Sunday, July 24, 2011
Title: Torn Curtain
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Brian Moore
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 122 minutes
Sunday 24th July, 3:00pm
I left this one to a little late in the day, starting at 3:00pm. As I don't want to give up the majority of my evening writing it up, I will try and be brief with the synopsis. After all, as I write this, it's 5:30 and I want dinner around 6:00! I'm a man of routine, you see.
I missed lunch today as I was too busy messing around on the Internet. However, I'd had six rounds of toast for breakfast following a disturbing night of weird dreams and bouts of insomnia in between. Maybe I'd partaken a wee too much red wine the evening before.
Earlier this week, on my birthday, I watched The Sound of Music - please do not judge me. It was my birthday and I could do whatever made me happy, within reason, and this rather splendid family film was just what I was in the mood for. I still get a little bit over-excited when they start singing The Lonely Goatherd. Anyway, I mention this merely because of Julie Andrews. My dad always described her as "pornographic" (What's that about, Dad?) but I have always loved her thanks to Mary Poppins. It's been a Julie Andrews week!
So, here two great loves of mine collide - Hitch and Andrews - and although some critics may complain, I have no reason to, for I think it's as interesting pairing as Hitch and Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Cripes. Could I sound more gay? Jeepers!!
I am not looking forward to next week's blog - it's Topaz; a film I have never been able to sit through!! Wish me luck for next week...
Professor Michael Armstrong - Paul Newman
Miss Sarah Sherman - Julie Andrews
Countess Luchinska - Lila Kedrova
Heinrich Gerhard - Hansjörg Felmy
Ballerina - Tamara Toumanova
Hermann Gromek - Wolfgang Kieling
Professor Gustav Lindt - Ludwig Donath
Professor Karl Manfred - Günter Strack
Jakobi - David Opatoshu
Dr Koska - Gisela Fischer
Farmer - Mort Mills
Farmer's Wife - Carolyn Conwell
Freddy - Arthur Gould-Porter
Fraulein - Gloria Gorvin
We begin in Osterfjord, Norway as a cruise ship navigates through the fjords.
On board, delegates for a physicists' conference shiver as the heating fails to provide them with warmth. In one of the cabins, Professor Michael Armstrong and his fiancée and secretary, Sarah Sherman, make their own heat. He is there to present a spoeech at a conference.
They are interrupted by a telegram informing Professor Armstrong that a book is awaiting him at the Elmo Book Store in Copenhagen. He replies to the telegram but discretely away from Sarah.
Once at Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen, Sarah takes a call from the book store. As Michael is showering, she takes the message and goes to pick up the book, much to Michael's dismay. She finds it with the help of a Professor Karl Manfred, who shares colleagues with Michael.
Once she arrives, the storekeeper named Freddy gives her the first-edition book wrapped in brown paper. She takes it back to Michael at the hotel who then disappears into the gents' toilets and proceeds to open it. Within the frontispiece, he is directed to go to page 107 and there he finds some letters underlines and the Greek letter for 'Pi' circled.
Over lunch, he tells Sarah that plans have changed. She is to cover for him at the conference and take notes whilst he will go on ahead to Stockholm. She is noticeably disappointed by this turn of events as she had noted how keen he was for her not to accompany him on this trip in the first place.
He has picked up his ticket already and there is nothing more to be said. She is upset and decides that instead she should return to New York. She goes to the travel agent, but also enquires about her fiancée's ticket. Apparently, it was not for Stockholm, but for East Berlin.
Michael is aboard the plane and soon he notices that Sarah is on it too - she has followed him. He tells her that upon landing, she is to find a flight directly out of East Berlin and not to follow him. She is also puzzled when she sees that Professor Karl Manfred is also on the plane.
When they arrive at the airport, there are reporters and photographers. One aging starlet is disappointed to discover that the press is not intended for her, but for this Professor Armstrong! It is announced that Michael has decided to live and work for peace in the people's Democracies.
Michael is taken to speak with Heinrich Gerhard of Inland Security - they note that they were expecting him to come alone.
