The Birds (1963)

JULY 4, 2009


I believe The Birds will be the last “Holy shit you’ve never seen that?” type review, but just in case - I know, it’s shameful that I have seen all three Dark Harvest movies and not revered Hitchcock classics. Shit happens. But keep in mind: part of HMAD’s original intent was to ensure that all gaps such as this were filled, so in a way, I should actually be keeping movies like this out of arm’s reach. Once I know I’ve seen all the classics, there won’t be as much drive to keep going!

(Sadly, I HAVE seen The Birds II: Land’s End.)

Plus it’s not like I had completely missed the film; in fact, it seems like I have seen every major setpiece already, via “10 Scariest Movies” type specials on TV, the game SceneIt, and even in some cases, on the TV of a character in a different movie, which was the case in The Hitcher, back when Platinum Dunes was planning a remake. That train wreck seems to have been averted though; Fuller and Form have been sort of dismissive of it in recent interviews, and now that I have seen the entire movie I am actually kind of glad. Not that I dislike the Dunes films; on the contrary I probably give them a higher batting average than anyone else would. But everything that makes The Birds so good are the type of things that their films always fall short on, and so even if I enjoyed it, it wouldn’t be worth my breath or keystrokes to try to defend it on deaf ears (a lesson I learned on The Hitcher, incidentally). Best everyone just walk away.

For starters, the film is strong on character. Having seen most of the action already, I was surprised to find out how much more exciting it was when I actually knew who the people swatting the birds away were. I especially loved the hero, Mitch (played by Rod Taylor - whose appearance in Kaw was an in-joke that was lost on me). He’s a charming wiseass, the best type of hero in my opinion, and I liked that he managed to pull off the romantic stuff as well as the action. Oddly, he kind of reminded me of Liev Schreiber, the real-life husband of Naomi Watts, who has been long rumored to be taking the Tippi Hedren role should the remake come to pass. But if I had to pick someone to fill Taylor's shoes, I’d go with Nathan Fillion in a heartbeat. Sure, he’s done the town under siege hero role before (Slither), but the role seems tailor-made for someone of his stature.

Tippi’s character is pretty interesting too, but mainly because she’s essentially psychotic. She has a meet-cute with Taylor (one of my favorites ever, actually, because it’s the rare one where the guy has the upper hand the entire time and makes the girl look like a fool for once), and then proceeds to go to extreme measures to see him again. First she has her dad’s friend track down his address via his license plate, and then goes to his house only to discover that he went on vacation. Does she go home? Hell no! She drives up the coast, grills a post office clerk for his address (and a schoolteacher for his sister’s name - the ruse has a sub-ruse!), rents a boat so he won’t see her car, breaks into his home, leaves the gift behind, and then goes back outside and hides so she can see his reaction. Whatever happened to just touching a guy on his forearm so he’d know you liked him? Especially when you look like Tippi Hedren - it’s not like it would take much effort to gain his attraction. It all reminded me of the classic Onion article: “Romantic Comedy Behavior Lands Real Life Man In Jail”.

Another thing that the Dunes would almost surely eschew is the terrific restaurant scene, where pretty much everyone in the town has seemingly gathered to weigh in with their opinions of what is happening and why. It’s a lively, rapid-fire scene, effortlessly blending humor (love the woman who keeps trying to shield her children from hearing about killer birds, only to fail; it’s capped off with a terrific punchline as well) and story/character development. Instead, the Dunes would likely replace it with a scene where the reason for the bird attacks was definitively explained (this film has no such thing, thankfully), and it would likely be a stupid reason revolving around marijuana.

And finally, suspense. This film thrives on it; their films seemingly never even attempt it. I was amazed to discover later on that it was a full two hours long, as it never feels that way due to the light fluffiness of the first act followed by the unnerving tone of the rest. BECAUSE we have no idea why the birds are attacking, the scenes in which they are present (which is nearly all of them) are real nail-biters, because they’re always there and you never know when they’re going to resume their attack. And Hitch knows this, because he constantly has the birds “calm down” and then sends a human to walk by/around them. These scenes are actually more terrifying than the attack ones in a way, because it becomes not an “If” but a “When” they will strike. Adding to this uneasiness is the fact that the film doesn’t have any sort of score. The chirping and kawing of the birds is all you hear during certain scenes (even the actor’s natural sounds - footsteps and such - are sometimes obliterated), which was a great choice on Hitch’s part.

Oh, and they would probably use shitty CGI instead of throwing birds at actors or rear-projecting them in a fairly decent fashion (the projection of a road behind Hedren as she “drives” actually looks worse than the shots of birds swarming around a group of children).

The only sort of complaint I have regards the film’s ending. Specifically, it doesn’t really have one. It just sort of ends. There was originally a sequence of them driving through the town, fending off one last attack, and getting out of Bodega Bay, but it was never shot for budget/logistic reasons. So instead the movie ends with them leaving their house, which isn’t quite as compelling or dramatically satisfying. There was also supposed to be a cool ending where the birds would be seen covering the Golden Gate Bridge, but this was also eschewed once it became clear that there was no way to do it right. And that is probably the single concept behind the entire idea of remaking this movie in the first place - it couldn’t possibly be the track record of Hitchcock remakes (Psycho, A Perfect Murder, etc).

