Thursday, September 6, 2012


Like most people my age, the first time I saw The Birds was when it had its broadcast television premiere on NBC back in 1968. Then only 10-years-old, I had never seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie before, but he was familiar to me, if not by reputation, then most certainly by that corpulent profile featured so prominently on his weekly anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I knew he was a film director but my strongest impression was of his being “The fat Rod Serling,” or “The scary Walt Disney”; a household-name TV host in the vein of Dick Powell and Loretta Young whom I associated with suspense programs like The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and Thriller.
Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels
(always loved how "naturally" she holds that cotton swab to her head)
Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner
Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner
Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth
Veronica Cartwright as Cathy Brenner
Sir Alfred
My fondness for what in syndication was called The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The Unlocked Window” episode scared the hell out of me then and is still the one I consider the best of the series) combined with the kid-friendly, “Creature Features” accessibility of its title, made The Birds must-see television as far as I was concerned. And indeed, in spite of seeing it on a small black and white set with all those commercial interruptions, my first experience of The Birds was an appropriately terrifying one. Sure, Tippi Hedren’s lacquered San Francisco socialite inspired, no, make that invited, giggles, while Rod Taylor’s lantern-jawed “Let the men handle it!” heroics was a horror film cliché already wearing thin (if I had a dollar for every time a woman is told to go make coffee before, during, and after a disaster…), but for sheer tension and hands-over-my-eyes thrills, I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the cinema world of Alfred Hitchcock.
A class act in every way, The Birds was the first horror film I ever saw that didn't have the feel of the bargain-basement about it. Beautifully photographed, breathtaking special effects, suspense deftly metered; The Birds is simply a marvelous example of a thriller that understands how much an audience enjoys being taken on a thrill ride. Nowhere near as mean-spirited as some of Hitchcock’s other films (his Frenzy is one of the ugliest, most misanthropic films I've ever seen), I liken the experience of watching The Birds to being a participant in an adult version of the old “peek-a-boo” game one plays with an infant: I may get scared when the film goes “Boo!”, but I delight in the jolt and I sit there in gleeful anticipation of the next one, and the next one, and the next one.
And should Hitchcock’s predilection for fake-looking sets and feeble rear-screen projection mar this stylish enterprise with the cheesy-looking scene or two (I still can’t get over that sequence on the hill overlooking the children’s birthday party - it looks like a set from a high-school production of Brigadoon); or Evan Hunter’s script occasionally defy the normal patterns and rhythms of human speech; The Birds ultimately more than makes up for it in the near-genius technical rendering of the bird attacks and the kind of virtuoso storytelling that’s becoming all-too-rare in films today.

Throughout its evolution from late-career Hitchcock embarrassment, to affectionately derisible camp classic, straight on through to its current revisionist acceptance as a masterpiece of suspense and terror, The Birds has never once ceased being a favorite of mine.
Torch-Carryin' Annie has to listen to the Effortlessly Elegant Melanie make inroads with 
The Man That Got Away
I've not devoted much space on this blog to writing about some of the more popular and well-known films that rank among my favorites (for example: The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane). This having to do with a sense that these titles are somewhat oversaturated subjects of cinema analysis and a nagging uncertainty that I have anything new to add to the dialog. On that topic, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds certainly fills the bill (a little ornithological humor there…heh, heh), what with everybody from François Truffaut to Mattel® to Camille Paglia weighing in on the film over the years. But after a recent glut of cable TV airings and one particularly laugh-filled evening watching the movie at home with my partner, I’ve decided that The Birds is a movie too near and dear to my heart not to be included in this, my internet film diary.
The plot of The Birds is so well-known it doesn't even require summarizing. The fan and casual viewer is just invited to settle down and enjoy the ride, perhaps indulging in a little "Spot the Hitchcock trademark" as the film unspools. I think all of them are present: the icy blonde, the suggestive banter, the sinister brunette, the precocious child, the female in eyeglasses, the glib discussion of murder, the domineering mother, the victimized female.

If that's not to your liking, you can ponder non-pertinent, yet nagging elements like: that scary portrait of Mitch's father (he doesn't look like a man who "had the knack" of entering into a kid's world). Or maybe the huge discrepancy in age between Mitch and his sister, Cathy (the wonderful Veronica Cartwright, stealing scenes even then!). Or why those two little moppets being traumatized at the diner aren't in school.  And while you're at it, ask yourself why Annie Hayworth's class is the only one held in that big old schoolhouse. Don't they have teenagers in Bodega Bay?

We’ve all seen it or heard stories: A woman walks past a man -- man makes a comment (usually vulgar) about her attractiveness. Said woman ignores both comment and commenter only to find herself the object of a stream of hurled invectives from the man, all blatantly contradicting his earlier “compliments.” Standard operational procedure in misogyny: man places woman on fetishized pedestal only so he can knock her off of it. In many ways, The Birds plays out like the world’s most expensive and elaborate ugly-guy revenge fantasy against beautiful women (a mantle taken up several decades later by Joe Eszterhas with the craptastic Showgirls). There are times when it feels as if Hitchcock devised the entire multi-million production for the sole purpose of mussing Tippi Hedren’s meticulously sculpted coiffure.
Haters Gonna Hate
When it comes to disapproving glares from strangers,
Melanie Daniels doesn't have any fucks to give

Not since an excitable James Stewart ran obsessively roughshod over Kim Novak’s shopping spree in Vertigo can I recall a movie preoccupying itself so all-consumingly with a woman’s appearance. The first hour or so of The Birds is a virtual valentine to all things Tippi. Hitchcock records her in loving closeup, ogling long shots, and to the adoring exclusion of all else that’s going on around her. And when she’s not being subjected to the camera obscura equivalent of a wolf-whistle, The Birds makes sure it captures every leering, appraising gaze she draws from the males she crosses paths with.

