There’s some very significant elements of the horror genre on show in The Birds. Ones that would only become commonplace in later years. The foremost is the random nature of the animal attacks. There’s no atomic disaster, biblical prophecy or voodoo at work here, the birds simply attack. The birds themselves however do telegraph their assaults on humanity to great effect, working especially well outside a school house; an (appropriately named) murder of crows steadily building to a massive numbers every time the camera turns to look at them. It’s a wonderful scene which is genuinely scary. Combine this with the unexplained reasons behind the attacks makes the birds seem to know something we don’t and puts humans on the back foot for a change.
It’s not all nice building of suspense however. Tippi Hedren is a stagnant actress, bringing absolutely no charm, magnetism or humour to her lead role as Melanie. Qualities that would be sorely needed by any actress expected to portray this deeply irritating character. Melanie is a woman of mystery, seemingly compelled to play practical jokes and follow whim into obsession. It’s such outlandish behaviour that we need some justification for this, or to have had the role filled by someone with much more charisma. The Birds comes up short however and Melanie becomes a real chore to spend time with.
The plot is also thinner than threadbare once we get to Bodega Bay. Characters come under attack from birds before seeking shelter and get into long, boring conversations about what to do and where to go. Rinse, repeat. The film also has a deepling disappointing finale, simply stopping rather than properly ending.
The Birds is not Hitchcock’s finest hour.
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