It is a new year, 1963, and the first movie of the year (in my edition) is Alfred Hitchcock’s ”The Birds”.
This is a very famous movie. At least, it is a movie I remember people talking about, back in my childhood, but I only remember having caught small and few glimpses of the actual movie. This is not a movie you let children watch.
Now I am an adult, I think, and old enough to actually watch it and my impression is both positive and negative. This movie comes at the tail end of long string of Hitchcock movies and, frankly, the bar is pretty high.
On the positive side, this movie delivers what it promises. It is a suspense and horror movie and we get lots of both and in a very high quality. Hitchcock took something as harmless as birds and made them menacing, murderous creatures. It is actually ludicrous and corresponds to an army of vicious hamsters or the rabbit from Monty Python, but it works, surprisingly. Watch this movie and you will never look at a bird in quite the same way. The scene with Melanie (Tippi Hedren), Mitch (Rod Taylor), Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and Mitch’ mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) locked up in their house with an army of crazy birds trying to get in is pure terror. As is the moment where Melanie, sitting outside the school, realizes that the birds are gathering for an attack.
Hitchcock is also reusing a plot device that worked very well in “Psycho”. He is starting one story and lulls us into believing that this is the story and then, out of the blue literally, this plot turns insignificant against the real plot of the movie. I somehow see the point in doing this because it gets the viewer into the right state to receive the scare.
But this movie is not perfect. On two account I have problems with it.
First there is the reason for the birds to attack. There is none, and that bothers me a great deal. It is just… there. We are offered a few half-hearted explanations in the movie. A woman claims that Melanie is to blame, because it started when she arrived. Another claims this is the punishment of God, but most of the characters just ask “why” in bewilderment. I have read several places that the bird attacks are somehow related to female sexuality, but that is just plain weird. Yes, there are an awful lot of women in this movie and some of them has some issues, but I do not see how that relates to the bird attacks. One could just leave it as a nature gone crazy thing, like a volcano or an epidemic, but it just feels unsatisfying.
The second issue I have with “The Birds” is that the front story, what we are supposed to believe is the story to begin with, has some loose ends. I did not really get it. As I understood it Melanie and Mitch know each other from the courts and Melanie has a, maybe sinister, agenda going all the way up to Bodega Bay to give Mitch the two lovebirds. There is something wrong about her, she wants something. Then the reaction she gets from the villagers, especially the school teacher Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), when she mentions Mitch, gave me the impression there is something ominous about Mitch.
Anyway, it turns out that Melanie just have a crush on Mitch and that Mitch has a dominating mother.
Technically Hitch was never better. On the special effects side this is totally edgy in 1963 and the jump scares work perfectly. This is just not good enough thought out. Somehow it is too thin with too many loose ends. On the back of so many great movies Hitch could do better than this.