THE BIRDS screens Saturday October 26th at 9:40 pm and Sunday October 27th at 6:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
, like the best films by
the “Master of Suspense”, holds up quite well for modern
audiences. Well, that's about half true.
THE BIRDS begins with a
painfully stupid “meet cute” between well-to-do party girl
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and ruggedly handsome attorney Mitch
Brenner (Rod Taylor). Mitch has evidently met Melanie before, and
didn't care much for her devil-may-care jokester ways, so he turns
the tables on her by pretending to mistake her for a salesperson at a
pet store where he has come to buy a pair of lovebirds for his
sister. Despite acting as though she is upset by this ridiculous
ruse, Melanie comes down with a serious case of the hots for Mitch.
Using the kind of stalker skills
necessary before the advent of the internet, Melanie finds out that
Mitch lives in Bodega Bay, California and, pair of love birds in tow,
sets off to leave the feathered pets as a practical joke of her own.
Once having accomplished this task Melanie makes her getaway, but is
attacked by a seagull before she can get very far. Luckily Mitch has
spotted her by this time and, in his super suave fashion, invites
Melanie to stick around for dinner with him, his controlling mother
Lydia (Jessica Tandy), and sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright).
Basically we spend an hour on
this unappealing romance, with the presence of Mitch's ex, school
teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) not even adding much in
the way of drama to the proceedings, as she and Melanie become fast
friends rather than rivals. There are occasional bits of ominous
foreshadowing as one would expect from Hitchcock, but overall there's
more tedium than suspense. Once the avian assault begins in earnest
with an attack on a group of schoolchildren, however, the excitement
level picks up considerably. The viewer soon becomes so invested in
seeing how the characters will survive their predicament that the
silly contrivances that brought them together are almost forgotten.
The only other problem, and this
will be much more pronounced among younger viewers I imagine, is that
the special effects aren't very convincing by modern standards.
Almost everything is done using a rear projection process, so that
it's fairly obvious the birds aren't in the same physical space as
the actors most of the time. This is also glaringly obvious in more
mundane scenes such as when Melanie is driving her car or rowing a
boat across the lake. There's nothing cheap or shoddy about it;
that's just the way things were often done back then. That doesn't
change the fact that far too many scenes in the movie are
unconvincing, and it really brings home how lucky Steven Spielberg
was that his state of the 1975 art mechanical shark in JAWS
malfunctioned so much, forcing him to get by more with suggestion
than actually showing the monster. Still, the effects aside, the
second half of THE BIRDS
is satisfyingly intense and exciting for those able to see the film
in the context of its times and muster up the requisite suspension of
disbelief. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.