The Birds: Meeting Alfred Hitchcock

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I was saying to myself that I hadn’t written a movie review on my blog for a long time. I mean, a movie review that is not due for a blogathon. The other day, I was watching The Birds and it was probably my 20th viewing (kind of). So, I felt inspired to write a review. As a matter of fact, I will not only write a critic but will also, as much as I can remember, tell you how was my initial experience with this film when I first saw it or how it introduced me to the fantastic and mysterious world of Alfred Hitchcock films. Because yes, The Birds is the first Hitchcock’s film I saw (I have a feeling I’ve told you this before…)!

Alfred Hitchcock directed The Birds in 1963. The movie was based on a story by Daphné Du Maurier. It was his third and last film based on a literary work written by this author. Jamaica Inn (1939) and Rebecca (1940) were the first ones. It was also the first of two Hitchcock’s films starring Tippi Hedren. The other one was 1964’s Marnie. The film also stars Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and Veronica Cartwright.

Daphné Du Maurier
Daphné Du Maurier

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The Birds takes place in California. It begins in the beautiful city of San Francisco, but the main story is set in the fisherman’s village of Bodega Bay. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets the lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop. He remembers having seen her in her process for a ridiculous case, but she doesn’t remember him. She then is the victim of a practical joke and learns that he is there to buy lovebirds for her sister’s birthday. When he’s gone, Melanie, to prove him that she’s not who he thinks she is, decides to buy the lovebirds herself for Mitch’s sister. She finds out what his address is, but when she arrives at Mitch’s apartment, a neighbour informs her that he is gone to his house in Bodega Bay. So, Melanie goes there. Here, she meets the schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) who informs her that Mitch’s sister is named Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). She goes to the Brenner’s by boat and enters in the house incognito. She puts the birds on a table with a letter for Cathy. She has the intention to leave one for Mitch, telling him his Four Truths, but abandons the idea. Then, Melanie leaves and Mitch comes back to his house. He goes out immediately. We guess that he has seen the lovebirds. He takes a pair of binoculars to see who is in the motorboat and, with amusement, he recognizes Melanie. He then decides to go meet her. When Melanie arrives at the port, Mitch is waiting for her, but, suddenly, a gull attacks her. It’s with fear that she discovers that she is bleeding. Mitch goes down to help her and takes her to a coffee shop to cure her injury. There, Melanie meets Lydia (Jessica Tandy), Mitch’s mother. This one is kind of cold with Melanie and doesn’t seem to appreciate her. On the other hand, her daughter Cathy appreciates Melanie very much. This won’t be the only birds’ attack. All along the film, they will get bigger and become more frequent. Why are the birds acting this way? We’ll also discover how the relation between Melanie and Mitch will evolve, as well as the relation between Melanie and Lydia.

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With such a plot, The Birds may sound like a B-Picture. It could have been one, but it’s not. Why? Because it is a film of quality, with a care for good special effects (they were brilliant in 1963 and still are not so bad). The film was nominated for Best Special Effects at the 1964’s Oscars. It also was a long production. We know that B-movies are poor quality films and are normally shot in a short amount of time. We also have to emphasize the great work of George Tomasini who edited the film. I always thought that it was one of the most well-edited Hitchcock’s films, especially for the attic’s scene. This scene is impressive and scary, but this is due to the magic of a brilliant editing. However, shooting this scene wasn’t without danger. You probably know what happened to Tippi Hedren. She was told that this would be made with mechanical birds, but the day they were shooting the scene, she learnt that they never had the intention to shoot the film with mechanical birds, but with real birds. Well, I’ve heard another version saying that the mechanical birds were not working this day. The scene took five days to shoot. Of course, the birds weren’t really attacking Tippi Hedren, but it seems like they were because of the editing. However, when they were shooting the scene, a gull cut Tippi’s face with its beak and almost put out her eye. That was too much for the poor Tippi who shot “That’s enough!” when this unfortunate thing happened. She then had to rest for five days under the doctor’s orders.

