Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ Still Flies High After 60 Years

by Thomas Tuna

“I’ve never known birds of different species to flock together. If that happened, we wouldn’t stand a chance!”

Prophetic words from an early scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror masterpiece The Birds. Hard to believe, but the movie that is now considered not only one of the famed filmmakers best works ever–but one of the most powerful influences on the horror genre–turns 60 this year. And it has aged like fine wine.

But how well do you know this fine-feathered filmdom classic?

To start, the film that was based on the 1952 short story by Daphne du Maurier enjoyed no run-of-the-mill premiere–it debuted March 28, 1963 in Manhattan’s Museum oi Modern Art as part of an invitation-only screening that was a slice of a 50-film retrospective of Hitchcock’s film work.

And when The Birds hit big screens everywhere, it was hardly hailed as a cinematic wonder. While The New York Times praised it as “a horror film that should raise the hackles on the most courageous and put goose pimples on the toughest hide,” a review in The New Republic called the film “the worst thriller of Hitchcock’s that I can remember.” There’s apparently no accounting for taste.

Other film critics–believe it or not–also looked at both sides of the coin.

The Washington Post reviewer wrote that he hadn’t had “this kind of merriment since King Kong toppled from the Empire State Building,” and The Village Voice proclaimed that “Hitchcock has fashioned a major work of cinematic art.”

While Variety wrote that the movie was “slickly executed and was fortified with Hitchcock’s characteristic tongue-in-cheek touches,” the Los Angeles Times attacked the director himself, writing that Hitchcock “was once quoted as saying he hated actors, but with The Birds, it must be fairly obvious that he has extended his abhorrence to the whole human race. The old master has become a master of the perverse.”

Even The New Yorker couldn’t see the genius of The Birds, calling the film “a sorry failure. It doesn’t arouse suspense, which is what justifies the sadism that lies at the heart of every thriller. Here the sadism is too nakedly, repellently present.”

Hard to believe someone could be so perfectly wrong.

Take the time to enjoy The Birds today on its 60th birthday–and marvel at some wonderful, old-school horror that is seen far too seldom nowadays.


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