Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments: #96 - The Birds (1963)

By Eric Polk-
Author's Note-Reading the comments of my last review for Cat People, it was correctly pointed out to me that the movie on the list is the original 1942 version. I deeply apologize for the inaccuracy and will watch and review the original version in the near future.

The great thing about this is, I can watch and appreciate the horror movies that came out pre-Halloween. I've always believed that it is important to respect the contributions of people that influenced my favorite writers and directors because without them, horror movies probably would have taken a bland direction.

Which leads to the first of the movies on the list directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. With Psycho, he laid the foundation for the slasher genre. With 1963's The Birds,he set the stage for nature going berserk.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a young wealthy socialite who meets a lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), in a San Francisco pet shop. Mitch, looking to purchase a pair of lovebirds for his sister's eleventh birthday, pretends to mistake Melanie for a salesperson, which infuriates Melanie and leads her to inquire as to the reason for his behavior. He mentions a previous encounter that he had with her. Intrigued by Mitch, Melanie finds the address of his home in Bodega Bay, California. She purchases a pair of lovebirds and drives to and visits Mitch's house by sneaking across the small harbor in a motor boat, leaving the lovebirds and a note. As she is heading back across the bay, a seagull swoops down and inflicts a cut on her head.

Over the next few days, the avian attacks continue, as Melanie's relationship with Mitch, his clinging mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his young sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), and Cathy's teacher (who is also Mitch's ex lover) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) develops. The second strange bird incident occurs when Melanie stays for the night at Hayworth's house and a seagull kills itself upon hitting the front door. The next attack occurs at Cathy's party. Avian violence escalates when Lydia discovers a friend dead in his bedroom.

After another attack by crows at the school,

                                                               (WRONG CROW)

an argument erupts at the local bar. One resident believes the attacks are a sign of the apocalypse, but an out-of-town woman yells at them for scaring her children. An old woman (Ethel Griffies), an amateur ornithologist, insists that calling birds' behavior attacks is an exaggeration, and no bird species flocks and attacks. Despite her words, a motorist is attacked while filling his car with gasoline; he is knocked unconscious, and the gasoline continues to pump out onto the street. An explosion and fire result, and more deaths occur when there's another attack. While hiding inside the bar, the scared mother believes Melanie is the cause of these attacks. After this attack subsides, Melanie and Mitch find Annie dead on her front porch and Cathy crying at the window.

Melanie and Mitch's family take refuge in Mitch's house, boarding up the windows. The house is attacked by the birds and they almost manage to break through the doors. In the evening, when everyone else is asleep, Melanie hears noises from the upper floor and finds that the birds have broken through the roof. They attack her, sealing her in the room until Mitch comes to her rescue. Lydia and Mitch tend to Melanie, but determine she must get to a hospital. A sea of landed birds ripples menacingly around them as they leave the house but do not attack, aside from a few pecks. The radio reports several smaller bird attacks in nearby communities. Mitch drives the car slowly towards the road before picking up speed.

This film reinforces my belief that acting was soooooo much better back in the olden days. Everyone involved gave very convincing performances. While the pacing was a little slow(as expected with an early-60's film), there is surprisingly a fair amount of gore. The suspense is well, I truly believe this film should have ranked a little higher on the list but that's a debate for another time.

In an interesting side note, the screenplay was written by Evan Hunter a.k.a Ed McBain, the author of the 87th Precinct novels-my favorite detective stories.

No comments: