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Sunday, February 7, 2010

THE BIRDS (1963)


When Alfred Hitchcock left Paramount and moved to Lew Wasserman’s thriftshop operation @ Universal, he got a great contract, but also standardized operating procedures that sacrificed quality & pride in product to a cost control management style. So paradoxically, while much of the challenging technical FX work on his initial Universal pic remains startlingly convincing (the inexplicable avian attacks are scary, funny, creepy, cringe-inducing), bread-and-butter stuff (like transitions from location work to studio mock-ups; believable set dressing; and even color processing that doesn’t turn sets into museum issue dioramas) betray a distressing decline from the recent Hitchcockian standard. When the birds aren’t around, the film often turns visually inert. And while the basic structure recalls REAR WINDOW/’54, with romantic comedy convention morphing into nail-biting suspense, Evan Hunter’s lumbering meet-cutes hardly match up with the caustic wit & playability of the earlier John Michael Hayes script. To say nothing of the touring cast replacements of ‘Tippi’ Hedren & Rod Taylor for Grace Kelly & James Stewart. (Sadly, Hedren’s tone-deaf perf, so off-putting here, is strikingly apt for Hitch’s oddly fascinating flop follow-up, MARNIE/’64.) The film is unmissable, yet also something of a miss.

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