I've always known of this film, even as a little boy. There's a certain time of the year, every year, here where I live where hundreds and hundreds of blackbirds pack the power lines, bridges, etc., and are always cloaking the sky. My mother would always make the joke "The Birds!" in reference to this film. But now I've finally seen it. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel going into it. There are very few older horror films that are scary to people of this modern age. And after two let-downs in a row, I was starting to get nervous.
The Birds focuses on the daughter of a San Francisco newspaper mogul, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). She makes acquaintance with a young lawyer named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who plays a prank on her to get her back for something she had done in a courtroom a while back. This perks her interest, so she decides to return the favor by following him to his hometown for the weekend to deliver a pair of lovebirds for his little sister's (Veronica Cartwright) birthday, since his joke on her involved this information. While she's there, however, all the birds start acting funny and attacking the townsfolk, and they must barricade themselves inside to stay alive. The film also stars Jessica Tandy as Mitch's mother.
I liken the film to Jaws for a few reasons, outside the obvious "animal attack" genre. Both movies are roughly 2 hours long, and the first hour of each is more focused on character building and giving us the setting than anything else. Sure, both have minor attacks here and there, but it's mainly a slow build to the good stuff. Then, of course, the second hour has all Hell break loose. Both even have a relatively older person who is an expert on the animal in question.
First I'd like to talk about the first hour. It's strange, because I simultaneously really liked it but had issues with most of it. The character of Melanie is not a good person. In fact (much like James Stewart in the second half of Vertigo), she's a total creeper. She goes out of her way to stalk this man she doesn't even know, being vague about her reasoning, and admitting she doesn't know the guy or his family, but wants to know where they live--all the while with a smile on her face. Not to mention she tracks down his 11-year-old sister's school teacher to find out her name, then further admits she doesn't know her, but wants to give her a present. Tell me how that doesn't come off like a pedophile. And nobody in the town does anything about it. They might give her a strange look at first, but they just go along with it! Then there's the relationship between Mitch and his mother that comes off more incestuous than how they explain it in the film.
But after a while, the setup starts to become a bit much. Sure, I suppose almost everything was necessary to set up characters and whatnot, but there could have been plenty to cut down on. It didn't need to last as long as it did. Fortunately, it's not too dull. The relationship between Melanie and Mitch is fun and entertaining. Hitchcock also throws in some quirky humor here and there (I particularly laughed at one bit where she's driving like a crazy person, and the lovebirds in the cage are leaning left and right to match the turns). If there hadn't been the chemistry between the characters, I would have had a bigger problem with the first hour, but overall it seems to work.
Then the second hour starts and the real horror begins. Talk about freaky stuff. There were some truly terrifying moments in this film. I'll tell you what--I dozed off a couple times near the end (due to the time of night, not the movie itself), and I was still feeling the suspense and freaky-ness just hearing flapping of wings and other sound effects, which would startle me back awake and focused. That's how intense the movie gets (and all without a soundtrack!). And although the effects and/or how they filmed some of the bird scenes seems old or dated now, it's sure mind-blowing how he pulled it off for the early 60s.
If I found fault in any of the attack scenes, it would actually be in one of the most famous scenes in the film. Melanie and Mitch are in a restaurant as the birds start attacking, then she ends up trapped in a phone booth and watches the entire town being attacked. First, why the heck would over half the people in the restaurant run out onto the street when the killer birds start attacking people? Why leave safety for no reason? And then once Melanie is trapped in the phone booth, she knows the birds eventually stop attacking in their pattern, but she tries to open the door at least 3 times with birds flying right at her (and this is before they start breaking the glass). None of that made any sense to me. Stay inside!
Otherwise, the movie is pretty damn good. It's quite scary (in the same way Jaws is scary), the chemistry between the leads is good, and the effects are fascinating for the time period (I do know that he used real birds, though sometimes they were there and sometimes they were superimposed or something). If you like this kind of movie, and haven't seen this already, definitely check it out.