Greetings again from the darkness. Sure, I have seen this film many times over the years, but just couldn’t miss the chance to see it on the big screen courtesy of Fathom Events and Cinemark. Many critics consider this to be Alfred Hitchcock‘s last great film, while a few dismiss it as a lark (get it?). Hitchcock is known for his sterling career of suspense films, though this one is really categorized as horror.
The writing pedigree is beyond reproach as it’s based on a story by Daphne du Maurier with a screenplay from Evan Hunter. Dame du Maurier is considered one of the best writers of the twentieth century, and you might recognize Mr. Hunter’s pen name – Ed McBain. He was quite famous for his detective stories (including the foundation for TV’s “Hill Street Blues”).
There are really two parts to the film. The set-up involves some playful grown-up flirting between lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). The scene in the pet store is a treat to watch thanks to the banter between two attractive, intelligent, confident people. The tie-in with the love birds for Mitch’s sister (Veronica Cartwright) is simple, yet brilliant. The extreme playfulness takes Hedren to Bodega Bay, California via her sleek Astin Martin.
Hitchcock includes his common elements of feminine mystique as Mitch Brenner’s world revolves around his omnipresent mother (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister (Cartwright), his ex-lover (Suzanne Pleschette) and now a new love interest in Hedren. There are some terrific scenes between Tandy (26 years prior to Driving Miss Daisy) and Hedren, but my favorites are those with Hedren and Pleschette. Pleschette was an underrated actress and is best known for her role in TV’s “The Bob Newhart Show”. Watching her face as Hedren talks on the phone to Taylor is classic frustration from an ex-lover.
The second half of the film involves the terror of the bird attacks. Of course, the infamous scene of the kids running down the street being pecked by birds will make your skin crawl, and the scene where Hedren gets attacked in the bedroom is horrific and sends her into a breakdown. I really enjoy the scenes with the townspeople in the café. Some wonderful interchanges as they each tell bird stories. My favorite bird sequence in the film involves the empty playground equipment slowly taken over by birds as Hedren sits on the bench. Great stuff.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the cast. Ms. Hedren (mother of Melanie Griffith) is still acting today (in her 80’s), though I have never considered her anywhere near the level of actress of other Hitchcock blondes: Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Doris Day, etc. Rod Taylor is also in his 80’s now and was last seen on screen as Winston Churchill in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Jessica Tandy had a long career and is best known for Driving Miss Daisy, and Veronica Cartwright went on to star in such films as Alien and The Right Stuff). The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces including a very young Morgan Brittany (“Dallas”), Malcolm Atterbury (as the Deputy), Ruth McDevitt (as the pet store owner) and one of my favorite actor names, Doodles Weaver (Sigourney’s uncle).
As you watch the film, you will notice that there is no traditional score. Instead, we are treated to an assortment of bird effects which cue us in to the level of danger. Hitchcock was always a master of guiding the viewer right along the path he wanted. This film has some unusual pacing and a few wide shots that are quite rare for his films. To me, it proves that he was always experimenting, yet with an innate ability to know how the audience would react. A true craftsmen.
** NOTE: Hitchcock’s cameo occurs as Hedren walks into the pet store … he is seen walking out with his two dogs
here is a clip of the playground scene – that’s the school kids you hear singing. Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the movie: