Monday, June 27, 2016

Repost: The Birds (June 28th at the Aut-O-Rama Drive-In)

THE BIRDS screens Tuesday June 28th at the Aut-O-Rama Drive-In on a double bill with PSYCHO.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

I would like very much to say that Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, 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.

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