But of course, the glamorization/objectification of leading ladies is nothing new. What makes The Birds the perverse and ultimately camp-prone curiosity it is, is the degree of enthusiasm with which the film approaches the task of dismantling all that it has so meticulously set up. Hedren’s Melanie Daniels is involved in each of the film’s recorded bird attacks and seriously gets the worst of it in the by-now-classic finale, but the movie doesn't ask that we relate to her character so much as hope that each successive attack will knock a bit of the starch out of her.
By the end, when the self-assured, independent, and superciliously smug Melanie Daniels from the early scenes has been reduced to a cowering, needy, child/woman, I have the nagging feeling that the film (Hitchcock) views this as some kind of triumph. As if Melanie needed something to jolt her out of her smug self-assurance, and her breakdown has ultimately reawakened her humanity and made her more worthy of compassion. While there’s no arguing that Melanie was a bit of a pill before, was it really necessary to strip her of all of her spirit to make her into a sympathetic character?

It sounds very ungallant of me to say so, but a great deal of the enjoyment I’ve derived from The Birds over the years has been at Ms.Hedren’s expense. To be fair, it must be said that it’s difficult to tell whether I'm responding to the limitations of the actress herself or the made-to-look-ridiculous-on-purpose character of Melanie Daniels. 
Venus in Furs
Melanie Daniels' high-style glamour is made to look absurd when contrasted
with the more practical environment of Bodega Bay
I've always been fascinated by Tippi Hedren's hands in this film. Her tapering long fingers and ostentatiously elegant gestures involving a pencil, cigarette, or telephone cord make for some of the most unintentionally sensuous footage Hitchcock has ever shot.
In either event, it's nice to report that the years have been kind to both Hedren and The Birds. Looking at the film today, one is made aware of how difficult a role it must have been, and I find myself admiring Hedren's performance more and more. She is limited, to be sure, but in several scenes (such as Melanie's first encounter with the suspicious Annie Hayworth) Hedren displays a marvelous subtlety. If you don't believe me, try watching the French dubbed DVD of The Birds (if you're like me, you already know most of the dialog, anyway). You'd be surprised how significantly Hedren's performance improves when her thin American voice (her greatest drawback) is replaced by a sonorous Gallic one.

After all these years, the scene of the bird attack at the Tides Cafe is as powerful as the first time I saw it. It is one brilliant, breathtaking piece of filmmaking! I tell you, no amount of expensive CGI wizardry is ever going to take the place of simple creativity and knowing how to use the visual medium of film to tell a story. I hate bandying the word "genius" about, but Hitchcock hit it out of the ballpark with this sequence. For me, it beats the shower scene in Psycho. (Although this scene never made me need to sleep with the lights on.)

If in this post I sound guilty of succumbing to the kind of revisionism that spins vintage cinema straw into nostalgia-laced gold, it's only because I've been around long enough to have taken note of what I perceive to be a certain downward trajectory in films. In the independent/foreign-film-influenced days of my youth, it was generally assumed that movies like The Birds were on their way out, and it was fashionable to mock their solid, old-school (read: Establishment) professionalism. 
In this shot from the opening scene of The Birds, the traffic signal indicates WALK, but on the right of the screen, you can see a strong-armed "extra wrangler" preventing a clearly befuddled little old lady from crossing the street and spoiling Hitchcok's introduction shot of his leggy star, the lovely Ms. Hedren. I told you I've watched this movie a lot. 

Jump ahead to the present day. We now have an industry run by lawyers and populated with techno-geeks churning out obscenely expensive comic book movies and CGI video games disguised as films for a subliterate demographic that bullies the boxoffice through their Twitter accounts. 

All of a sudden, old-fashioned things like story, character, pacing, and maturity seem positively revolutionary. I've always liked The Birds, but I never considered it a classic. I think that opinion has changed. I don't think there's a director working today who can pull off what Hitchcock does in this flawed masterpiece, I really don't. It's a movie both smart and silly that never once falls prey to what is near-standard in horror films today: stupidity. It takes its time, it gets us to care about its characters, and the power of the shock effects comes from our engagement in the narrative. The Birds is not Alfred Hitchcock's best film by a long shot, but its obvious skill, artistry, and simple entertainment value make much of what passes for motion pictures today look like chicken feed.