What’s also very special about The Birds is the soundtrack. As a matter of fact, there is no music. The birds, with their screams, create the ambiance. The only “music” we hear is the song sang by the children during the school scene and the piano played by Melanie. The sound effects were led by the compositor Bernard Hermann. It was one of his last collaborations with the Master of Suspense. There’s a scene in this film where the birds attack the Brenner’s house. Here, the sound dimension becomes very important. I’ll explain why: just before the birds come back to attack, Mitch Brenner covers all the windows of the house with large wooden planks. All the doors and the curtains are closed to be as much as possible protected from the birds. Then, Melanie, Mitch, Lydia, and Cathy are waiting in the living room with anxiety for the birds to come, but they can’t see what’s happening outside! So, when the birds begin to attack the house, the four characters and us don’t see them, but only hear them. That’s an interesting scene because it makes us understand how the sound is important in a film and how it can be as much frightening as a moving image. Indeed, during this scene, only the sound itself, helps us imagine that the house is completely covered with birds. Except for the sound dimension, what’s also interesting with this scene is the fact that the house becomes like a large cage, but, this time, the humans are in the cage, not the birds. They are the prisoners that can’t escape, the victims. It’s a role reversal. The same metaphor is also used in the scene when the birds attack the coffee shop: Melanie goes in a phone cabin to be protected from the birds and this place also becomes a human cage. That’s what Hitchcock explained to François Truffaut in Hitchcock/Truffaut.

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Alfred Hitchcock didn’t want a big star for the leading role. Pamela Tiffin and Sandra Dee were on the list, but Hitchcock then noticed Tippi Hedren in a television commercial and wanted her for the part. I read on IMDB that Hitchcock originally wanted Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train) for the part of Mitch, but, due to Granger’s unavailability, he had to go with Rod Taylor. Today, this actor remains well-known for his work in The Birds, The Time Machine (1960) and Giant (1956). Jessica Tandy who plays the part of Lydia was better known as a stage actress. Years after The Birds, she received an Oscar for her memorable performance in Driving Miss Daisy. For Suzanne Pleshette, The Birds was one of her first motion pictures. Her collaboration with Hitchcock didn’t go so well as she was a method actress, and we know that Hitchcock was not very fond of method actors… Finally, Veronica Cartwright who starred as the little Cathy was first noticed in William Wyler’s The Children’s Hours, but, in The Birds, she has a bigger part. In my opinion, all the actors did a fantastic job. Their acting is well-balanced and convincing. I also have to say that, for a long time Tippi Hedren was among my 10 most favourite actresses. She is not anymore, but she still is a favourite. She has always been an inspiration.  I’m glad they cast Rod Taylor as Mitch because it was a good way to make us discover this great actor. He had a unique charm that I love.

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Hollywood best costume designer, Edith Head, designed Mrs. Hedren’s costumes. Edith was well-known for her beautiful work on eight Hitchcock films. Her most notorious ones were probably Grace Kelly’s costumes in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Melanie Daniel’s costumes in the birds were more simple. In fact, we remember this film for her famous green suit. This one is yes, simple, but also very chic and very classy. No extravagances were necessary for that kind of movie. I’ve always liked it. It remains me of Grace Kelly’s green suit in Rear Window.

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I’ve already told you how I came to watch The Birds in my article Why Do I Love Classic Films. It was my father who first talked to me about this film. According to him, it was a worth watching one, and it was! I shall never forget the first time I watched my first Hitchcock’s film. The suspense was intense and I was wondering what would happen with the birds but also to the human characters. Hitchcock indeed explained to François Truffaut in Hitchcock/Truffaut that he made the film in a way spectators could never guess what was going to happen from scene to scene. That was successful. It’s also one of the films that made me discover classic films in general. I watched it twice the same weekend! Anyway, I simply thought it was a fascinating movie, entertaining, but brilliant too. I must admit that I’m afraid of pigeons, but that started before The Birds. Plus, there aren’t many pigeons in this film. Of course, watching it didn’t help, but I love it so much to stop. As a matter of fact, I always thought that it was very creative to use birds as a monster. Talking about creativity, I’ll invite you to watch this very nice trailer made for The Birds. Only Hitchcock was making such trailers!

