This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Birds, The (Collector's Edition)
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 28 March 2000
|Universal Studios Home Video
||Tippi' Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Ethel Griffies, Charles McGraw
PSYCHO had been such an incredible, unexpected hit in 1960 that Alfred
Hitchcock reportedly worried about how to top himself. He toyed with
several ideas, but began to focus on tales of animals taking revenge on
human beings. He was referred to Daphne du Maurier's short story "The
Birds," and found his next project. At Hitchcock's direction, the
screenplay by Evan Hunter discarded most of Du Maurier's story (already
dramatized on television), retaining only a seacoast setting and the
unexplained attacks by flocks of birds of all sorts.
The movie received far more publicity than PSYCHO had, probably become
the most-promoted movie in Hitchcock's career, complete with the slogan
"The Birds is coming." And it, too, was a smash hit, moving straight
into popular legend; even "Peanuts" referred to the movie.
Unfortunately, it's not really in the top-most rank of Hitchcock's
films; he fretted over the script and characterizations, and was right
to do so -- even if ultimately it didn't pay off. One problem was
linking the characters and their story to the attacks of the birds.
With his wartime movies such as FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, LIFEBOAT and
SABOTEUR, Hitchcock was able to connect the characters and their
interactions and personalities to broader issues, but he chose to offer
no explanation for the attacks in THE BIRDS. Without an explanation,
the only possible links between the characters and the bird attacks is
metaphorical, and that gets pretty fuzzy, since it's not entirely clear
that Hitchcock even chose to go that way.
The attacks themselves, however, are the highlight of the film. Each is
set up in a different way, each has its own rhythms and moods, and each
is vividly effective. There are few eerier scenes in movie history than
the one in which 'Tippi' Hedren, as heroine Melanie Daniels, sits on a
park bench near a school where children are singing a nonsense song;
behind her, in a series of cuts we see a jungle gym gradually fill with
hordes of silent crows.
In terms of characters, the story works itself out well enough, even if
the ending satisfies few, but it stands apart from the attacks of the
birds. In San Francisco, rugged Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) is amused
when wealthy, well-known playgirl Melanie Daniels tries to pass herself
off as a pet shop clerk. She's irked when she realizes that he has been
putting her own, so to retaliate -- she's famous for practical jokes --
she takes a pair of lovebirds to his home town of Bodega Bay, on the
coast north of San Francisco.
Mitch's possessive mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) is annoyed by Melanie's
arrival, though his much younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) is
glad he's showed up. Schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette),
who clearly had once been Mitch's lover, is of mixed feelings.
At first, there are just ominous comments about birds flocking in
curiously large numbers, but then Melanie is dive-bombed by a gull.
Dozens more attack the children at Cathy's birthday party; flocks of
small birds erupt from the Brenner fireplace. And on and on the attacks
continue, increasing in ferocity each time.
Some commentators have worked hard to find a link between Melanie
Daniels and the bird attacks. Are the lovebirds (which she continues to
carry with her) somehow masterminding these assaults? Or is it entirely
metaphorical? The film never does decide -- but for the most part, it
doesn't have to. It works as a thriller, even if one has a hard time
warming up to Hitchcock's latest ice princess, Hedren, whose first
name, he insisted, had to be enclosed in single quote marks. This is
one time where his instincts somewhat deserted him; the film would have
been more engrossing and frightening if the central character was
likable, instead of a spoiled rich girl who has to learn better over
the course of the movie.
Being that as it may, the bird attacks are tremendously effective,
Taylor is a good leading man, and Pleshette smolders gorgeously from
the corners. THE BIRDS may not be one of Hitchcock's greatest
thrillers, but it's a very good one.
It's been given outstanding treatment in this "Collectors' Edition" DVD
from Universal Home Video. The film itself is preserved in great shape,
shown in the right aspect ratio, the color balanced and the chirps,
squawks and screeches of the birds rendered in precise, clear Dolby.
The movie has no score, but you'll never notice the lack.
There's an excellent, lengthy brand-new documentary on the making of
THE BIRDS by writer/director Laurent Bouzerou. Many of Hitchcock's
colleagues, such as designer Robert Boyle and screenwriter Hunter, are
interviewed, as well as his daughter Patricia and actors Hedren, Taylor
and Cartwright. It's one of the best such documentaries available on
home video, and boy howdy is it ever thorough.
Other extras include 'Tippi' Hedren's screen test, in which she does
brief scenes from other Hitchcock films with a cooperative Martin
Balsam. Several newsreel clips of the day are included as well, which
are more interesting for seeing how promotion was done in the early
'60s than for their content, although Hitchcock's comments before a
press club are amusing. There's also a hard-to-operate link to the
Universal website which, in any event, doesn't turn up anything related
to THE BIRDS.
There are also the usual stills, bios, scene access, language options
and so forth. All in all, a handsome package. This is one in
Universal's "Alfred Hitchcock Collection." The director held rights in
many of the films he made for Paramount, including VERTIGO and REAR
WINDOW, and they ended up as the property of Universal, so this
collection includes a great deal more films (and better ones) than
those he made for Universal itself. The company is heavily trading on
Hitchcock's fame which, in some ways, might seem a little distasteful,
but his daughter doesn't complain, and the movies are becoming widely
available to those who want to see them. And the always
publicity-conscious Hitchcock would have loved that.
||many extras, described above
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||36-inch Sony XBR