A couple of terrific essays on Hedren and "The Birds" can be found HERE at the site of fellow blogger, Poseidon's Underworld.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2012


  1. Fascinating comments there, I too can watch The Birds endlessly. I love the banter between Mitch and Melanie, how she dials the telephone with her pencil, that first shot on the street in San Francisco which follows her and then by that very neat edit as we pass the newsagent kiosk we are on the set for the pet shop .... "back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels". and yes the fetishing of Tippi with the green suit, bag, gloves, accessories, coiffed hair etc. It really doesn't need a remake - how could they improve it? (even if George Clooney and Naomi Watts names are bandied about...).
    The DVD has fascinating extras too of Tippi's commercials that attracted Hitch initially, and her screen tests - he employed Martin Balsam to play scenes with her. Also included is a deleted scene of Melanie in her nightdress talking to Mitch that morning when Lydia drives to see the neighbour.
    Hitchcock really began attacking women around this time: Leigh in Psycho, Tippi is attacked by the birds as is Annie (fatally) and Lydia gets the stuffing knocked out of her too ... then of coourse there is Marnie's rape - and those salacious murders in Frenzy ...
    But Vertigo is now the number one film of all time, replacing Citizen Kane, in the "Sight and Sound" poll they do every 10 years and Hitch is revered all over again.
    The forthcoming BBC film "The Girl" with Sienna Miller playing Tippi will apparantly show the revered director as a sex pest. Tippi at 82 looks marvellous and has been here in London recently for a screening of the new film, and also at an outdoor screening of The Birds. I could watch it again right now ...

    1. Hi Michael
      Yes that bird shop sequence has a lot of great dialog and interplay between Melanie and Mitch. In fact, I like all of their scenes together. Even the ones that most people feel bog the film down.
      I too really do love all the extras on the DVD as well(great that you have what sounds like the same release in the UK)though I suspect a Blu-Ray is either already out or in the offing.
      As you point out, Hitchcock is suddenly very "hot" again what with the "Vertigo" rating and dueling TV and theatrical films about him coming out (a remake of "The Birds" excites me less...lousy track record with remakes lately). I've liked the clips I've seen of "The Girl" and it's been eye opening hearing Hedren speak with more candor about her time with Hitchcock.
      You sound like me: finding many isolated things within "The Birds" that makes it so watchable despite it not being the most perfect film ever made. Thanks for your comments, Michael!

  2. Excellent post Ken! Sadly as much as I appreciate how iconic The Birds is, how wonderful the directorial touches and tricks to scare are, how gripping those moments are, how beautiful it all looks...a good deal of the film still leaves me a little cold. I just wish I liked it more really, but then I could say that about a lot of Hitch.
    Seconding what Michael has already posted I'm really looking forward to 'The Girl' here on BBC2 with Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. Indeed, far more than I am looking forward to Anthony Hopkins tackle the same material for Hollywood.
    Love the little touches here, like spot the extra!

    1. Hi Mark
      Perhaps when you get to be my age your opinion about "The Birds" will change. I say that because all though my 20s and 30s i really considered it one of his worst films and strictly fodder for camp humor viewing (even went to a theatrical staging of it that was played for laughs). Then somewhere around the time they started releasing all of these terrible CGI disaster films (Armageddon, Independence Day, Poseidon) everything I thought was cheesy about "The Birds" began to look better. Who knew?
      However, something tells me that won't happen with Hitchcock's "Topaz"...just the worst.
      That BBC2 movie does look very interesting, I must say. Kind of funny how the public has developed a fetish for a director known for inserting his own fetishes in each of his films. Thanks for saying Hi, Mark!

  3. "We now have an industry run by lawyers and populated with techno-geeks churning out obscenely expensive comic book movies and CGI video games disguised as films for a sub-literate demographic that bullies the boxoffice through their twitter accounts." AMEN.

    "The Birds" is not my favorite Hitchcock and for years my take on it was that it was solid entertainment but not a classic. These days I see it as Hitch's last classic, and you make a great case as to why.

    So now Toby Jones and Anthony Hopkins will be attempting Hitchcock at the same time? A very fine actor, Jones went pretty much unnoticed when he and Philip Seymour Hoffman tackled Capote at the same time a few years ago.

    1. Hi Eve!
      I love that you jogged my memory about Toby Jones having portrayed Capote in the same year as Philip Seymour Hoffman some time back! Now he's set to suck from the same biographical lemon as Anthony Hopkins with Hitchcock...poor guy can't get a break. At least his TV version will come out first and not suffer from comparisons as the Capote film did.

      I'm not really fond of revisionist thinking when it comes to movies, but, almost as a surprise to me, "The Birds" has come to look so much better the older I get. As one contemporary filmmaker after another falls flat on their faces trying to get even a passably decent thriller to work, I've come to respect Hitchcock's handling of "The Birds." As you say, it really IS his last classic!
      Thanks very much for commenting, and all us "Bird-brains" are happy you've come over to our side, even if it was with a little reluctance!

  4. God, I enjoyed reading this! When you asked if you could link my page to your own Birds post I thought, "What Birds post?" because I knew I'd read all of your essays. So I was delighted to come here now and see this. I love how we both chose the same quasi-menacing shot of Suzanne by the mailbox to put in our posts. As always, I find out more about a film - even one of my own very favorites - by coming here. Your insights are so right on... And the old biddy trying to totter out into Hitch's frame (which was surely storyboarded to death and did NOT include her!) cracks me up!!!!!! Bravo!