Today, I consider The Birds to be my 10th most favourite Hitchcock’s film. Even if it’s not my first favourite, I think it’s a movie everybody should see. Not only because it’s iconic, but also because there are both very interesting narrative and technical aspects.

That surely wasn’t my last Hitchcock’s film review! And dear, be careful with those birds!

On the set of The Birds
On the set of The Birds

 

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One More Blogathon for August: The Anti-Damsel Blogathon

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I’ll be very busy this August with all these blogathons coming! Of course, I couldn’t NOT participate in The Anti-Damsel Blogathon. It simply sounded like a very nice one! Hosted by Movies Silently and The Last Drive-In, this blogathon will be the occasion for us to write about the great women of movie history, real or fictional ones, heroines, women with courage, the braves ones, the intelligent ones, etc. This is a blogathon to defy the idea that women in films are only “damsels in distress”.

When I made a list of ideas for this blogathon, one of them was quite appealing to me and I said to myself: “That’s it, that’s my subject!”. So, I’ve decided to write about Lola Delaney (Shirley Booth) in Come Back Little Sheba. I think it will be a very interesting female character to talk about. Plus, it’s an excellent movie. Ok, I must admit I’ve only seen it once, but that will be the perfect occasion for me to watch it again!

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If you wish to participate in this blogathon and have more information about it, I invite you to click on the following link:

The Anti-Damsel Blogathon

See you later, alligator! 😀

A 2nd Liebster Award for The Wonderful World of Cinema!

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I couldn’t be happier for my blog: The Wonderful World of Cinema has already been nominated for a second Liebster Award! Many thanks to Robin from Pop Culture Reverie for that! Of course, I will now answer Robin’s 11 questions, share 11 things about me, nominate 11 other bloggers for the award and ask them my own 11 questions!

Robin’s 11 questions

1. What movie that is “not your kind of movie” do you like? (a movie that the people who know you would be surprised to find that you like)

Well, I’m normally not a fan of horror movies (except for Hitchcock’s films, that are not that much scary), but I thought Silence of the Lambs was an amazing film and it didn’t scare me THAT MUCH. Yes, it’s kind of disgusting, but I didn’t have nightmares after watching it either.

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2. What movie do you think would have worked better as a TV series?

Hum, I never really thought about this type of question! Maybe Hitchcock’s Topaz? One of the rare Hitchcock’s films I didn’t really like. As a film, it was too long, but it could have worked as a television show. Maybe.

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3. What actor or actress do you think deserves to be more widely known and appreciated?

They are many! But I’ll go with Nova Pilbeam, even if I have only seen two of her films (The Man Who Knew Too Much and Young and Innocent). Honestly, her movies are not easy to find. I think she is an excellent actress and I’ve always liked her. She’s one of my favourite child actors and deserves to be better known.

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4. What’s your favorite movie song?

Hum, I just LOVE movie music, so that’s hard to choose only one! I think I’ll go with Gunfight at O.K Corral theme song. It’s a song I love, definitely in my top 10 favourite songs.

5. What’s your favorite teen movie? 

Well, it doesn’t appear on Wikipedia’s list of “teen films”, but I’m sure we can consider Footloose a teen movie. Love the music and the dances in this film. A real entertainment!

6. What movie do you like that you think no one else has heard of?

I’ll go with Father is a Bachelor. I simply adore this film and it actually became my second favourite William Holden’s film. Well, there are probably other people who heard about this film, but not many. It’s not William Holden’s most well-known film. However, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a delightful family movie.

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7. What is the first movie you remember seeing?

Oh wow! That was probably a Disney film. Bambi, maybe?

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8. Who was your first celebrity crush?

Well, you know, there was my life BEFORE watching classic films. So, my first celebrity crush was unfortunately not a classical actor. I can remember who the FIRST one was, but I remember Peter Facinelli (who played Carlise in Twilight…yes, I used to like this film…) was one of them. It’s true that he’s not so bad looking. 😉

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9. What movie genre do you dislike the most?

Hum, I never was a fan of science-fiction, but like horror films, they are some exceptions and science-fiction movies that I like such as Soylent Green, E.T, A Clockwork Orange and some others.

