Discs Are Rated
review by Anthony D.
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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
(4.5/5, NOT an average)