    1. Hi Poseidon
      I'm glad you enjoyed this post, but I honestly got more laughs out of yours. So funny how we both focus on similar things (like that great shot of Pleshette at the mailbox), but you also call witty attention to things I like that I wanted to put into my post (your dislike of kids in movies mirrors my own, so there is a weird comic element to having them be the target of bird attacks twice). I also love your taking note of Hedren's hairstyle being " a testament to the wonders of Aqua Net."
      "The Birds" is a strange film in that you can have a lot of fun at its expense, yet still respect it in the morning.
      And yes, if that poor old lady wasn't in the storyboard, out she must go! Thanks so much, Poseidon!

  5. Thanks again for linking to mine. Your analysis has more depth and covers everything I feel about The Birds and the fetishing of Melanie. I am now looking forward to re-discovering Marnie again, that too after being rather dismissed initially - all those obvious backdrops - is also now a very rich complex film.

    I was totally stunned by seeing Psycho again too after a disance of maybe 20 years. You think you know a film inside out and are then transfixed all over again, I had forgot that how marvellous that soundtrack by Herrman is, its not all screaming violins! and Leigh is such a commanding presence here. Hitch just told her what he wanted from her and let her devise the character herself, and they dressed her in ordindary clothes a secretary would wear.

    Its marvellous too see how fetishised Eva Marie Saint is when Hitch turns her into the sleek Eve Kendall, again one could watch her scenes, like on the train, endlessly - and its all wrapped up in the last minute as she dangles from Mount Rushmore wearing of course her white gloves!

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks very much. I don't know that my analysis has more depth so much as it's windier, but we do seem to enjoy similar things about "The Birds." I hope you write about "Marnie" on your blog. They've been playing it a lot on cable TV here.
      "Psycho" certainly still stands up, and for me, Janet Leigh's performance is the best of her career. She makes a bigger impression with me than Anthony Perkins.
      And indeed, if anyone has any doubts as to what a"Hitchcock blonde" is, his transformation of the heretofore, rather down-to-earth Eva Marie Saint is proof positive. She's never looked the same before or since! Absolutely gorgeous in a kind of scary "Stepford Wives" way (he makes her look so much like Kelly and Hedren it's almost mechanical). I have to see that film again, I had no idea she was wearing gloves in that final scene! White ones yet!

  6. "...Frenzy is one of the ugliest, most misanthropic films I've ever seen."

    Actually, I saw "Frenzy" earlier this year at the cinema--I enjoyed it immensely! The acting really was quite superb, and it kept me engaged right until the final scene, plus I love the fact that it's all very English. It far exceeded my expectations. However, I do realise that a lot of people are extremely uncomfortable in watching it. It's certainly from the "not for everybody" school of cinema.

    1. Hi Mark
      Yeah, I think a lot of folks would be divided on this. I'm glad you saw it and enjoyed it, though. It's certainly worthwhile viewing to appreciate the full trajectory of Hitchcock's career.
      Personally, it just left me feeling kind of sad for the kind of man who could create such a thing. So much bile and vitriol directed at women and humankind that I perceived between the lines...made it one of the more disturbing evenings at the theater I can recall.

  7. The Birds is not my favorite Hitchcock, but I enjoyed your take on it and how it's changed for you over the years. And your point about Hitch's hostility towards Melanie/Tippi is telling, beginning right from the pet shop opening, with Rod Taylor humiliating her--and not for any personal reason either. The plot seems to set up Melanie deliberately to be knocked down, face ground into the dirt (it's what I also don't like about The Philadelphia Story). And Hitch humiliated Hedren in real life, according to the Donald Spoto biography (it continued right on through Marnie). But Hitch could at least tell a literate horror story, and put the focus on characters, not on gross-out special effects. No doubt any remake will focus on the gore, which is NOT the point of the story. They really don't make 'em like they used to!

    1. I like the use of the word "hostility" because in all honesty, that's the feeling I get from Hitch's treatment of Melanie/Hedren (I love your reference to "The Philadelphia Story", a film beloved by many that is very-mean-spirited towards the female character).
      All that has come out over the years about Hitchcock's bizarre relationship with Hedren seems acted out in this and "Marnie." Now that Hedren feels comfortable in being more explicit about the forms the abuse took, I really don't doubt her.
      If you've ever seen "The Birds" screened in a theater, it's very true that a lot of the laughs are at Melanie's expense. "The Birds" is entertaining to me while at the same time intriguing in revealing a lot about Hitchcock I'm not sure was intentional. The title of the Molly Haskell book, "From Reverence to Rape" could be an encapsulation of Hitchcok's relationship with women in his films.
      Oh, and as for the remake, I'd lay odds that they won't spend as much time on character or relationships, and as you say, focus on the gore. Thanks for commenting and always offering food for thought, GOM!

  8. I love this post, Ken.
    I saw "The Birds" in its original theatrical run and remember vividly how upset everyone was by what was then a revolutionary ambiguous ending. The fact that there was absolutely no musical scoring also stirred a lot of talk.
    I was only 11 when I saw the picture and a lot of it went over my head, but that was true of so many movies in the pre-ratings era when kids could see films that weren't specifically intended for them.
    Me and my friends just walked to our neighborhood movie houses and saw whatever was playing.
    I am still amazed by the fact that my pre-teen moviegoing included my first encounters with "The Manchurian Candidate," "Lawrence of Arabia" and many more movies from that early 1960s era. I'm so glad that I grew up in a period when kids weren't confined to Disney cartoons and insipid "family" comedies.
    In "The Birds" Hitchcock paved the way for audiences accepting endings like the one in "Blow Up" and other late 1960s flicks (both art-house and mainstream). It was an end-of-the-world movie disguised as a glossy, beautifully made horror story.
    Thanks for triggering some wonderful memories!

