Remembered as Alfred Hitchcock’s last signature movie, The Birds is an unusual experimental thriller succeeding the cult classic Psycho, and perhaps his last hurrah as a cinema craftsman. Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, the movie starts with the loud squawking of seagulls in the city of San Francisco. Cutting towards a rich socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), she is walking towards a birds store to pick up her order. A matter of coincidence, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) arrives at the same store looking for some lovebirds for his sister on her birthday. After a brief conversation, light yet powerful, Miss Daniels decides to take the lovebirds to Mitch’s sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) all the way to Bodega Bay after coming to know of Mitch’s standard weekend plans. With her wits tickling her to surprise the family, Melanie takes a boat ride to the Brenner house, and delivers the beautiful pair of lovebirds—along with a letter to Cathy before quietly stepping out. Just in time, Mitch discovers the birds, the letter, and her identity. When returning to the port through the same boat, a seagull attacks Melanie Daniels lacerating her scalp, thereby giving the movie the green light to a peculiar path of storytelling.
The advocates of the three-act structure might find the configuration of The Birds, unusual. A very slow-paced movie—moving with a methodical pace and spending almost the first hour in exposition, Hitchcock draws the characteristics of the characters, their attributes, and their strengths and weaknesses to elaborate the understanding of their psychology and stature, whilst also presenting a depleted tension almost akin to the gradual casing of snow on ground. The relationship dynamic functions as the pivot of the story. The domination of females in the movie, while Mitch—the only central male character—is surrounded by influential women, some vulnerable (Cathy), some insecure and distant, Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), while some wounded, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), and obviously, a new player in the scene—the charming and potential harvester of love, Melanie.
Alfred Hitchcock creates a plot out of the unfeasible—the forceful birds attacking the placid humans. Making an excellent convention of reverse psychology and drawing a metaphorical analogy, Hitchcock presents the ideal of humans antagonizing with other aspects of Nature using their ruthlessness, almost barbarian-like, in a completely reverse manner. In the movie, the birds channel the human instincts of unjust violence and pledge to eliminate humans from Bodega Bay—using the same unfair savagery that humans have since the beginning of human life. The Birds is one such masterfully created metaphor showing the conflict within Nature and the unified power of one sect turning the tides for the other sect of the same Mother Nature.
Hitchcock makes a distinctive use of sound and setting in treating this story as a horror movie. To my own puzzlement, I didn’t realize that the movie had no background score at all until halfway into the movie. The genius uses natural sounds and noises to create the effects. Any filmmaker would dread at such a technique in the modern day because chances are; it would fall flat and ruin the sequence. Not with Hitchcock, though. The sound of the squawking and cawing, the waves, and the environmental music serves as the background score giving the viewers a realistic experience in such a climate—without having to use a compositional background score.
In its absolute spirit, The Birds isn’t an outright horror movie. Not quite a horror movie, not really akin to noir or neo-noir films from Hitchcock’s heyday and later, The Birds is an unusual thriller, an experimental movie where the director experiments with the sound, the plot, the story, and the multiple-camera angles that has since immortalized the man and his vision.
Hitchcock directed five more movies after The Birds. In folklore, none of the five movies captured the thrills of viewers as his previous classics, prior to The Birds, had done. Very different to Psycho, Notorious, Vertigo, and such masterworks from the cinema legend, but an inexplicable movie in itself—where nothing much happens, but a lot could be said and taken. Open to multiple interpretations and a symbolically rich movie, The Birds has always been a curious study for film analysts, historians, critics, and makers. With that said, The Birds is a movie for every cinema buff. It’s a movie for those interested in learning cinema and its history. It’s a movie for lovers of Hitchcock’s vision; The Birds is a one-of-its-kind movie—the last from the great director.