Cinema: They Is Here

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The Birds. With a shrieking din, the lettering of the titles and credits comes on, only to be pecked from the screen by a squadron of crazed starlings. Having hinted at the ornithophobic horror to come, Director Alfred Hitchcock goes nattering on with an hour of some silly plot-boiling about a flirtatious society girl (Tippi Hedren), a lovelorn schoolmarm (Suzanne Pleshette), an Oedipus wreck (Rod Taylor) and a pair of lovebirds. Hitchcock addicts will just be getting jittery for their first fix of gore when it suddenly becomes clear that the birds is coming: man's feathered friends set themselves to wipe out an entire village on the California coast.

Finches and crows stage nasty attacks, but seagulls turn out to be deadliest. At the climax, Rod Taylor has barricaded his house, nailed planks over the windows, locked the doors, lighted a fire against invasion down the chimney. Suddenly, out of the stillness, comes the thud of heavy bird bodies hurling against the walls, the crashing of glass as birds smash windowpanes, the splintering of wood as beaks peck through the door. One gull manages to wriggle inside a window barricade; before Taylor can strangle it, his arm and hand have been bloodied. The sound track —there is not a note of music throughout the picture—reaches a deafening crescendo of screeching, whistling, chattering, flapping cacophony.

Now. Why did the birds go to war? Fans hooked on Hitchcock may be dismayed to discover that, after 38 years and more than 40 films dealing mainly in straightforward shockery, the Master has traded in his uncomplicated tenets of terror for a new outlook that is vaguely nouvelle vague. The lovebirds, ostensibly family pets, perching smugly in their cage throughout the attack, seem to Know Something. Are they spies for the gulls? Do they somehow madden other species? Or are they just a comment, a wry admonition that men should "love birds"? Hitchcock does not tell, and the movie flaps to a plotless end.

Newcomer Hedren bids fair to take her rightful place in the succession of Hitchcock Ice Princesses (bland, blonde predecessors: Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Madeleine Carroll) if she can learn to register horror more convincingly before the cameras roll again. Veteran Ethel Grififies, as a sensible-shoed bird lover, provides a deft and daft counterpoint to the bird-damning villagers. But the most unforgettable performers in The Birds are the birds. They are utterly, terrifyingly believable as they go about their bloody business of murdering humanity. Pigeons loitering around the exits of theaters where this movie is shown would be wise to lie low until the next change of feature.