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10. Which actor or actress who never won an Academy Award would you like most to have won one? For which movie?

My! Joseph Cotten, a truly talented actor, wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Such a shame really! He should have won an Oscar for his interpretation of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. He was just GREAT in this film and played the perfect villain.

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11. How do you choose the specific topics you write about? 

Well, it always depends. When I participate to a blogathon, of course, I go with the blogathon’s thematic. When I write actors or actresses tributes, it’s most of the time for their birthday. And when I write random movie reviews, that’s when a movie I’ve seen recently inspires me to write a review and I know I will have interesting things to say about it.

11 things about me

1. I have the reputation, in my family and my group of friends, to be one of Hitchcock’s greatest fans! I’m always in the mood to watch one of his films and, so far, I’ve seen 42 or 43 of them. Well, to know why I love that much Hitchcock’s films, I invite you to read this article: Why Do I Love Hitchcock’s Films?

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2. I was just talking about my first celebrity crush. Well, my first classic celebrity crush was Marlon Brando (and he still is one of my celebrity crushes!), but there was a time I was so obsessed with him! When I was going to sleep, I was putting a book opened to a page with a picture of him on the floor next to my bed. I couldn’t lay my eyes out of him!

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3. Talking about obsessions, before I started to be obsessed with classic films, my passion, my obsession was Madonna. Everybody knew me as the girl who was crazy about her. I still love her, but I’ve calmed down my nerves a little. Also, I’m not a fan of her most recent songs, I prefer much more her songs from the 80’s and the 90’s.

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4. French is my first language. Of course, I can speak English (!), but also German a little (that’s the interesting part of this trivia)!

6. I’ve just come back from a trip to California and when I was in San Francisco, I met one of my Facebook friends: Lara Gabrielle Fowler from Backlots! We had dinner together and that was so nice to meet her in real life! 😀

7. I consider myself a “Lockwood Missionary”. What is that? Well, as I am a big fan, I’m trying to make her known to as many people as possible, because she is not very well known here in Quebec.

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8. When I was in elementary school, I was the teacher’s pet. The calm student that was appreciated by every teacher, that was me. A real angel. O:) 😉 Some people were jealous I think. Hahaha!

9. Except writing reviews for ClassicFlix and this blog, I also work in a supermarket, in the delicatessen department. Just a student job you know, I have NO intentions to do this all my life! I hope my next job won’t involve food. :S

10. When I was watching The Tudors and was obsessed with this TV show, I had a goldfish named Henri VIII (yes, just like if you were naming your turtle Elizabeth II…) He, unfortunately, lived only one week because he refused to eat… He didn’t have time to have six wives like the real Henri VIII…

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11. I think one of my favourite places in the world is Cape-Cod. I just love Cape-Cod. The beach, the camping, the pretty houses, Provincetown, etc. And I don’t have to pay for a plane ticket to go! Cheap travel!

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The 11 blogs I nominate for the Liebster Award

Congrats!

A Shroud of Thoughts

Critica Retro

Journeys in Classic Film

All Good Things

Classicfilmluvr

Shadow and Satin

Margaret Perry

Silent-Ology

Vitaphone Dreamer

Girls Do Film

Now, Voyaging

My 11 questions to the 11 nominated blogs

1. Who is your favourite movie director and why?

2. Did you ever had the chance to met a movie star? When? What was the occasion?

3. If you were working in the movie business (or maybe you already do!), what will be your dream job?

4. What do you think was the best movie star biography or autobiography ever written?

5. Which movie star do you think should be next honoured by a Life Achievement Oscar?

6. Except for cinema, do you have another passion? If yes, what is it?

7. Psycho and The Birds are probably the two most well-known Hitchcock’s films. Which one do you prefer?

8. What do you think was Pixar’s best short film?

9. You have the chance to marry an actor or an actress. Who do you choose? 😉

10. Did we ever tell you that you looked like a certain movie star? If yes, who?

11. What do you think is the best article you wrote on your blog? Why?

Can’t wait to see your answers! Good luck!

Thanks again to Robin for the nomination! Such an honour! 🙂