When I got home I put on my DVD, which I own as part of a nice Hitchcock set that Universal put out a few years ago. I noticed that it was the only one of his films to be upgraded in its MPAA rating (to a PG-13!), though I can’t say I am surprised due to the surprising number of attacks on children and the ghastly sight of an eyeless dude (it’s a low body count film, but when people die Hitch isn’t afraid to show their corpse). There were a nice smattering of extras, though nothing seemed newly produced. There is a trio of never filmed/lost scenes (including the ending I mentioned before), presented via stills, storyboards, and the script pages, which roll by too fast to fully read. Then we get a couple of charmingly cheesy newsreels, a lengthy storyboard/screen comparison of the attic scene that you can’t fast-forward (you can advance the stills though), and Hitch’s awesome five minute teaser where he displays his usual deadpan humor. I would love to see a modern audience sit through a five minute teaser that doesn’t even contain footage from the movie. Come back, Hitch!

The final extra is Hedren’s screentest. While I would never argue with the idea of putting more Hedren footage on the disc, it’s a bit of an odd piece. They don’t do any dialogue from the movie (they address each other by their real names), plus I spent the entire time wondering A. Why she was testing with Marty Balsam, and B. Why he was being such a complete ass. At one point he began bitching at her for coloring her hair blond, because since he pays for her hairstyling it should be the color he wanted. I was actually getting kind of uncomfortable with the idea of her being treated like this. Maybe they were improvising, but I can find nothing that says that Balsam was ever even up for the role, so I don’t know. It’s a wonderful little slice of a time gone by, that’s for sure. And she looks as beautiful as ever, so win-win.

In closing, please don’t remake this movie. It’s great as is, and you’re just setting yourself up to be lambasted. It’s hard enough defending you guys. Focus on a remake of, I dunno, The Dorm That Dripped Blood. No one will give you any shit for that.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. I had no idea that was your first time to see THE BIRDS!

  2. Two things: one, it's called The Truth About Charlie; two, the film it's a remake of (Charade) was directed by Stanley Donen, not Hitchcock.

    Now that that's out of the way, I'm not really that fond of The Birds myself. Tippi Hedren is one of Hitchcock's worst leading ladies (apparently cast more because he had a thing for her than for her "talent"), and her performance really hurt the otherwise good Marnie. I kind of like Rod Taylor, but he definitely lacks the personality of a Cary Grant or a Jimmy Stewart. I think the best performance of the film was probably Jessica Tandy as the jealous mother. Suzanne Pleshette was also great as Annie.

    What I really liked about this movie was some of the visual humor. In particular a hilarious shot where Tippi Hedren drives around a curve and you see the two lovebirds learn one way and then the other. Okay, it doesn't sound so funny when I describe it, but it looks pretty comical.

    When I was a kid and first saw this movie on AMC, the ending actually pissed me off. "That was it?!" In fact, only two other movie endings have infuriated me so much, one being Monty Python and The Holy Grail (also when I was still a kid) and Hatchet. I've come to appreciate the ambiguity of it though. The last shot in particular is stunningly photographed, and one of the best images of Hitch's whole career.

  3. Why the hell did I think Charlie was a remake of To Catch A Thief? And why did I combine the title with The Trouble With Harry? My brain is fried. Thank you!

  4. That's what I'm here for! To be a pedantic douche bag. Speaking of Trouble With Harry, that's one I actually wouldn't mind a remake of. It's a great concept but it's never as funny as it should be, and Shirley MacLaine is actually Hitchcock's worst, most annoying lead actress (sorry Tippi!)

  5. Don't feel too badly. While I don't watch as many horror movies as you do (usually 2 a week, but lately I've only been watching 1 every 2 weeks because of personal projects), there are many classics I've yet to see like Fearless Vampire Killers, The Omen, the original Haunting, etc.

  6. BC, I would have to agree with you on about everything here. I saw bits and pieces of the movie over the years, but never sat down and watched it straight through until last year and I was floored. I don't know why I didn't watch it sooner. I love the story and perhaps it seems long and drawn out but like you said it doesn't feel that long at all.

    Personally I LOVE the ending. It just leaves everything open and actually much more grim. Much more realistic than some corny ending of them burning all the birds or some ridiculous way to beat them. To often movies feel the need to have a "happy ending" of sorts to make audiences happy... I don't get that at all. Not all situations end happy and they don't need to. You see this more often in books... most notably "The Mist" short story by Stephen King, fantastic ending.

    Great review. Keep up the good work.

  7. I first saw this as a TV-movie when I was a kid. The dead guy with his eyes pecked out was very creepy and rather shocking for the time.

  8. I love the birds. Great movie. Hopefully they will NEVER remake this!!

  9. The ending is great because it really shows how the birds have completely dominated the playing field-literally they are covering every inch of the ground AND forcing human beings to leave their home. Those birds!

    The schoolyard scene is perhaps one of Hitchcock's greatest moments of suspense. Seeing the birds mass behind Tippi while she smokes and relaxes is comparable somewhat to watching children's legs swimming shark eyes view in Jaws. You know something bad will indefinietly happen and now all you can do it wait. Pure terror.

  10. Your're the only person (except me) who I've ever seen publicly decry the (lack of) ending.

    It doesn't even have closing credits (just a blink-and-you'll-miss-it production screen; The first time I saw it was on late-night TV, and when the adverts finished and another film came on I was convinced they'd messed up!

    Years later, I showed the movie (recorded to DVD off the tv) to my partner; despite the fact that I warned her that the ending was abrupt, she went nuts at me for missing the end.

    I actually would like to see this remade (or, rather, "reimagined") if only because of the ending - but not by PD; as you point out - this is not what they do well...


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