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THE BIRDS ... A SUBVERSIVE LOVE STORY


drednm
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Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) is a terrific tale of nature gone wild (and getting even) and features many memorable scenes of Tippi Hedren and lots of shrill children getting pecked. The film is justly famous. On watching again, I noticed that the real love story (tepid at best) is not between Hedren and Rod Taylor (as the effete Mitch), but between Hedren and Jessica Tandy (the clingy Lydia). As Taylor plays coy with Hedren (and as he has in the past with Suzanne Pleshette's independent Annie), the real thing is happening between the desperate Tandy (whose husband died and abandoned her 4 years before) and Hedren (whose mama ran off with "a hotel man from the east" years ago). Watch as the women circle and jockey for position with Taylor a sidelined pawn in this chess game of love. Each woman is, in turn, the cuddled and the cuddler, and their hands are on each other, protecting, soothing, smoothing in many scenes. Indeed, after Hedren's attic adventure with the birds, when Taylor places her on the couch and she bursts into a subconscious fury of batting away the birds (as we are meant to believe), she's actually physically batting away Taylor. It's no coincidence that the final scene has the two women ensconced on the back seat of the car in an embrace of love with Hedren giving a squeeze on Tandy's cradling arm. I'm NOT saying theirs is a sexual love, but it's a love nonetheless, and it's Hitchcock's wry joke in his story about a world gone mad.

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There are a lot of weird psychosexual dynamics going on in The Birds that keep it entertaining for me until the birds actually show up. What are we to make of Suzanne Pleshette moving to town and getting a job in the little schoolhouse just to be close to Rod Taylor, even though she acknowledges their relationship is over? Or Jessica Tandy's icy resentment toward all women who try to enter her son's life? Or both our romantic leads having mommy issues (she just wants to know where hers is; he can't seem to fully cut the apron strings)? Or the reduction of Tippi Hedrin from free-spirited, wealthy heiress who thinks she's in complete control of every aspect of her life to completely helpless waif, babbling nearly incoherently? (I suspect this last bit was Hitchcock's favorite part of the story).

Personally, I think your sapphic, intergenerational spin on the story is too far out of left field even for Hitchcock, and I feel pretty sure it was not on his mind or anyone else's at the time. But the beauty of the classic movies is that we're free to read our own interpretations into what they mean, so who am I to rain on your parade? Interpret away!

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6 hours ago, drednm said:

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) is a terrific tale of nature gone wild (and getting even) and features many memorable scenes of Tippi Hedren and lots of shrill children getting pecked. The film is justly famous. On watching again, I noticed that the real love story (tepid at best) is not between Hedren and Rod Taylor (as the effete Mitch), but between Hedren and Jessica Tandy (the clingy Lydia). As Taylor plays coy with Hedren (and as he has in the past with Suzanne Pleshette's independent Annie), the real thing is happening between the desperate Tandy (whose husband died and abandoned her 4 years before) and Hedren (whose mama ran off with "a hotel man from the east" years ago). Watch as the women circle and jockey for position with Taylor a sidelined pawn in this chess game of love. Each woman is, in turn, the cuddled and the cuddler, and their hands are on each other, protecting, soothing, smoothing in many scenes. Indeed, after Hedren's attic adventure with the birds, when Taylor places her on the couch and she bursts into a subconscious fury of batting away the birds (as we are meant to believe), she's actually physically batting away Taylor. It's no coincidence that the final scene has the two women ensconced on the back seat of the car in an embrace of love with Hedren giving a squeeze on Tandy's cradling arm. I'm NOT saying theirs is a sexual love, but it's a love nonetheless, and it's Hitchcock's wry joke in his story about a world gone mad.

Fabulous psychosexual review of "The Birds" which would even impress Herr Doktor Richard von Krafft-Ebing!

 

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In terms of the relationship between the mother and son,  one needs to factor in that the mother is in her late 40s (Tandy was 53 at the time),  and that she had a teen daughter (Cartwright was 14 at the time).

Therefore the son was a surrogate father to his sister.   If his sister had been an adult I assume this would have changed the dynamics of the relationships between the mom, son and daughter.

As for the ending;  Mom is able to accept that Mitch's girlfriend isn't a threat (like those before her) and this is a very conventional ending;  I.e. she is gaining a daughter and NOT losing a son.

Rumor has it that as soon as they cleaned up all of that bird poo,  the 5 of them all lived together until the daughter went off to college in San Fran.

 

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As I said. I wasn't implying any kind of sexual thing, but Hedren finally gets her mama, and Tandy gets someone (assuming Hedren marries Taylor) who won't abandon her. Pleshette was never going to fill that "arm hunger" Tandy was plagued with.

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Tandy probably still had not recovered from her incessant stalking of Max Collodi, the ventriloquist that was featured in the other Hitchcock piece, "The Glass Eye" episode from his tv show. I'm sure she lost some of her marbles just as Max [the dummy not Tom Conway] lost his one eyeball, after the frigid Jessica lost her cool and came running over to him in his rented room so she could just clasp his hand, after following him on tour like a dang groupie for months. So embarrassing and no wonder her nephew, William Shatner found the story of her unrequited love too wacky not to reveal. She also shoulda never sent Collodi that ancient photo of herself, proving that being catfished isn't just a new thing. No wonder Tandy ended up in Bodega Bay or wherever it was, which was less stigmatizing than being sent to the loony bin.