    1. Why thanks, Joe!
      I like your recounting of the days when young people were able to see films that were perhaps a bit "adult" for them. Like you, a great many of the most influential films I've ever seen were ones I saw as a preteen. You were lucky to have seen so many classics.

      I can't speak much for family movies shown at the theaters, but if the programming of so called "family" TV channels is any indication of what's out there, the word "insipid" doesn't even cover it.

      I tend to forget that the ending of "The Birds" was so out of line for films of the time. I honestly can't imagine how frightening it all must have seemed to you as an 11-year-old seeing it on the big screen. it must have been amazing! I'm going to be seeing the remastered screening of "The Birds" this Wednesday, I can't wait to see how that Tides cafe attack looks on the big screen.

  9. You might be interested in our article on computational analysis of the Bodega Bay sequence from The Birds:

    1. For anyone interested in a computer breakdown of the visual language of the sequence where Melanie crosses the bay with the lovebirds, check this out. It's fascinating!
      However, after you read it, come back and explain it to me!

  10. Cripes! What a lovely writer you are. Came across this by accident - hope I can find it again to return. The Birds was never a favourite movie of mine - I remember going to the cinema on it's release to see it and being disappointed. Subsequent TV screenings have never changed my mind. But your write-up is superb - and I'd forgotten many of those actors in supporting roles (was that REALLY Jessica Tandy?)
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Alex
      Wow! What a nice compliment! Twofold, in fact. For if you could take the time to read some anonymous guy's opinion (that would be me) of a film you're not particularly fond of, I take that as the highest possible praise. Thank you.
      I tend to get a kick out of dissenting voices on films deemed "classics" by the populous.
      I remember back when very few people regarded "The Birds" as nothing more than a sign that Hitchcock was losing his touch. Now that it's hailed as one of his best, it's nice to hear the occasional person saying they never cared for it even after giving it several chances.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making my day, Alex. Hope you stumble on this blog again!

  11. Hi Ken,

    I don't think Hitchcock ever saw this as one of her masterworks. His stated purpose when asked was to scare the hell out of people which the film has the ability to do. I've never been ambivalent about it, I thought it was a fun, suspenseful movie the first time I watched it and still feel the same.

    I remember an incident , it was about 15 years ago now maybe even longer; time does move quickly, when I was working in a Blockbuster in DC. For some reason there were isolated bird attacks on pedestrians in the city, it was a brief period nobody was seriously hurt and they stopped quickly, no one was ever able to figure out why it happened. The movie of course became our number one requested title instantly and I can't tell you how many copies of The Birds we sold, we were ordering 50 copies at a time and selling them in a day for about two weeks.

    Anyway as much as I do enjoy Tippi and the strong jawed and rugged Rod Taylor for me as it is with many films I really find the supporting characters much more fascinating.

    In this one my two favorites are Jessica Tandy and her gravity defying hair. Her almost silent scene at the Fawcett farm in particular is a standout. My second and absolute favorite is the great Suzanne Pleshette. With her ashcan voice and tough demeanor, you just know there was no misbehavior in Miss Hayworth's class!, she steamrolls everybody else in her scenes right out of her way. I've heard that she had wanted to play the lead, as much as I love her she would have been as completely wrong for it as she was so right for Annie.

    About the part of Melanie I've read the list of other actresses Hitchcock considered there's only one that I could imagine in the part besides Tippi and that's Yvette Mimieux. Although she had a more fragile quality that Tippi and a less haughty demeanor I can still see her working well in the role. The others he considered were: Anne Bancroft, same problem as Suzanne, Sandra Dee, I just can't envision her in the role, too much of the coquette, Carol Lynley, Ugh! the mind reels what that marginal talent would have done to the movie and Pamela Tiffin, very pretty but too vague a screen personality to register in the part.

    I see you have a fondness for Veronica Cartwright which I share but in this she doesn't do much for me. Of the minor characters the ones who I can't get enough of are Doreen Lang as that crazy eyed mother in the diner-the woman consumes scenery with every word. Then there's Ethel Griffies as Mrs. Bundy, bird expert extraordinaire or so she thinks, she is so perfectly cast and of late I've found out the woman worked forever and was in over a hundred films & TV shows starting in 1917. My other fav and one of my best loved of all supporting actresses is Ruth McDevitt as the saleslady in the bird shop. With her chipped teacup of a voice and dithery manner she always perked up any movie I've ever seen her in.

    Lastly, I couldn't agree more about Topaz, it's by far his worst film. The only one that comes close is The Paradine Case for boredom inducement but at least that one has Gregory Peck to look at.

    1. That's a great story about the DC bird attack! I don't think there is a person alive whose mind doesn't go to this film whenever they see large flocks of birds.
      And yes, "The Birds" boasts a great many terrific character actors. My favorite is the bird shop lady. Such a memorable little bit. Thanks for sharing with us so many of your favorite film moments and performances!

