Reviews

The Birds 50th Anniversary Edition

4

Hitch establishes a new pecking order…

From 1951 to 1963, Alfred Hitchcock directed a run of erudite, technically dazzling thrillers that can all make a claim on the term “masterpiece”.

Beginning with 1951’s Strangers On A Train and taking in the incredible hat-trick of Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), his winning streak ended after 1963’s The Birds.

Commemorated on this 50th-anniversary Blu-ray, it’s one of his starkest and most enigmatic movies.

Based on a Daphne du Maurier tale and fleshed out by crime writer Evan Hunter with elements from real news stories, the film details a series of unexplained avian attacks on the seaside town of Bodega Bay, California.

Though it lacks the psychological depth of Hitchcock’s greatest works, it’s characterised by a nightmarish simplicity.

Arriving in town to romance local lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), flighty socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), brings with her a plague of birds who attack the locals.

No explanations are offered, though critics theorise that the spoiled, sexually forward Melanie is somehow to blame. Certainly her character has a terrifying trajectory, from golden girl to catatonic victim.

Hedren didn’t fare much better, suffering on-set indignities at the hands of a director who both idealised and tormented her. (See the recent The Girl for the behind-the-scenes story.)

Though the dramatics remain muddy, the attacks are visceral. As well as real birds, Hitch used a sodium vapour process to create the swarming creature SFX, adding little details such as smashed china cups and popping balloons to increase the sense of implied violence.

Remarkably for the period, there’s no music at all, no “The End” title and the apocalyptic final shot suggests all is lost.

Melanie, at the very least, seems unlikely to recover – and neither Hedren nor Hitch ever made a film to match The Birds again.

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