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"The Birds"

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"The Birds" is already 54 years old!

 

This is one of those films that get better with age.

 

It's amazing what Alfred Hitchcock was able to accomplish with the limited visual technology of his time.

 

This time around, the "inscrutability" of the mass invasion of the birds was far more terrifying to me.

 

Several explanations are offered in the film - the drunk tells us that it's the end of the world and quotes biblical texts.

 

The frightened mom tell us that Melanie Daniels has cast an evil spell and is actually a witch.

 

According to what I've read, the actual shooting script went on much longer.

 

The Brenners and Melanie travel into the big city and are the witnesses to a far greater devastation than the one that they had been experiencing in Bodega Bay.

 

But Alfred Hitchcock felt that the film was long enough and so gave us that ambiguous ending, which included the sun breaking through the clouds.

 

Time has been kind to "The Birds".

 

It's a great achievement by a major artist.

 

 

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It is good. Maybe I am not quite as gaga over it as others. After Psycho cleaned up at the box-office, Hitch could afford to go all the way with his horror films. By this time, Ray Harryhausen's British backed extravaganzas and Disney features like Darby O'Gill had been advancing the art of the sodium vapor process, among other special effects techniques that Hitch made great use of.

 

There have been at least two (probably more) CBS radio adaptations on Lux Radio Theatre (July 30, 1953) and Escape (July 10, 1954) that were different in characters and setting (UK).

 

 

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It is good. Maybe I am not quite as gaga over it as others. After Psycho cleaned up at the box-office, Hitch could afford to go all the way with his horror films. By this time, Ray Harryhausen's British backed extravaganzas and Disney features like Darby O'Gill had been advancing the art of the sodium vapor process, among other special effects techniques that Hitch made great use of.

 

There have been at least two (probably more) CBS radio adaptations on Lux Radio Theatre (July 30, 1953) and Escape (July 10, 1954) that were different in characters and setting (UK).

 

 

Thanks so much, the actual short story by Daphne duMaurier is actually quite different from the film adaptation.

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It's a timeless classic- the film is surprisingly modern- perhaps because the script takes it's time in developing  the various conflicts before the birds attack.  Hitchcock's was smart about no giving a specific reason for the birds turning on man- is it ecological- why do the chicken's stop eating? Or just a metaphor for the cold war nuclear threat?  Is Melanie some sort of witch like the hysterical woman suggest?   The film looks great - love the use of color - and the clothes seem timeless too- specially on the very hot Rod Taylor- a perfect sci-fi horror hero.   The ending is both hopeful and bleak as the car drives into the distance we are no sure our heroes will be safe.   These days in which modern movies bombard us with non stop sound- it's interesting how Hitchcock uses silence to create suspense and those weird bird noises instead of a score- perhaps he wanted to show that his images alone could create terror and yes he succeeded.

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It's a timeless classic- the film is surprisingly modern- perhaps because the script takes it's time in developing  the various conflicts before the birds attack.  Hitchcock's was smart about no giving a specific reason for the birds turning on man- is it ecological- why do the chicken's stop eating? Or just a metaphor for the cold war nuclear threat?  Is Melanie some sort of witch like the hysterical woman suggest?   The film looks great - love the use of color - and the clothes seem timeless too- specially on the very hot Rod Taylor- a perfect sci-fi horror hero.   The ending is both hopeful and bleak as the car drives into the distance we are no sure our heroes will be safe.   These days in which modern movies bombard us with non stop sound- it's interesting how Hitchcock uses silence to create suspense and those weird bird noises instead of a score- perhaps he wanted to show that his images alone could create terror and yes he succeeded.

The film has such an hypnotic pull to it that you forget the absence of a score.

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Thanks so much, the actual short story by Daphne duMaurier is actually quite different from the film adaptation.

 

You can easily find the Lux Radio Theatre version online as well, that one running a full hour. I am partial to Escape's half hour version thanks to the outstanding sound effects. Escape was the "sister" show of Suspense with many of the same credits and voice artists, in addition to Suspense re-using Escape stories after the former left the air.

 

Surprisingly the radio versions aren't too-too different than the movie. What is interesting is that Hitchcock took the main "meat" of the story (even using gulls, but not gannets in this case) but changed the locale to California and added the Mysterious Blonde-On-The-Move Sub-plot that invites comparison to Psycho and also prefigures aspects of Marnie later (also with Tippi Hedren). Hitch loved his Mystery Blondes! What is fun about all of the Hitchcock movies is how they borrow a little of this and that from each other... a.k.a. The 39 Steps had a lot of parallels with the later films, Statue of Liberty in Saboteur followed by Mt. Rushmore in North By Northwest, both Vertigo and Psycho having two "parts" in their stories as if two episodes in a TV show with a key character killed at the mid-point, etc. etc.

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You can easily find the Lux Radio Theatre version online as well, that one running a full hour. I am partial to Escape's half hour version thanks to the outstanding sound effects. Escape was the "sister" show of Suspense with many of the same credits and voice artists, in addition to Suspense re-using Escape stories after the former left the air.

 

Surprisingly the radio versions aren't too-too different than the movie. What is interesting is that Hitchcock took the main "meat" of the story (even using gulls, but not gannets in this case) but changed the locale to California and added the Mysterious Blonde-On-The-Move Sub-plot that invites comparison to Psycho and also prefigures aspects of Marnie later (also with Tippi Hedren). Hitch loved his Mystery Blondes! What is fun about all of the Hitchcock movies is how they borrow a little of this and that from each other... a.k.a. The 39 Steps had a lot of parallels with the later films, Statue of Liberty in Saboteur followed by Mt. Rushmore in North By Northwest, both Vertigo and Psycho having two "parts" in their stories as if two episodes in a TV show with a key character killed at the mid-point, etc. etc.

