The Birds

Note : this review is a contribution to The Universal blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.

The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.

From the short story by Daphne du Maurier and a screenplay written by Evan Hunter, The Birds has this Lovecratian quality of Horror and strange phenomenon. The original material from du Maurier is a short story of a family man in England and his wife and two kids that are kept inside his house from a bizarre raid of birds coming from the tides. It is a story that could be paired with the huis clos category and reminds a bit of the spirit of many Horror stories like The Night of the Living Dead when they are sequestered in the house attacked by the zombies.

Evan Hunter’s story involves a beautiful blond in Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), it is a Hitchcock film let’s remember, and Northern California. In fact, few of the original short story has been kept except the birds and the part in the house and an open ending.

Before reading all the controversy that tainted the Alfred Hitchcock/Tippi Hedren relationship, I was pretty sure that Hitchcock was, as he often said and as Patrick McGilligan wrote in his accurate biography Alfred Hitchcock : A Life in Darkness and Light, a voyeur and impotent. However, with time and the gossips, his potential affair with Ingrid Bergman and the aforementioned controversy of sexual harassment by Hedren I fear that a he used power to get down with his female stars. There’s also some rumors about the fact that Grace Kelly was probably opened to free love and never said no to anyone. So if Miss Hedren was the first lady to defend herself and refuse his advances it is possible that he was furious. But here we are into gossips and I digress from the subject of this review.
This brings light onto the infamous scene of the real bird’s attack on Hedren and that Hitchcock directed the bird trainer to go to the nearest possible to poor Tippi’s face to scare her. Is it just an another rumor, a way to get genuine scare from his actress, or simple revenge. The answer is probably a mix of all of these suppositions.

What makes The Birds the legendary Horror movie made by one of the greatest directors of all time is the unexplained birds attacks, the rise of the climax and the delayed first attack. The build up of Horror is important and you have to wait until the second half of the film to actually see the attacks.

On the technical side of things, music composer and long time Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann used an electronic soundtrack and many bird sounds. It was a deliberate decision of Hitchcock to not use a conventional score and use those natural sounds. Sometimes, the silence is more efficient than music that tries to make a special mood.

As film canons go, we are stuck with titles that are permanent as time goes. And even if the revisits of lists of the best films of all time or the best horror films of all time lists go and try to make light onto lesser known pictures we are almost forced to accept that Citizen Kane will make light onto any other movie Orson Welles ever directed. As it goes like that, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho will always shadow his film The Birds as his best horror film. Even if both films influenced two declinations of the Horror genre. One is the slasher genre the other is the monster genre. Despite my everlasting love for Psycho, The Birds has always been a personal favorite.

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