Without Feathers

Hitchcock slows down markedly after PSYCHO — at first because he spent a long time publicizing his monster hit, and then because he developed MARNIE for Grace Kelly, who proved to be unavailable for a year, and then because THE BIRDS was a more elaborate and technically complicated production than anything Hitch had attempted before. From here on, also, there seem to be more false starts, movies that never saw the light of day, screenplays that stalled, writers who fled into the night.

But this movie doesn’t strike me as the obvious start of a decline, not a bit, even if the structure is more flawed than the strong of masterpieces that came before it. Hitchcock seems to have greatly enjoyed working with Evan Hunter, despite misgivings all round about the script’s overlong opening and failure to fully integrate the human drama into the apocalyptic crisis. A letter from Hitch’s old collaborator Hume Cronyn, who was also married to BIRDS co-star Jessica Tandy, neatly skewers the screenplay’s failings — the character tensions have a way of dissipating, leaving nothing for the people to work through except the bird attack: our spoiled heiress heroine Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is already a largely reformed character, the possessive mother (Tandy) isn’t really so terrible. And learning these undramatic facts eats up pages of boring conversation: photographs of people talking. Had these character dilemmas been allowed to fester, they could have actually been resolved via dramatic action at the film’s climax — since they’d all been cleared up, the movie’s ending cause Hitch considerable anxiety.

Another novelty logo, following on from VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO. Hitchcock seems to be the only filmmaker messing with studio logos at this time. Apart from Tashlin. Here, the Universal globe floats in a milky void — the same blank screen of death Jimmy Stewart topples into in the Special Sequence of VERTIGO, perhaps? There may be apocalyptic overtones here. Death for Hitchcock = a blank white screen.

No Saul Bass — the magnificent team built up over the previous movies starts to slowly fragment. But the titles are very good indeed. Hitch, like Kubrick and Wes Anderson, seems to have had a favourite font, although his is more classical than their sans-serif Futura. Bernard Herrmann has an advisory role here, supervising the electronic bird noise score. As with the avian visuals, the soundtrack is a mixture of the real and artificial.

Tasha, our Siamese, reacts blearily to the sound of birds from the TV.

San Francisco — Tippi — small boy whistles. This is a recreation of the TV commercial Hitch first spotted Hedren in. At one point, he’d planned to open on a montage of faces looking upwards at the unexpected cloud of gulls: arguably a stronger opening than this. But maybe too strong? The birds have to slowly flutter into this story.

Departing from Daphne DuMaurier’s short story (this is Hitch’s third DDM adaptation, although he denied any special interest in her work), and seeking perhaps to replicate the structural whammy of PSYCHO’s act II change of direction, Hitch planned with Hunter to begin in screwball comedy mode, dropping in little bird references, then shocking the audience with the ferocity of the second half. Evan Hunter would later regard this as a mistake. Screwball comedy is hard — by the 60s, hardly anybody could do it anymore, and Hunter had no form in this genre. The pet shop scene (with primo Hitchcock cameo) is nice, but then the film devolves into a strangely plodding, procedural account of Tippi’s following Rod Taylor out to Bodega Bay to deliver some love birds. The birds leaning into the curves as Tippi’s Aston Martin whizzes along is possibly the funniest moment in the movie, but feels a little too broad. This may be the problem — screwball is such a stylized tone of comedy, a transition into numinous horror would be an utter clash if you did it properly. So we have a romantic comedy that daren’t be too comical. Which is why the movie picks up enormously when the horror starts.

Then there’s Tippi. I like her fine. Fiona, watching along with me, is more critical. The point where Fiona wins any argument is when Suzanne Pleshette enters the frame. Pleshette is just inherently more interesting. She occupies the eye. We want to know more about her. Turns out the character’s backstory isn’t too exciting, but we’d still rather hear about it than Tippi’s glamorous hi-jinks. (This is the Fiona-and-I “we”, not the royal Kael “we”, you understand.) They’ve done everything they can to dowdy her down, but she’s still more alluring than Tippi, and she’s unusual.

