Movie of the Week: The Birds

Spring has sprung here in Tennessee. The grass is greener, flowers are blooming, the sun is brighter when it’s not raining and the birds are chirpier outside my window in the mornings when I really don’t want to drag myself out of bed and go to work.

Ooh, those gosh-dang birds. Like most things in life and nature, they are nice until they are not.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, adapted from a Daphne du Maurier story, is one of those defining movies everyone should watch just to say they have seen it. Its slights of hand may be more apparent in the modern age of CGI, but you have to give respect to film that has been able to scar members of its audience for life– I once worked with a lady who had a fear of flocking birds thanks to seeing this movie when she was a child.

Melanie Daniels, a regular in the society pages thanks to her often uninhibited antics, meets lawyer Mitch Daniels by chance in a pet store. He mistakes her for a store employee in his quest to purchase a pair of lovebirds as a birthday gift for his young sister. She goes along with it and attempts to help him. His ignorance of Melanie’s identity is a ruse, he knows her from one of her more recent public indiscretions and minor legal troubles.

Mitch eventually admits to knowing who Melanie is after her bird knowledge is not quite accurate. He finds the joke amusing, she less so, but the two can’t deny the sparks. Chemistry or not, Mitch leaves and Melanie decides to buy the birds and deliver them to the lawyer’s home. A little getaway from the city sits right with her and she heads to Bodega Bay with the pair of lovebirds.

Once in Bodega Bay, Melanie does a little detective work and learns Mitch’s house is the one across the bay. She rents a row boat and secretly leaves the caged birds with a nice little note to Mitch. As she paddles back across the water, Melanie is injured by a gull in a weird attack. The attack is brushed off as a fluke– birds fly into stuff sometimes, and sometimes the things they crash into are people.

The attack was no fluke. It was just the first of waves of destruction to come. It’s not long before the birds (dum dum duuum!) flock together and attack Mitch’s little sister’s birthday party. The winged menaces are a veritable army of evil, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

The Birds is full of iconic imagery and moments. Who can forget the crows on the playground? Who can forget Tippi Hedren and the school children running down the street as birds dive bomb them to pick, peck and claw? Tippi Hedren in the phone booth? And what about the attic scene? It’s more than enough to make us all a little more cautious of our avian friends.

But The Birds is far more than a nature run amok movie. Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Evan Hunter (the legendary Ed McBain), populate their film with real characters. We are grounded in the real world before the story, steadily, submerges us into the realms of “what if?” and the horrific (this has been a major influence on me in my own work).

It’s a masterclass of drama and dread.