  12. Have always loved ' The Birds ' , a favourite since I viewed it in ... was it really 1963 ? That makes me really old ! No-one could hold a pencil like Tippi ! Veronica Cartwright was the sister to Angela Cartwright ( the Penny Robinson of ' Lost In Space ' , my favourite telly programme : a corny but sweet & psychedelic show which only the 1960s could produce ) , & I continually confounded the 2 of them in my mind.

    I saw the 1-day revival of ' The Birds ' at my local AMC cinema. I have the ticket still & shall hold it up to the screen so you can see it. I'm sorry ? Oh, it's up-side down , sorry. There, right side up ! September 19, 2012. It was strange to see it on a large screen again after ? 49 ? years. ( The interview was interesting, too. ) Here's my DVD copy, which I'm holding up to the screen for you to see. I've always liked the film for its sense of foreboding of evil ; no-one could forebode like Hitchcock. Have driven to Bodega Bay & have seen the school-house & the downtown : similar to the film, save that Hitch used some special effects to increase the background housing beyond the bay.

    Thank you for your site ( stumbled across it at IMDb ) ciao ! -- Pearl

    1. Hi Pearl
      I have to extend my thanks to IMDB for bringing you my way. A more amusing comment (with visual aids, yet) I can't recall having ever having received. You are a true fan, and I envy you got to see it in the theater in 63. We're you too young to remember the publicity blitz of the time?
      I only remember the ads for the TV broadcast, and I was thrilled!
      Thanks for sharing your memories and thoughts on "The Birds". By the way, while no fan of "Lost in Space" I wave always gotten the names and personages of Angela and veronica Cartwright mixed up. It didn't help that the only Veronica I knew was Archie's sometime girlfriend (a brunette), which always made me think that brunette Angela Cartwright was actually Veronica...I see I've lost you.
      Thanks, Pearl.

    2. No, no, au contraire, you haven't lost me. I understand your point completely. In fact, back in the 60s & 70s, I used to buy Archie comics ( & Richie Rich & Donald Duck & Scrooge McDuck & Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck , et al ; everything save the superheroes, which did not interest me : for me, a hero was a sandwich ) . In fact, though I can't be sure & certaine, it's just possible that Veronica Lodge might have contributed to my confusion. I also knew a real-life Veronica, nicknamed Vickie, a real beauty, in the 60s, with short, medium-brown hair.

      Favourite circa-1969 Lost In Space joke : Q : Did they ( ie, the Robinsons ) ever make it back to Earth ? A : No, the men were driving !

      ciao ! -- Pearl

    3. PS : the wildlife & environmental movements began to really take off a year after the release of ' The Birds ' . Co-incidence ?

    4. & don't forget about the Casper The Friendly Ghost comics

  13. Veronica Cartwright, who played Cathy Brenner in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, is scheduled to appear at the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, Hunt Valley, Md., at the Hunt Valley Wyndham Hotel, Sept. 18-20. She will be attending a screening of the film, and will be available for questions, photos, and autographs. More info

  14. Few people have read Daphne DuMaurier's short story. It plays in rural Cornwall, England and during a winter so cold that it's a disaster in itself (and it is suggested that this weather extremity is a catalyst for the bird's evolutionary behavior) When I reread the story right after I finished it, I first put on a thick sweater...
    DuMaurier's characters are anything but sophisticated Bodega Bay tourists and inhabitants, they are farmers, and they have no time to roam pet shops for love birds. DuMaurier makes you feel that her characters are more scared of what is happening in nature than those in the movie. They just don't run around screamqueening on soundstages. It's actually a very sparse story.
    Some time later I read a few other DuMaurier novels and collections; mostly elaborate chicklits with thriller elements. It struck me how un-Maurier The Birds was. But in the early 70s it was one of the best and most chilling and gruesome horror stories I read so far. Or rather, doomsday stories. She really scared the hell out of me with her vision.
    Hitchcock's version is a hoot. Yes, it has masterful moments. and the birds manage to look threatening. But the whole story around fashion model Melanie and the well to do Brenner family and an ending in 'Fleeing to a safe future'-mode I found sickening. The film Don't Look Now was able to enhance thát DuMaurier short story immeasurably, but Hitchcock certainly did not enhance her Birds. I consider it a mere curiosity in his oeuvre.
    However; I read that Michael Bay wants to do a 990 million dollar remake. So what we'll get is a movie like The Swarm (about killer bees with Olivia de Havilland) upgraded to the hilt and with more pyrotechnics than in all Bruce Willis vehicles together. There are about 914 bird species in the US alone. I expect that Mr Bay's movie will star ten times as many. And pouty Scarlett Johansson of course.
    I got to admit, Hitchcock at least gave it his own unique stamp, There's nothing unique about Bay. Please pass the message on to him.

    1. I've read it Willem, and I think that partly explains my lack of wow for Hitch's adaptation. I read the short story before watching the film (though I recall the film being on TV in my childhood) and as such I think the film left me a little cold.
      Bay's involved in the remake, but not in the director's chair as the director is said to be Dutch film maker Diederik Van Rooijen. Its just Bay's production company that is stumping up the cash. From what I've heard it hopes to be closer to the original story with a return to the Cornish setting and potentially Naomi Watts in the lead role

  15. Mark,
    The problem is that for decades we were given horror movies with bee plagues, worm plagues, cockroach plagues, spider plagues piranha plagues, ape plagues and even sheep trying to erase mankind from the face of the earth. No one takes it serious anymore. So the scriptwriters will have to approach this one very carefully and with a lot of intelligence if they want the Birds remake to stand out.
    Cornwall? Forget it. It will be New York or L.A; disaster areas by firm tradition,
    Have mercy on the aliens who decide to shake hands with Man in Azerbaijan or Papua...