Hitchcock said he found himself pushing the film more towards Tippi’s character POV as he made the film, departing somewhat from his usual predetermined approach. This seems to work: use of POV makes the film seem more like a thriller in the early stages than it ought to, preparing us for the genre-switch. Tippi’s approach to Rod’s place by boat, her leaving the love birds, and her escape, are all shot exactly like a sincere suspense sequence, so that the birdstrike doesn’t totally come out of the blue, so to speak.

With admirable economy, the gull-swoop now gets Rod and Tippi together (unlucky for Tippi: with THE TIME MACHINE and ZABRISKIE POINT on his CV, he’s MR. APOCALYPSE). “It’s just peroxide,” says an attendant townsperson, tending the wound. “You ought to know what that is, judging by the state of you,” remarks Fiona, somewhat cattily, I thought.

So now we’re into “hang around and get to know the folks” mode. There’s Jessica Tandy, as Hitch’s third overbearing mother in as many films (admittedly, Mrs Thornhill, Mrs Bates and Mrs Brenner are varied in other ways) — Hume Cronyn warned that the possessive mom was something of a cliché in American culture at the time. The powerful mom weakens Taylor’s character, then turns out to be weak herself, and the conflict with Tippi fizzles out before the climax. Then there’s the extraordinary Veronica Cartwright, later a genius screamer in ALIEN and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHER (Philip Kaufman version — almost my favourite) who is a terrifying child: every facial feature seems locked in a deadly war of attrition with its neighbours. She totally grew into that striking visage. Here, it’s like it’s growing into her, or something, I don’t even know what I’m saying. Her dialogue, which seems kind of too young for her, kind of emerges in a slightly mechanical way at times, but my God she can freak out. Her hysteria is sensational. A taste of things to come.

And there’s more Pleshette, which is good. And little foretastes of doom, but we’re more than halfway and still waiting for the movie to start. Everybody did notice the script’s front-loaded lumpen-ness, but they couldn’t solve it. Then, all hell breaks loose, and as everybody knew it would, the movie starts to work. Hitchcock, facing the biggest technical challenge of his career, aces it.

The children’s party is good, nasty fun (after we get past the turgid scene between Tippi and Rod, written by Hitch himself, alas), but only a starter before the school mayhem. And the farmer with his eyes pecked out: rammed home by two cuts taking us closer and closer to the orb-less stiff, like James Whale’s intro of Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN. An editing strategy copied numerous times since, notably by Spielberg (who also re-popularized VERTIGO’s exponential zoom trombone effect). The whole farmer scene is knockout. Just the shot of Tandy in the corridor is stunning. And she arrives in a truck with no dust, calmly, and leaves in a truck belching smoke and dust and panic.

The cops are no use at all.

The church scene, coming after that interminable two-hander between Tandy and Hedren, gets things up on their feet again. Hunter had to write extra verses for that song the children sing as the crows gather behind Tippi. Dramatic irony — poignancy — suspense — Hitch’s old line about the bomb under the table, we the audience know it’s there, but they the characters don’t. Tippi innocently puffing away at her ciggie the while.

Special effects mayhem! Cutting so frenetic yet clean and clear, it distracts us from some of the very odd special effects — the fact that the kids aren’t actually running down a hill — or rather, some of them are, the ones farthest from the camera, but the closer ones are on a treadmill in front of a yellow screen (Disney’s sodium vapor process, as grisly as that sounds). In all the madness, there are a couple of fakey shots with hand-operated crows, but a hundred other bits of artifice fly past — literally, fly past — while we’re digesting the one dodgy bird.

It’s all admirably sadistic.

And then the real meat of the film, the diner scene. Evan Hunter was rightly proud of his writing here. John Russell Taylor points out that the drunken Irish doomsayer is derived from various characters in Sean O’Casey’s plays, and a bit from O’Casey himself: JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK was worth it in the end. And everybody in that diner is an emblem of human attitudes in the face of disaster, from the bird expert (85-year-old Ethel Griffies, whom Hitch had seen on the London stage as a child, and made a mental note of: “Must work with her someday!”) to the hysterical woman who scapegoats Tippi. It’s like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, and also it’s the inspiration for THE MIST: Frank Darabont and Stephen King spun a whole movie out of this one sequence.

Charles McGraw! I never even realized he was in it before. When you meet him in a diner, as in THE KILLERS, you know you’re in trouble. I never recognized him because his face, described I think by The Guardian‘s John Patterson as “as beautiful as a knife,” has softened with age, become NORMAL. A shame.

Chaos! I dig the exploding man, but I don’t particularly dig those short static cuts of Tippi watching the burning petrol flow. It’s an interesting idea but for me it doesn’t come off. If the cuts were shorter? They’re already unusually short… Of course, naturalistically, Tippi should be in motion, her head turning to follow the burning gasoline. The idea of presenting that fluid motion in a series of snapshots is dramatic and striking, but it feels awkward. Some people have looked at it and said that Tippi Hedren can’t act, but if the sequence seems unconvincing it can’t be blamed on her: the reaction shots seem strange because of the stylization, not the performance.

After the gas station explodes, the ultimate Hitchcock God Shot, from on high, looking DOWN on the birds looking down on the scene of their triumph. A multiple exposure effect, with the fire filmed on the Universal lot, a matte painting by Albert Whitlock supplying the landscape, and matted-in gulls.

Tippi in the phone box as all hell breaks loose does remind me unfortunately a little of the “panic” scenes in AIRPLANE, with everyone screaming and shouting — the possibility of a topless woman or a couple of fencers passing through frame seems imminent. But soon we are back in the diner for the conclusion of that little play.

And the final siege of the house is excellent — particularly this slow pull-back, which seems like a foretaste of Sam Raimi and THE EVIL DEAD. This is where the character stuff should get settled, and there are hints of it, but I think Hitch may have been saving something for the climax — which he chose not to shoot. So Rod’s final choice between his mother and his lover isn’t quite there. In fact, that conflict is then folded away by the attack on Tippi in the attic. Of course, there’s no reason for her to go up there, but I have a feeling that if you watched the film in a cinema, the question wouldn’t arise. When two watch it together on DVD, one will always ask, “Where does she think she’s going?”

And the reason the bird attack doesn’t get the same praise as the shower scene in PSYCHO despite being possibly more elaborate, more brutal and more elegantly made, is that the soundtrack doesn’t back up the shock effect. The fluttering of wings is neither gently enough to make a striking contrast with the violence, nor loud enough to reinforce it the way Herrmann’s score does in the previous movie. Plus, I do think the scene might have been better darker, with the shaking flashlight doing more to dazzle the audience. That kind of piercing  optical pain would really enhance the effect.

Fiona does allow that Tippi is excellent at being shellshocked in greige lipstick. Indeed, all the heroines do excellent shock and terror (only Suzanne is a tough cookie).

Escape — through an apocalyptic birdscape (in the name of realism, everything should be streaked and striated white, until it forms a blinding void like the one the Universal logo sits amid at the film’s start). Note the convertible. Hunter’s scripted climax would have had the birds attack the car as it races off along winding roads, pecking the roof to shreds to get at the tasty, expensive morsels within. At the last moment, some kind of Marnie-esque Freudian revelation, coming from nowhere and going nowhere, was added by Hitch, so that Tippi comes to terms with her absent mother just as the roof flies off the Aston Martin, and then they escape. The idea of a bird-dominated San Francisco, with our feathered friends lining the Golden gate Bridge, was discussed, but never seriously plotted as part of the script.

Hunter was horrified by the additional lines, but equally horrified by Hitch’s deletion of the ending (Note: Hunter had his problems with Hitch, and certainly was very critical of THE BIRDS, but he loved and respected the director and would have liked to work with him again). What does the ending, as it stands, say? I think as a kid I experienced it as an abrupt halt, almost SIMON OF THE DESERT style, abruption + incompletion. Sort of what Hitch seems to have intended. The widescreen DVD, however, has followed Hitch’s original wishes and removed the THE END title (I think that’s the case — or maybe that title was never there and it’s the final Universal logo he objected to? Anyone know for sure?). And my feeling this time, as we stray behind with the roosting birdies, os that they’ve won. Our fleeing humans have nowhere to go and can’t outrun the next attack, but that’s not even the point. This little spot belongs to the birds, and this is the wave of the future.

This, it seems, is exactly what Evan Hunter disliked, this sense of doom and hopelessness. Rarely has an ending in which a family drive off into the sunrise seemed so bleak.

34 Responses to “Without Feathers”

  1. The DuMaurier story is based on an incident that reportedly happened when birds went nuts and started attacking a village for no reason at all. Scientists think that the birds were infected by toxic dump in ocean which negatively affected the environment and drove the birds nuts. Hitchcock of course isn’t interested in that.

    The Birds was described by Fellini as “an apocalpytical poem”. That’s pretty much what it is. It’s a film about a small isolated community and the family invaded by Tippi is a stand-in for that being torn apart and attacked for no reason at all. It is close to The Exterminating Angel in that regard.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    Was THE BIRDS originally made in widescreen? Judging from your images, it must have been.

    My British DVD of the film is in 1.33:1 – and it has never looked quite right. Lots of seagulls with unnaturally short wings, and Tippi Hedren with only half a beehive hairdo. Sacrilege!

    I love Tippi as well. I think she’s grossly underrated – probably a better actress than Grace Kelly. Camille Paglia, who wrote a BFI book on THE BIRDS, calls her ‘the ultimate Hitchcock heroine.’

    I also have a theory that Suzanne Pleshette’s character is actually a lesbian – with a crush on Tippi, not Rod Taylor. As punishment for her ‘sin’, she’s the only lead actor who dies.

    That may sound a bit far-fecthed, but I never underestimate the role of Catholic guilt in a Hitchcock movie…or the abundance of queer subtexts.

    Would anybody out there like to back me up?

  3. I’ve always seen the destruction of Tippi’s character as some sort of reflection of the destruction of this whole style of cinema at the time. The formalism of the beginning, including their perfect clothes and make up, is pecked apart bit by bit, in the same way that the art form itself was changing right at that time. TV was killing the studios, the French were rewriting the rules of cinema, the studios were losing the control they were used to, sex was creeping into films more overtly. This was an attack of those Technicolor perfections that came before. It’s definitely an attack of the ideals of this puritan town.

    The suspense leading up to that first peck makes its impact fairly powerful when it comes. Surely the fact that this film is called “The Birds” and that it’s a Hitchcock film make this extended beginning possible.

    The uncertainty of the end also seems like Hitchcock’s own feeling about the future. It’s after this that his films start to feel dated.

  4. The narrative structure of The Birds echoes Psycho in that an initial incident leads to a dead end. But then it’s followed by another dead end, building up a sense of existential dread. Psycho starts with a crime. The Birds starts with would-be “practical joke” — that doesn’t come off.

    I liked the cuts during the gas station explosion. They look forward to Godard and relate to Resnais’ Muriel of the same year.

    Pleshette is indeed more interesting. Tippi gets to really show her stuff in Marnie

    As a set piece the attack on the house in which we hear more than we see is excellent. Still the film isn’t frightening. Just blaak. LOVE the ending.
    I saw it when it came out in 1963 and there was no “The End.”

    Looking at it today I can’t help but think about how CGI advances would sooth things out were they available to Hitch at the time.

  5. “I can’t help but think about how CGI advances would sooth things out.”
    Well now you SAY that, but…

  6. Well that’s bad CGI

  7. Awe-inspiringly bad!

    CGI could replace the puppeteered gulls and tidy up the occasional matte lines, but if you made the movie today (a remake is currently stalled) you would need very high quality control to altogether make it convincing: most CGI epics have moments that let them down, just as The Birds has shaky bits.

    The lesbian subtext is definitely something I’ve heard of and doesn’t seem entirely off-base, but it’s unusually well alibied: old movies are full of lesbian stereotypes who don’t have to pretend to be into men. Here the action makes slightly more sense if Pleshette was interested in Taylor. But her styling and her intense interest in Tippi are intriguing.

    Does Paglia talk about this? I can’t recall. Her book is very good though. Hunter’s book is excellent if you allow for his sense of grievance (Freddie Raphael’s SK book is a bit dumber but also quite interesting).

    The Birds duplicates the abruptness of Vertigo’s sudden full stop, only more so.

    Paglia reckons Melanie will be OK at the end of The Birds, but this strikes me as somewhat wishful thinking. Is anybody going to survive?

    The birds attack in California postdates DuMaurier’s novella, but influenced Hitch. Early on, though, he and Hunter decided not to explain the attacks, although Hitch’s private interp was that the birds were sick of being pushed around.

  8. I’m trying to think why it never occurred to me that the Birds would be a worldwide pandemic (so the ending has always struck me as just plain weak. I’ve never been left by a feeling of dread.) Maybe because I hated everyone in the film. I guess according to pangofilms’ theory I’m supposed to sympathize with the birds, but, mm… like the lady says, we have failed if we do not care about the protagonists. Great post though.

  9. You must remember that in 1963 the prospect of nuclear war hung heavily over us all (“It’s the Bomb — the nasty, nasty bomb!” as Julie Christie’s gay photographer pal put it in Darling.) So what Hitch is offering her is an Alernate End of The World Scenario. He’s saying “OK what if we had world-wide nuclear disarmamment? Still wouldn’t save you if nature revolted!”

  10. AnneBillson Says:

    Is the projected remake of The Birds still on the cards? Because CGI, no matter how good, wouldn’t do it for me AT ALL. There’s something so bland and boring about it – because you can depict anything, it ceases to matter. Give me hokey special effects any day.

    I don’t think it’s nostalgia that makes me prefer the SPFX of the original King Kong, The Thing, The Evil Dead series, the rubber monster meltdown of Fright Night etc or Harryhausen stop-motion. These effects seem to me to have been cobbled together with ingenuity and imagination and love. They have soul.

  11. You guys are assuming that the birds would win this war. I’m not too sure about that. Obviously, there’s some nuclear fears going on. This years selection of films from 2012 to The Road makes it pretty clear that we’re still scared of the end of the world, or fascinated with it, or whatever.

    I disagree with Simon about liking these characters. They’re great. They’re just involved in their own little lives and then the problems all become trivial. It’s much more real that they don’t have any continuation of the problems they are having early in the film. They’ve got bigger problems now.

    Couldn’t agree more with Anne. For some reason, CGI took all the fun out of special effects. There’s no “how did they do that?” feeling anymore.

  12. So, is the drunk right to say “It’s the end of the world”? By the end of the film, the attacks have only gotten as far as Santa Rosa (setting of Shadow of a Doubt) so far as we know, so they have spread, but not far. The ornithologist Mrs Bundy prophecies that IF the birds attacked us, we’d be doomed, and while I kind of doubt that (we’d take shelter and build suits of armour), within the terms of the film we have to accept her authority.

    But the reason Simon never felt it was the apocalypse has to do with there being insufficient hint of the attacks really widening. The outside world has barely taken notice.

    I still enjoy CGI on occasion, and for many things it is the best tool. But sometimes it’s used where something else would be better. I recall the scarabs under the skin in The Mummy shitfest, and thinking how poor they were compared to Shivers, where the prosthetics had a physical substance to them that really mattered.

