Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – Not As Scary As I’d Been Led To Believe

Written by Daphne DuMaurier and Evan Hunter
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

For quite some time I’d been terrified of this film. All I knew from my parents was that it was hideously scary, and not being a particular fan of horror films (and wanting to avoid nightmares), I’d shied away from it for years. When it was on television one time when I was with my kids on vacation, we started to watch. However, the number of commercial interruptions was dragging the movie to the three-hour mark, so we quit in the middle and rented the DVD again when we arrived home.

My older daughter is a horror fan – I wasn’t worried about her. However, I was concerned about nightmares with my 10-year-old. I soon found out I had nothing to fear about nightmares for either myself or my daughter.

The Birds is the story of a woman who is used to getting what she wants. Tippi Hedren is Melanie Daniels, the daughter of a wealthy publisher. A chance meeting with Mitch Brenner (portrayed by Rod Taylor) in a bird shop leaves her eager to one-up him and somewhat challenged by the fact that he doesn’t just roll over for her. She orders two lovebirds and sets out to deliver them to his home personally. It’s quite a drive away in a remote part of the California coast.

The situation deteriorates once she arrives there. The mystery is whether her arrival had something to do with the ensuing chaos or was it just chance? Many of the questions are never answered as Director Alfred Hitchcock preferred to leave loose ends open. The reason wasn’t as it is now as most studios think of the possibility of sequels or prequels if the movie is successful. Instead, he just preferred to not spell everything out for the viewers.

The build-up to the actual bird attacks was quite slow, as some of the backgrounds into Melanie and Mitch’s characters were given, as well as Melanie traveling to the town of Bodega Bay and staying with the schoolteacher who happens to be an old girlfriend of Mitch’s. There’s plenty of filler here and plenty of shots of birds – some of them already behaving quite oddly.

Hitchcock paced the film nicely. Rather than have the birds continually attack once the chaos began, he chose to have them attack, then retreat, then attack harder, and retreat. The attacks grew more intense each time, so a sense of anticipation is created. By the time the action began, we were waiting with bated breath. All the hype I’d heard over the years quite possibly was the reason for the disappointment I felt, as well as my daughter. It just didn’t live up to the reputation which preceded it.

While the story depicted in The Birds might have been quite scary in 1963, it didn’t throw any of the three of us for a loop at all. In fact, at the end, my oldest asked, “Is that it? What was so scary about that?” In all honesty, I couldn’t tell her. My fear of this movie for all of these years was completely unfounded.

That’s not to say The Birds is a bad film. By a long shot, it isn’t. Especially for the time period in which it was filmed, it’s a technical wonder. Hitchcock filmed the bird attacks with such craftiness and precision that it’s impossible to tell which parts are the fake birds and which were real. Hitchcock used both trained birds and fake ones to depict the attacks. That the stars of the film dealt with having birds come at them are a testament to their stamina in these roles. I don’t think I could have done it.

Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor are excellent in their roles. They play off each other well and seem to share genuine chemistry. They also handle the birds attacking them well and I found myself wondering how much of it was real fright as these birds came at them again and again to shoot the various scenes.

I did enjoy The Birds, as did my daughters. It’s better than many modern action, thriller, or horror films in that the characters are people we do actually grow to care about instead of just sort of being put up a front and “told” we are supposed to care. I would watch it again if given the chance, but I just don’t think the reputation it’s garnered over the years is justified.

DVD Special Features:

” All About The Birds – about how the piece came to be made, from the short story by Daphne duMarier to the production.
” Deleted Scene – not really a deleted scene, but a collection of script pages and production stills from a scene between Mitch and Melanie that originally took place outside of the farmhouse after Lydia left for the neighboring farm.
” The Original Ending – shows the script pages and storyboard for the original ending where the town is desecrated by the birds.
” Storyboard Sequence
” Tippi Hendren’s Screen Test
” “The Birds” Is Coming – Universal Newsreel (trailer/preview)

7 replies »

      • I recently watched a movie that scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid. Gave me nightmares and the whole nine yards. Years later, my aunt actually apologized for letting me watch it.

        I saw part of The Birds as a kid and it didn’t bother me I think because I couldn’t buy into it.