with Hitchcock's very own trailer to promote "The Birds." This has always been my favorite Hitchcock trailer, and if you've never seen it, prepare yourself for a deftly guided tour through the world of ornithology. You'll probably also find yourself thinking of Thanksgiving in a whole new light.

 

I think that by now the reader is aware that I truly LOVE "The Birds." There simply isn't any other film by Hitchcock that flies to the technological heights he reached here. Hitchcock's marvels in this film also include the totally believable, and totally natural acting of Tippi Hedren, in her film debut. That Tippi survived the filming of "The Birds," is quite an achievement unto itself, and is retold vividly in the accompanying documentary.

The world of "The Birds" is also a thematic examination of the fragility of our world and the role of complacency in human nature. Melanie's total indifference ("I want to go through life jumping into fountains naked) is at odds with the ever-present tea-cups and china at the Brenner, and the Faucett, households. Is the arrival of a complacent individual into a world of "real," frail humans the reason that nature decides to take a stand against indifference? Possibly, Melanie is forced to confront the realities of her world, albeit rather harshly. Yet at the same time, when Melanie takes those steps toward action - her ascent (heavenward?) results in a state of catatonia - - a complete and total haven of apathy. The film, like DePalma's "Carrie," is morally ambiguous. Is there redemption down the road for any of these characters?

"The Birds" is a highly original take on "Nature on a Rampage" films - - the Cold War was still on, and still resonating with audiences were the "symbolic" films of the 50's: "Them!" "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Thing (from another world)." Filled with unforgettable images, and borrowed from constantly - George Romero stages a zombie attack in "Night of the Living Dead" with virtually the same camera angles and setups as the final living-room attack in "The Birds" - this is a film that has already stood the test of time, and now has been given a proper home video edition that Hitchcock would have been proud of.

(5/5, NOT included in final score)

(3.5/5)

(3.5/5)

(4/5)

(4.5/5, NOT an average)

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