  13. The Birds remake is apparently in development limbo.

  14. Oh I think the special effects in Carpenter’s “Thing” very much stand out as being “cobbled together with ingenuity and imagination and love”… perhaps the pinnacle of bodyshock, although the original was, monster-wise, barely a special effects film at all, which is fine.
    Maybe “The Birds” was also slightly ruined for me by the fact I grew up with The Goodies and the Beanstalk.

    But probably not.

  15. “The Birds remake is apparently in development limbo.”

    And “The Birds II: Land’s End” is in VHS limbo.

  16. SORRY, that clip doesn’t actually have the reference to The Birds in, forget it, sorry. It has birds in but that’s not the same thing. Sorry.

  17. Tony Williams Says:

    May I say a word here about Ken Mogg’s detailed article on THE BIRDS that appeared in a fairly recent issue of sensesofcinema.com? Seeing the literary antecedents of dystopian literature, he makes a strong case to suggest that Frank Baker’s novel of the same name was the real influence and not DuMaurier, who, more than coincidentally, was working in the same publishing company that brought out Baker’s book – though she denied any knowledge of reading it.

  18. Re novelty logos – Columbia’s Miss Liberty raises her dress in an Eek-a-Mouse pose at the beginning of Jack Arnold’s apocalyptic THE MOUSE THAT ROARED.

    Re THE BIRDS – I’ve never had a problem with the “slow” opening, and by now, I’ve probably seen the film a dozen times. As pangofilms observes, the fact that this film is called THE BIRDS and that it’s a Hitchcock film has a lot to do with making the extended beginning work the first time through.

    Arthur S’s comparison to THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL with its similarly blonde scapegoat is spot-on.

  19. I like the non-“The End” ending of “The Birds” a lot. It works for me as a way of saying “NO ONE is left off the hook, the menace” — I almost wrote “meanness” — “continues FOREVER.”

    I tried to think of other movies sans “The End,” and could only come up with “Peeping Tom” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Can anyone think of any others?

  20. Christopher Says:

    the real horror after The End of The Birds is..whos gonna clean up all this bird shit!!?? =:oO

  21. Wish I could find a link to video of it, but …

    I feel obliged to mention an awfully good short film on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s — not a good period for the show, on the whole — called “The Clams” or “Brian DePalma’s ‘The Clams’.” It showed a version of “The Birds,” only with clam shells substituted for the avian menance. The heroine, made up to resemble Nancy Allen, sat on a bench outside a schoolhouse as the clams started accumulating on the jungle jim in the sandlot. Finally we got the school children running down the hill, with the clam shells in pursuit chattering like joke-shop teeth. One crying girl held a shell atrtached to her cheek.

    The final payoff was a title card reading “Brian DePalma’s ‘The Clams’ — Rated ‘R’ for ‘Rip-Off’.”

  22. Apocalypse Now is sans fin, at least when I saw it.

  23. Oh, as in fact is the only film I ever made. It was “The Tempest”. I was wondering how to do make the final speech work on film, then realized it didn’t and finished with Prospero staring into a bucket and the sound of waves, then went to black but kept the sound of waves, and then cut the sound (no fade). It was very usefully brutal.

  24. Charles McGraw- he showed up not too much later in black and white as Perry Smith/Robert Blake’s father in IN COLD BLOOD, all flashbacks, he was perfectly cast in this role. Paul Stewart also makes an appearance as a journalist, his face and McGraw’s both seem more appropriately at home in a B&W film as opposed to color. I had no idea McGraw was in THE BIRDS.

  25. In dystopian terms The Birdss inches away from J.G. Ballard.

  26. Can I just say that I made the Exterminating Angel comparison first? ;)

    Alex Cox was fascinated by the T-rex’s entrance in the 33 Kong. It wanders in and scratches its ear with its forelimb. He asked an FX guy from Jurassic Park why the Spielberg didn’t have anything as quirky as that. “Well, back then, if you wanted dinosaurs, you locked Willis O’Brien in a room for a year,” was the reply. A single artist.