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38 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

 

Rumor has it that as soon as they clean up all of that bird poo,  the 5 of them all lived together until the daughter went off to college in San Fran.

 

where she was knee-deep in human poo

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11 minutes ago, drednm said:

As I said. I wasn't implying any kind of sexual thing, but Hedren finally gets her mama, and Tandy gets someone (assuming she marries Taylor) who won't abandon her. Pleshette was never going to fill that "arm hunger" Tandy was plagued with.

Hey, wait a minute ... Tandy marries Taylor?  Where the hell was this film made, West Virginia?

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I always figured she was just a bitter old coot and something of a small town

hick who didn't like fancy girls from the big city. Not a lot of likable characters

in this flick. I'm rooting for the birds. 

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16 hours ago, drednm said:

As I said. I wasn't implying any kind of sexual thing, but Hedren finally gets her mama, and Tandy gets someone (assuming Hedren marries Taylor) who won't abandon her. Pleshette was never going to fill that "arm hunger" Tandy was plagued with.

You may not have intended it to, but your post did come off that way.

I thought too, maybe you were going to bring up the whole silly BEN-HUR "Ben and Messala were gay!" thing again.

I'd also point out that IMHO, movies that portray strong bonds among old friends, or as in the case of THE BIRDS, newly  forming bonds of friendship aren't movies  would refer to as "love stories", subversive OR otherwise.

Sepiatone

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I said specifically I was not talking about sex in my original post. And I've never written anything about Ben and Massala. I was merely offering an interesting take (yes, it's my opinion only) on the psychology of two characters in a fascinating film. As with most Hitchcock films, there's a lot of subtext going on beneath the main story. That's what makes his film's so watchable so many times. The characters in Vertigo, Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, Rebecca, etc. have an awful lot going on on a subtextual level. Hitchcock was brilliant!

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Very interesting post@!

Some wonderful female stars in this film ( the men seem sort of "dim" in comparison ).

The anxious mother who Tippi Hedren slaps (doreen lang)

the ancient bird-watcher (ethel griffies)

and, of course, the delectable SUZANNE PLESHETTE.

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1 hour ago, papyrusbeetle said:

Very interesting post@!

Some wonderful female stars in this film ( the men seem sort of "dim" in comparison ).

The anxious mother who Tippi Hedren slaps (doreen lang)

the ancient bird-watcher (ethel griffies)

and, of course, the delectable SUZANNE PLESHETTE.

 

Don't forget the bird-like bird shop owner (Ruth McDevitt)

and the waitress screaming out orders for fried chicken (Elizabeth Wilson) in the middle of Mrs. Bundy's spiel about how birds are our friends.....

 

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That's true. The men in the story are all rather dim. Rod Taylor seems pretty much like a wet dishrag of a lover. The cafe has the drunk yelling about killing the birds (Karl Swnson), the salesman in a hurry (Joe Mantell), the know-nothing sea people (Charles McGraw as Sholes the fisherman and Doodles Weaver as the boat rental guy). Then there's the postmaster with the New England accent (John McGovern) who has no clue what "the little Brenner girl's" name is, and the dim town cop (Malcolm Atterbury). The cafe owner Deke (Lonny Chapman) defers to Mrs. Bundy as the know-all).

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9 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

You may not have intended it to, but your post did come off that way......... in the case of THE BIRDS, newly  forming bonds of friendship aren't movies  would refer to as "love stories", subversive OR otherwise.

Especially when the word "subversive" is slipped in there for the purpose of directing reader instincts toward an unwholesome interpretation.

Manipulative mischief - it's fun, ain't it.

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7 hours ago, drednm said:

That's true. The men in the story are all rather dim. Rod Taylor seems pretty much like a wet dishrag of a lover. The cafe has the drunk yelling about killing the birds (Karl Swnson), the salesman in a hurry (Joe Mantell), the know-nothing sea people (Charles McGraw as Sholes the fisherman and Doodles Weaver as the boat rental guy). Then there's the postmaster with the New England accent (John McGovern) who has no clue what "the little Brenner girl's" name is, and the dim town cop (Malcolm Atterbury). The cafe owner Deke (Lonny Chapman) defers to Mrs. Bundy as the know-all).

Yep, AND don't forget about the dunderheaded guy whose only scene in this flick is stepping out of his red Plymouth, somehow doesn't smell all the gasoline that's flowed around his car, and then lights up his cigarette!

(...now, talk about "DIM"!!!)

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Rod Taylor's character preferring iceberg cold Tippi Hedren to warm, sensual Susanne Pleshette. What more proof do you need that this guy got severely short changed in the brains department when he was born?

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16 minutes ago, Dargo said:

Yep, AND don't forget about the dunderheaded guy whose only scene in this flick is stepping out of his red Plymouth, somehow doesn't smell all the gasoline that's flowed around his car, and then lights up his cigarette!

(...now, talk about "DIM"!!!)

Well that dunderhead was responsible for the Feds mandating that all gas stations have signs that say 'no smoking'.    He is featured in the dunderheads-that-have-made-contributions wing at the Smithsonian.

 

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