  16. Hi Ken,

    I just happened to stumble upon your blog recently while I was Google searching, and I have been gleefully reading through it almost daily. Just yesterday, I was surprised to find that you have my blog listed under your favorites and that you recently commented on my "Dementia 13" review. Thanks for the kind words! I have neglected my own blog for more than a year, but lately I have been thinking about revamping it and starting over, and your wonderful reviews have given me inspiration. It's amazing how much your taste jives so well with my own, including your affection for Shelley Duvall and for Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451."

    Getting to your review, I think you are so spot-on about "The Birds." It was also my first Hitchcock film (from it's endless TV airings in the 80s and 90s when I was a kid), and while I don't think it's top-tier Hitchcock, it is a film that has grown in esteem for me over the years. Perhaps my favorite scene is the argument in the restaurant just before the big attack. As Tippi Hedren and the diners argue back and forth about the plausibility of a bird attack, I love the way the framing seems to tighten, becoming closer and closer to the actors' faces, with the extras in the background staring intently, and the claustrophobia intensifying.

    As you say, it's also very interesting to speculate about the unspoken backgrounds of the characters. To me, what's great is how the bird attacks are totally separate from the romantic and familial melodrama that plays out in the first 20 minutes. We are sucked in by Melanie and Annie's romantic rivalry and by the whole Oedipal complex, when suddenly all of that becomes nearly irrelevant with the onslaught of attacks. It grounds the inexplicable nature of the bird attacks with a sense of realism that most other animal-attack films don't care to develop. In many ways, it's a strange film because so much is left without explanation. But those mysteries make it a compelling and immensely re-watchable movie.

  17. Hi Felix
    Yes, I'm not sure when I came across your blog, but (perhaps because so many of our tastes criss-cross and your comments are so well-observed) it became a favorite. Thanks for stopping by here!
    A bit of your keenness in extracting interesting things to ponder in a film is your noting how much time the film devotes to a plot and character complications that indeed become irrelevant once the bird attacks start. As much as this device thoroughly contributes to the effectiveness of the latter scenes, I can't think of a filmmaker today (or an audience) that would have the patience to let this happen today.
    And in your description of the diner scene, You point to why, even with its many flaws, "The Birds" is a film that survives many's so well-crafted!
    I do hope you resume your blog again.Thoughtful essays on film aren't as common online as I once thought.

  18. During the past 6 months, I've been talking with several people about Hitchcock's later films, & there seems to be an universal consensus that The Birds was the last true great Hitchcock classic. I know that I caught The Birds & all of the post-Birds films at the cinema, but only Torn Curtain & the final one, Family Plot, appealed to me ( though both are blurry in my memory ) . I hated the misogynistic Frenzy & have never revisited it ( almost did not view Family Plot but did ). I hated Marnie but did give it a 2d go on DVD ; as a friend of mine put it : unless you are a true believer in the religion & pseudoscience of psychology, there is nothing but tedious psychobabble & psychodrivel & a story about a man blackmailing a woman into marriage & then raping her on the honeymoon as so-called treatment. I have absolutely no memory of Topaz, though I know I caught it in the cinema. bye !

    1. I know what you mean about the erratic late-career output of Hitchcock.
      I find "Torn Curtain" watchable, but after seeing "Topaz" once, I too have absolutely no memory of it at all except the passing thought that for all of his obsessiveness over his leading ladies, he seemed to have a talent for picking the blandest, most forgettable male stars as he got older. "Frenzy" is indeed too misogynist, even by Hollywood standards, and "Marnie" should be a great deal more interesting than it is, but it falters for me so badly. Though no classic, at least "Family Plot" holds together.

  19. I just watched "Marnie" last week. A fascinating flop that deserves the Ken treatment, I think ; )


    1. Ha! Did you like it? It's such an odd film for me...maybe that will be the thrust of what I would write about. And indeed I would call it fascinating, too. The film takes itself so seriously in spite of sometimes appearing almost feverishly overstimulated. Love Diane baker, though!

    2. The only reason I don't write more is because I want to read what you have to say first!

      One thing I will say is that I am always fascinated by revisionist film history. Just as Joan Crawford is increasingly reviewed as Misunderstood Mommie, Marnie is a misunderstood masterpiece, and Tippi Hedren an intuitive actress. I don't really have a problem with that, because the public and media have a tendency to take things at face value at the time--such as when Marilyn's dumb blonde act was taken seriously and Monroe herself wasn't.

      But "Marnie" is so overstuffed on so many levels, it deserves Ken's LeCinemaDreams treatment!

      Cheers, Rico

    3. I'm honestly flattered that you would have a pre-interest in the "LeCinemaDreams" treatment of a film! That's always been my goal with this blog.
      I find revisionist film history to be interesting as well. It's frequently accurate, but just as often prone to ascribe all manner of accolades to some of the most run-of the mill product of its time. Actors included. "Marnie" has to go on my "to do" list. Thanks, Rick!