    Ballard is bang on as a comparison. His apocalypses are even more impersonal (as are his characters) but birds aren’t far off crystals and flooding. Hitch chose an animal with less visible personality than most. Although he was very taken with the smart raven they had on set.

    Charles McGraw is great in Spartacus, even though it’s a surprise to discover him in ancient Rome. His sequence is like a miniature Full Metal Jacket.

    Prospero’s last speech is the only bit that works in Greenaway’s film — because the curtain closes behind him and at last there’s a moment of visual simplicity, without all the Kenny Everett Video Show crap going on, and the words can speak for themselves. In fact, as with the end of the Lurhman Romeo, the simple moment is so effective it ALMOST retroactively justifies the previous busyness.

    Of course, films don’t say The End anymore, but they do have end credits. Apoc Now exists in numerous versions. I quite like the one that has sort of opening credits at the end, but zero credits is a nice idea.

    Leisen’s stirring To Each His Own ends so powerfully that audience members were staggering from the theatre, blinded by tears, and gashing their brows on pillars. Cinema managers wrote to Leisen and begged him to add “Thirty seconds of nothing much” to allow people to compose themselves.

    “No,” was his considered reply.

  27. The Apocalypse Now I saw definitely had zero credits.
    It’s extraordinary how boring Prospero’s Books manages to be given everything going on, indeed because of everything going on. The idea of the books themselves I liked, and indeed what I’ve seen of the TV Dante on video (Greenaway’s collaboration with Tom Phillips – whose Inferno is fantastic) I absolutely loved. The talking heads popping up as constant appendices seemed perfectly suited to television.

  28. I get the impression that you all don’t consider The Birds to be one of Hitch’s stronger films. I think it is. I hate the idea that because it doesn’t have an end, or the beginning is long and irrelevant to the story, makes it a weaker film. One of the great thing about Hitchcock is his willingness to try things out.

    But this is a step down from Psycho and, after this, the steps get steeper. Was it his TV show taking up too much of his time and interest? Like you said, this is when he started having a lot of films that didn’t come together for one reason or another. Maybe he liked working on the TV show more.

  29. I’ll be honest, Psycho is the only American film of Hitch’s I’d class as being as strong as his early work, and I think it’s because it shows us America in the same way his early films show us Britain. Is there any later work of his has that same vital sense of place? (NBNW is full of Brits.) That’s why I don’t find the Birds scary. It takes place in movieland. I’m safe.

  30. I’m not talking about locations so much as characters that are clearly a product of their environment, like Norman Bates, or the crofter in 39 Steps (a slight foreshadowing perhaps of Bates’ hospitality) or Charters and Caldicott or the Londoners of Sabotage.

  31. Shadow of a Doubt has an absolutely credible sense of place, for me, carried in imagery and characterisation. Likewise The Wrong Man. He’s capable of it whenever he considers it crucial to the story’s success.

    The TV show took up relatively little of Hitch’s time, because the day-to-day running of it was entrusted to favourite collaborators. He’d only direct one or two episodes in a season.

    His health scare, and Alma’s, and encroaching age, likely had an effect. And I think his desire to perfect a story before starting work on it perhaps slowed him down more. Some have suggested that the serious critical attention he started to get adversely affected Hitch. I don’t know about that, but it may have caused him to take more time deciding on a film.

  32. I know what you mean about the real settings of those early films, but that doesn’t make the films that take place in a less realistic world less interesting. I like them both. The less realistic films have more ideas in them and are more complex, especially Vertigo.

  33. Absolutely. It’s important that place be reduced to a kind of flavour in Vertigo, so it can tell its particular dream-story.

    I do agree with you that Hitchcock’s experiments with structure are interesting and valuable, and what The Birds does is essentially an extension of the strategies of Psycho. I do think the first hour is too slow and methodical to succeed as romcom though. Of course Hitch is careful to plant moments that make us anticipate part two (and he must have known the audience, familiar with pre-publicity, would be surprised not by the transition, but by the gentle opening)…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: