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The Birds Movie Review

brenner mitch film melanie

1963 – Alfred Hitchcock –

About halfway through The Birds, Mrs. Brenner (Jessica Tandy) tries to recover from the grisly sight of discovering a neighbor's corpse with pecked-out eyes. She sits at home propped up in bed and reflects on the death of her husband three years earlier by quietly describing the way he could enter the world of their children and become part of them. “Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I could be like that,” she says desperately. None of the adults are like that deceased father: they are all so isolated, self-absorbed, and withdrawn as to seem by comparison dehumanized. The unexplained bird attacks that occur with increasing severity in the small California town of Bodega Bay, then, are in a way the worst and latest expression of life gone awry for these characters: Mitch Brenner, a lawyer (Rod Taylor) who spends every weekend with his mother; the widowed mother (Tandy) who clings to her son so that she won't be left alone; the discarded girlfriend (Suzanne Pleshette) who stays in the town she doesn't like just to be near Mitch. Another character, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), is introduced into the mix, a rich, aimless woman who pretends to be a salesgirl in a pet shop and who brings lovebirds to Mitch in Bodega Bay just to continue a flirtation.

The bird attacks shatter the false fronts of routine and conformity. They terrorize a children's birthday party, invade the Brenner house through the chimney, swoop down malevolently as children are taken home from school. Director Alfred Hitchcock coyly leaves their apocalyptic fury unexplained, but the suggestions seem clear enough. If Hitchcock had lived another five years or so, long enough to hear about the deteriorating ozone, the greenhouse effect, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and AIDS, would he have recognized in his story about the birds of Bodega Bay a foreshadowing of most of our millennial fears?

When screenwriter Evan Hunter published the memoir Hitch and Me in 1997 about his experiences working on The Birds, he cited his numerous dissatisfactions with some of the characters and with the ending. People who look at the film novelistically like Hunter will probably find the characters unclear since what they say often fails to suggest much depth. But people who look at the film cinematically (those who realize that character in film can be developed visually as well as verbally, an awareness surprisingly few novelists-turned-screenwriters share) realize that the deepest scenes in The Birds are the moments when words are absent or unimportant, moments when the visuals take over.

These are not always the times when the attacks come. One of the most interesting appears in the scene after the birds have swarmed through the Brenners' chimney. Amid the rubble of the living room, Mitch tries to explain to the sheriff what occurred. His voice is mere background chatter while Melanie observes Mrs. Brenner pacing the room and picking up pieces of broken coffee cups as if she were vainly trying to piece together again their lives. When she straightens the painting of her dead husband, a bird falls from behind the frame, and Mrs. Brenner recoils. The sympathetic reaction shot of Melanie speaks clearly for all those who hunger for substance beneath life's thin veneer.

Cast: Rod Taylor (Mitch Brenner), Tippi Hedren (Melanie Daniels), Jessica Tandy (Lydia Brenner), Suzanne Pleshette (Annie Hayworth), Veronica Cartwright (Cathy Brenner), Doodles Weaver (man at the boat dock), Charles McGraw (Sebastian Sholes), Ruth McDevitt (Mrs. Magruder), Ethel Griffies (Mrs. Bundy), Elizabeth Wilson (waitress in Tides Cafe), Richard Deacon (man in hallway), Morgan Brittany (girl at the school—billed as Suzanne Cupito) Screenwriter: Evan Hunter Cinematographer: Robert Burks Composer: Bernard Herrmann (listed as sound consultant; the film has no music) Producer: Alfred Hitchcock (unbilled) for Universal Running Time: 120 minutes Format: VHS, LV Box Office: $11M (shortly after its initial release).

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