Monday, 1 February 2016

"The Birds" (1963) - A review.

Fig 1.

 The Birds” (1963) by Alfred Hitchcock, recounts the tale of the citizens of Bodega bay, as they strive to survive amidst mysterious and unexplained spates of bird attacks. Besieged by super-swarms of Crows, Sparrows, Gulls and all manner of feathered assailants, the players - the adventurous young socialite, Melanie, the deliberately dependable lawyer, Mitch, and his family - go about their maneuvering almost in spite of this. The Birds is particularly interesting in that it doesn’t start as a disaster movie, rather, it shares similarities with what we would associate with that of the romantic comedy, beginning in a quirky manner, we experience a contrived meeting between Melanie and Mitch in a petshop. Leading Melanie to hunt Mitch down via questionable means, until they are both reunited in Bodega bay, where Melanie is able to get closer to Mitch.

Fig 2.

The Birds, of course, is as much about the women within the film as it is about the titular disaster. Bishida SK Mamata, writing for the guardian notes that “it's women on the verge of a feathery freak-out, all the way. The message is that women (a) are all about men and (b) can't get along because they're so busy pecking and squabbling over men” (Mamata, 2010)  It is odd that the characters, particularly Melanie, are often times grating. Something you would assume would not be the case for what the viewer initially perceives to be romance, because ideally the audience needs to be able to like the characters being pushed together. Of course, Hitchcock’s strengths do not seem to be in his complex female characters, instead they seem to fill archetypes, be that either cunning, jealous, prone to squabbling etc. The Birds is particularly guilty of this type of portrayal, and this is seen in Mitch’s mother, Lydia - a figure that looms large in Mitch’s life, a shrewish character whose status as a widow has forced her to aim her energies at the family members she has left. Of Hitchcock Mamata states “I think it's safe to say that little Alfred had mummy issues” (Mamata, 2010) This odd perception is also seen in the character of Annie Hayworth, who is so hung up on Mitch that she has given up her life in San Francisco just to be near Mitch, after their romance comes to an end. In a provocative move though, as the film progresses we see a major change in Melanie's character, for she starts the movie as a headstrong and at times powerful character, for the plot is driven by her agency to begin with, but it’s almost as if in the increase of the bird attacks her agency is stifled, until the final attack which leaves her broken, in need of mollification. What is troubling about this is that it seems as though we are meant to dislike Melanie for having her own mind, yet towards the end she has been reduced to a typical screaming starlet, malleable and without strength. It is either a conceit, designed to draw our eye to this appalling stereotype, or a sign of Hitchcock’s perception of women.

Fig 3. 
In technical aspects, The Birds revels in Hitchcock’s filmic eccentricities; there is no discernable score, “the absence of a score renders the horror more immediate: Hitch's long-time composer Bernard Herrmann fashioned an eerie soundtrack from caws, strident screeches and rustling wings” (Sooke, 2015) This goes a long way in creating an almost emptiness to proceedings and culminates perfectly in that last, horrible shot; Leaving the house amidst the bird horde, silent, the tension palpable. Praise too for the camerawork, which is nothing short of brilliant, and the use of montage editing to suggest the malevolence of the aggressors, the speed at which they can gather and destroy. There is an abundance of trick shots too, 370 to be precise, it’s inventiveness keeping the tension on point regardless of the ludicrous conceit of the plot, cementing The Birds an ambitious film, and ensuring itself a memorable affair if only for its technical brilliance and not in its portrayal of women.


Mamata, Bishida SK. ‘What's wrong with Hitchcock's women’ theguardian.com [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/alfred-hitchcock-women-psycho-the-birds-bidisha [Accessed 1/2/2016]

Sooke, Alastair. ‘The Birds review, disturbing’ telegraph.co.uk [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11334674/The-Birds-review-disturbing.html [Accessed 1/2/2016]


Fig 1. The Birds Poster. [image] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/The_Birds_original_poster.jpg

Fig 2. Melanie runs from birds. [image] Available at: https://static-secure.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2012/7/31/1343750764971/The-Birds---Tippi-Hedren-008.jpg

Fig 3. Birds on house. [image] Available at: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/birds3.jpg

As an aside from this review, I was overjoyed to see Rod Taylor in something else. I've seen The Birds once before and completely forgot that he played Mitch. I've got fond memories of him from the original version of "The Time Machine" in which Taylor played the lead. If you've not seen it I heartily recommend it, it's got it all. It really has. Except uber-morlocks. They come much later on and are best avoided. Tut tut Jeremy Irons. Tut tut.


  1. Lovely review Joe :)
    Just be careful that the words you publish, are the ones that you actually mean - you say, 'beseeched' instead of 'besieged' and 'manor' instead of 'manner' for example.

    Good to see you recognizing the actor in other roles too :)

    1. Ah damn. That'll teach me for staying up late to write this 😅

      Thank you though. I'm really glad that people are liking these :)

  2. Yes, I enjoyed this review too, Joe - and I have a quibble: you write:

    *The Birds of course, is as much about the titular disaster as it is about the women within the film*

    but I think you mean to say: 'The Birds, of course, is as much about the women within the film as it is about the titular disaster' - because this phrasing puts them emphasis first on the thing you're about to articulate - it's a subtle quibble, but a quibble nonetheless! :)

  3. Cool, I've just edited the review to reflect your suggestions, hope you don't mind :) And thank you, also :)