  20. Ken: I am just now reading this post, as a fellow cine-phile and Hichcock fan sent me the link. Excellent post- very perceptive. I love your take on Hitch building up Hedren's beauty and then tearing it apart.

    I also love your take on modern-day cinema and how money drives everything, resulting in films that are sloppy and devoid of true human sentiment, much less professionalism.

    I do think that "The Birds: is one of Hitchock's finest films. I wrote an article on the film a few years ago as well and thought you would enjoy reading it:

    1. Hi Tom
      Thanks for contributing such a terrific essay (which I recommend to any Hitchcock fan and fan of The Birds)! It certainly has become a film that looks much different to me now than when I was a kid. It really is a film that has improved with time.
      I'm glad you enjoyed this post, and I very much enjoyed your essay's well-taken points citing the film's love story (or lack-of-love story) as a major part of the effectiveness of the horror.
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  21. Hi Gregory
    Yes, you got it right. The first time THE BIRDS was televised was NBCs Saturday Night at the Movies. I can still hear the voiceover announcer and the clips they used as intro (that one of Hedren holding the cotton swab to her head being one of them).
    Sounds like you had a very good intro to Hitchcock in having three from his most "muse inspired" period become your favorites.
    You bring up some thematic elements in THE BIRDS I haven't heard anyone broach before. Specifically your take on the Annie hayworth character and the possibility of some kind of inter-farm romance for edgy Lydia Brenner (which is an amusing notion and really a fine fit. I never felt it myself, but on reflection, it's a valid personal interpretation that befitting film's ability to give different information to different viewers).

    And you're right about that Pepperidge Farm accent on the Bodega Bay guy. He could have stepped out of a Stephen King novel.
    Your affection for this film and attention to its details makes for an enjoyable read, as so many of your impressions I share.

    My feelings about Hitchcock's fondness for rear projection persists, however. They never struck me as careless or even sloppy so much as a logical extension of his storyboard perfectionism. Like Kubrick, Hitchcock strikes me as one of the most stagebound of directors, and I just think he'd rather have the technical control (and its attendant artificiality) rather than deal with locations, weather and variable light.
    But much like with dreams though, I think we as viewers are free to interpret practical, technical choices, with artistic ones. If it enhances our enjoyment of a film, as you said in a previous post, that's what the art of film is all about.
    Thank you, Gregory. You've always been very complimentary and gracious, and you've contributed to may posts with your insightful and heartfelt comments.

  22. "A class act in every way, The Birds was the first horror film I ever saw that didn't have the feel of the bargain-basement about it."

    Well said, and an excellent essay on a terrific movie.

    The screen captures are quite nice as well.

    1. How awful I'm just seeing this a full TWO YEARS after the comment was posted. But I'll say now what i would have said back in 2016: I thank you very much for the kind compliments and for taking the time to read my post. Such a generous comment deserved a more timely response of gratitude. Much appreciated.

  23. And this is a real town setting not a Hollywod movie studio setting there is a real Bodega Bay and the bird attacks are spetcaular way better then some dumb animatronic talking piggy movies like BABE or GORDY

    1. I agree.The real location combined with the seamless blending of real and fake birds really contributes to the spectacle of the bird attacks.
      Never saw GORDy, but I thought BABE was pretty cute.

  24. Hello.
    I have seen The birds several times on Swedish television and have Always been impressed of Tippi H. and that she is running down stairs, down the streets, climbing ladders, standing in a rocking boat, driving car Walking with grace etc. And all that in high heels! Thats what I call a real woman! Heels seems to be very rare theese days.

    1. Hello
      That's a great observation! Women always seemed to wear heels in those 60s films, even in the most inappropriate occasions for them. Here, Hedren's character is intended to convey a kind of fish-out-of-water inappropriateness in dress and demeanor, but I never stopped to appreciate how much "action" she engages in while wearing heels!
      And indeed, she does so very gracefully. A big contrast to when I watch award shows and she actresses either struggling with literal stilts on polished stages, or walking in heels as though they'd never worn them before. Prince always wore heels and was always quite graceful in them, but I understand they contributed to his back troubles, necessitating his pain pill addiction.
      Certainly gives me renewed respect for Tippi Hedren! Thanks very much for commenting!

  25. Hi, Ken.

    Not sure how I missed this great review before. Like one of the above posters, I'm very fond of the diner scene. I also think it's Tippi Hedren's best scene. This allegedly "limited" actress goes toe-to-toe with all of those great characters actors: Ethel Griffies as the nut job ornithologist, Charles McGraw as the fisherman, Elizabeth Wilson as the waitress and Joe Mantell as the hard-drinking, bird-hating, soon-to-be-incinerated traveling salesman. My only regret is that Hitch didn't include a shot of Ethel Griffies running across the parking lot, chased by killer seagulls.

    1. Ha! A parting shot of that ornithologist in the manner you describe would have been cathartic, to say the least! That diner scene does indeed stand out as a very effective one. All those terrific character actors collaborating on the scene seemed to up Hedren's game.
      Happy that you happened upon this post and doubly pleased you enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed reading your comments. Thanks, Kip!