Play It Again – The Birds

Play It Again – The Birds. Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, and Jessica Tandy. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

This month, Jess turns her attention to the works of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Look for more PIAs featuring Hitch’s work over the next three weeks!

By Jess Lomas
April 17, 2012(Republished September 10, 2013)

The horror of Alfred Hitchcock’s films is often labelled ‘tame’ compared to the movies that now grace our cinema screens. Yet Hitchcock’s 1963 horror suspense classic The Birds has terrified me from the moment I first saw it at a sleepover party at the tender age of ten. To this day a low-flying avian creature or a pack of seagulls lurking nearby can cause heart palpitations and elicit shrieks of terror from this Hitchcock loving, bird-fearing girl.

Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, The Birds is set in Bodega Bay, California. When Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) mistakes the wealthy socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) for a salesperson in a pet shop, she finds his address and plans to deliver a pair of lovebirds as a practical joke. Over the following days, the town is held captive by unexplained bird attacks, seeing Melanie thrust together with Mitch, his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), and Mitch’s ex (Suzanne Pleshette). The movie quickly becomes a tale of survival begging one to question who will make it to the closing credits, and whether birds may be a bigger threat to humanity than we gave them credit for.

While the special effects may extract a chuckle or a groan from a more discriminating audience, it’s Hitchcock’s trademark use of suspense and the unseen as the real horror that cements The Birds as a fright night classic. That said; the image of Lydia finding her friend with his eyes pecked out is enough to torment those, like myself, who consider themselves light-weight horror viewers. The picture in fact earned only one Academy Award nomination for Best Effects, Special Visual Effects, though it couldn’t beat out Cleopatra for the statue.

Equally as impressive as Hitchcock’s romance-horror pacing is his decision to deliver us an ambiguous ending; something that more often than not feels lazy in modern features seems to work perfectly here. Hitchcock’s films allowed him to play with convention and challenge audiences to do the same, and The Birds is a perfect example of the master at work.

 

The Birds is available on Quickflix.

One Response to “Play It Again – The Birds”

  1. I swear that ending traumatised me more than anything else in the film. I was like “What?! Argh! WHAT?! You can’t end it like that! Omigod I may never go outside again!”

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