Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Other horror films: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Psycho (1960)]
It’s been a long while since I’ve seen The Birds, and once I rewatched this (on the same night I revisited Psycho), I came to the somewhat shocking self-discovery that I actually enjoy The Birds more, and as I got further and further into this movie, I was hooked in a way I wasn’t through most of Psycho.
It’s the slow-building nature of the bird attacks that really revs things up. The first instance is the seagull attacking Daniels’ on the boat. Then the bird flying into the door. Then the small (most mostly harmless) attack on the birthday party. Then (off-screen) them going after that farmer. And all of this leads to my all-time favorite sequence of films.
Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is asked by Lydia (Jessica Tandy) to go pick up Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) from school. At the school, waiting for the session to end, Daniels sits on a bench with the playground (including a jungle gym) in the background, and beautifully, slowly, crows fly and land on the jungle gym.
There may be ten or so when the film suddenly focuses on purely Daniels as she smokes, and then after a few minutes, she notices a crow flying overhead, and watching where it lands, we now see that the jungle gym, and in fact every surface suitable for a bird to perch on, has a bird. It’s creepy, and even if you know it’s coming, it’s done amazingly.
Then comes the scene of Daniels and Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) ushering the children out of the school, and getting attacked by the crows. It’s a tense scene, but they all seem to get out fine. And then a quiet diner scene, which is, again, fantastic, as Daniels tells of the attack of the school by birds, which leads to pushback from all sides (one woman doesn’t think it’s possible, another man wants all birds killed, one mother just wants them to stop scaring her children), and then a gas attendant gets attacked by a bird (which they all witness), and falls down, gas now leaking toward a car. And in that car, a man who gets out and lights a cigarette and, upon burning his fingers (and not taking heed in the people yelling at him to not drop the match), he drops it.
Perhaps one of my all-time favorite shots of the film is next. We see Bodoga Bay from – a bird’s eye view (kill me now if you want) – which looks so cool, and more and more birds join in before swooping down onto the town, causing all-out mayhem.
That was just a beautiful collection of scenes, and there wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t fully engaged in what was going on. That doesn’t change once Daniels and Mitch (Rod Taylor) get back to the house and start boarding things up. It only sustains it’s suspense throughout.
Tippi Hedren was an interesting character. Strong in her own right, she completely loses it toward the end of the film, breaking down mentally (sort of like Barbara in Night of the Living Dead) after a vicious attack by birds. Rod Taylor was strong throughout, as was Jessica Tandy, who had plenty of emotional scenes. And for a younger actress, Cartwright was pretty good too.
The effects here don’t always look great (such as the children being chased from the school by the crows), but all of it is pretty admirable, and there are just some fantastic scenes (such as Hedren’s character being trapped in a glass phone booth with wild birds flying all around), and the onslaught of birds was just amazing.
If I was asked a day or two ago, I probably would have said that Psycho was my favorite Hitchcock film, but after seeing The Birds again, I’m all in. I very much love this film – it’s ominous ending a fantastic one – and this is top-rate stuff.
This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this classic, look out below.