I agree, there are similarities from one film to another - for example, the Barbara Bel Geddes character and the Suzanne Pleshette character who love the man that the heroine has already won over - and, of course, his fondness for the meddling moms from Claude Raines' mom in "Notorious" to Jessie Royce Landis' mom in "To Catch A Thief" to Jessica Tandy's mom in "The Birds".

 

I often enjoy reading the source material - there is often quite a difference between the novel and the film adaptation - Hitchcock liked to re-imagine the material.

 

He rung a lot of changes on Winston Graham's "Marnie" - combining the hero and the psychiatrist into one character - and the original novel of "Vertigo" took place during World War II, which cast the material in a much different light.

 

As much as he loved his women to be "blonde", he also liked his villains to be "gentlemen".

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It is one of the greatest films ever made, imo.  It is my favorite screenplay of any movie.

The screenplay is very well constructed

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The screenplay is very well constructed

The novelist, Evan Hunter, wrote the screenplay for "The Birds".

 

However, he had a falling-out with Alfred Hitchcock over their next project, "Marnie".

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The novelist, Evan Hunter, wrote the screenplay for "The Birds".

 

However, he had a falling-out with Alfred Hitchcock over their next project, "Marnie".

Too bad because "Marnie " could have used a better script

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What was "the secret" of the birds?

 

The secret was Hitchcock's mastery of creating 'edge of your seat' anticipation.  As a result, the suspense increased exponentially.  Not only that, the payoff was equally jarring.  Masterpiece.

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Funny that my first viewing of THE BIRDS, I was disappointed. I didn't really understand it because much of the story was left to your imagination.

 

20 years later, THE BIRDS was showing in 35mm at the theater & my movie buddy asked if I'd like to go. Meh, OK, just to see ANY classic film in a theater....

 

I loved it! And for the very reasons I originally disliked it! It was a well told story, well acted, good effects (except the crazy electronic bird noises) and it didn't spoon feed you every aspect of the story. I like movies that leave room for thought or projection.

 

Robert Osborne said, "The movies don't change, WE do" and my enjoyment of this movie is perfect illustration of that. 

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Funny that my first viewing of THE BIRDS, I was disappointed. I didn't really understand it because much of the story was left to your imagination.

 

20 years later, THE BIRDS was showing in 35mm at the theater & my movie buddy asked if I'd like to go. Meh, OK, just to see ANY classic film in a theater....

 

I loved it! And for the very reasons I originally disliked it! It was a well told story, well acted, good effects (except the crazy electronic bird noises) and it didn't spoon feed you every aspect of the story. I like movies that leave room for thought or projection.

 

Robert Osborne said, "The movies don't change, WE do" and my enjoyment of this movie is perfect illustration of that. 

Yes, "The Birds" only gets better with age.

 

In the original screenplay, the occupants of the car - Melanie, Mitch, his mom and sister drove into a much bigger city in which they witnessed tremendous devastation.

 

So, the "secret" of the birds was that they were waging a war on humanity.

 

But Hitchcock decided that the film was already long enough and chose to end the film on the departing car.

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But Hitchcock decided that the film was already long enough and chose to end the film on the departing car.

 

That's a first.

My only problem with Hitchcock films is in general, he feeds too much information to the viewer. It's as if he doesn't know what to leave out, or underestimates his viewers intelligence. 

 

Hitchcock's style is typically very good for a young viewer.... an excellent introduction to the joys of unearthing classic old films.

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One thing you immediately notice with Hitchcock films is something you also notice with Disney animated features (both made when he was alive and in the half century since his death): they usually have the same basic story structure that becomes a little monotonous if you see a cluster too close together in a row. In this regard, they aren't much different than Hopalong Cassidy westerns, grade B sci fi of the '50s and VHS porn of the '80s. Key difference here is that Hitch and Disney had better production values.

 

There is always this huge set piece that the production crew spent more time and effort on than any other set piece in the movie and it is saved for the final reel, followed by an uplifting ending to give the audience a breather at the end. Examples include some gun battle on the rooftops, Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, a merry go round gone amuck, airplane crashing into the ocean, burning of Manderley, etc. etc, etc. Or, in the other case, a battle with a dragon or other kind of monster or Monstro the whale, two dogs fighting a rat, an elephant shocking the circus crowd by flying, a forest fire brought on by "man in the forest"... and these get especially predictable in the post-Little Mermaid era when Ursula goes totally bonkers and morphs into the monster-of-all-monsters.

 

Occasionally you have the film that goes against "type" such as Vertigo, in which Hitch re-arranges the familiar pattern so it is different than what his audience is used to, much as we also got with Alice in Wonderland. These films are often bombs with critics at the time of release and were among the first to get played on network TV rather than reissued in theaters, but they also become the cult favorites later among the Fan-Base whenever they want an alternative to the same microwaveable dish they are used to.

 

I guess I would classify The Birds as intermediate between "standard" Hitch and "different than the others" Hitch since its structure is not normal, but also not too abnormal. It still fits in with the others. He didn't twink the familiar structure too-too much like he did Vertigo. In the end, the birds themselves are another ambitious set-piece that builds to a dramatic climax.

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Yes, "The Birds" only gets better with age.

 

In the original screenplay, the occupants of the car - Melanie, Mitch, his mom and sister drove into a much bigger city in which they witnessed tremendous devastation.

 

So, the "secret" of the birds was that they were waging a war on humanity.

 

But Hitchcock decided that the film was already long enough and chose to end the film on the departing car.

The ending use to bother me but now it makes sense-  the ending is both hopeful and disturbing - will the survive or have the birds really taken over the world- it's a variation on the short story whose ending is ambiguous but a lot grimmer

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