At a press conference, Michael announces that he is here to work on a defensive weapon to oppose the offensive nuclear weapons. The U.S. government had shut down his project, so he intends to continue the work on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Sarah is horrified knowing her fiancée has defected.
The couple are assigned a 'personal assistant' named Gromek who is amused by a lot of Americanisms which he continues to question them about.
At the Hotel Berlin, Sarah has it out with Michael but he continues to stick to his position and asks her to go home without him.
The next morning, she is woken by Karl Manfred and she finds a note from Michael saying he's gone for a walk and (again) that she should head home.
Michael takes a taxi out to a farm. When a farmer's wife answers the door, he draws the Greek 'Pi' symbol in the dirt with his foot. She lets him in. She then directs him to her husband on a tractor in the field. He goes out and speaks to him. He is actually part of the 'Pi' organisation which assists spies in escaping the country. It is revealed that Michael is, in fact, under cover and is here to get the final secrets of the Gamma Five project out of Professor Lindt, as his own experiments had come to a dead end. His only way to do so was to pretend to defect to the other side.
The farmer tells him his next contact is Dr Koska in Leipzig.
When he returns to the farmhouse, Michael is confronted by Gromek who has followed him on his motorbike. Having noticed the 'Pi' sign outside in the dirt, he realises that Michael must be a spy. He is about to ring for help when the wife and Michael attack him and, due to the situation, are forced to kill him. It's not such an easy task, but they eventually stab him and gas him in the oven. The wife of the farmer will bury the body and the motorbike but Michael has to leave immediately. The taxi driver is waiting outside, none-the-wiser.
When he returns to the hotel, he is met by some Inland Security men who say that Gerhard is waiting for him - they take him to Gerhard and he discovers that Sarah has decided to stay and work alongside Michael. Gerhard is also distressed to discover that Gromek has gone missing.
Later, they are at Leipzig at the Karl Marx University. Whilst being shown around, Michael is tripped up and he falls down the stairs. This was merely an awkward way to get him alone with Dr Koska, a widow whose role was to assist them escape with new identity papers. She patches him up and tells him to return after seeing Gustav Lindt.
When Michael has the meeting with the associate Professor's regarding Gamma Five, he is interrupted when asked about the farm he visited. Due to the suspicions and the implications of his possible nefarious activities, they have to abandon the meeting. However, Professor Lindt is at the back of the room and he says that he can always speak to Sarah instead.
Sarah is brought in, but she refuses to co-operate. Michael talks to her outside and in private, tells her the whole truth about his undercover status. She agrees to go along with the plot.
Back at the farmhouse, the police have discovered the buried motorbike and Gromek's body.
Over dinner, Karl, Michael, Sarah and Gustav share company. Sarah takes Karl to dance whilst Michael tries to illicit the information he needs from Lindt - however, Lindt never mixes work with pleasure.
Koska arrives and tells Michael that Gromek's body is found and they have to get out of the country tomorrow - secrets or no secrets. they have to be at her clinic at 10am tomorrow.
In a final arrangement, Gustav and Michael arrange to meet at the barbershop the following morning.
The next day, it's 10:10 and Sarah is anxiously awaiting Michael at Dr Koska's clinic. He is busy playing a game of bluff with Gustav Lindt - persuading him that he knows enough and trying to get him to provide the ultimate equation for the Gamma Five project. As Lindt finally writes up the answer on the blackboard, the university is swarmed with Police searching for Michael. Lindt is furious that he has been fooled in this way and calls for security. Michael flees and rejoins Sarah and Dr Koska. The doctor takes them to a man named Jakobi who takes them away on a bus which is reserved for the 'Pi' organisation and is a decoy to help spies travel - it's heading back to Berlin. They are stopped by two roadblocks - one a genuine security measure (which fails), the other a ploy by bandits to get money from innocent passengers of vehicles passing by. The bandits are seen off by soldiers who then proceed to act as escort for the decoy bus. The people on board are amused but also distressed that, after two road blocks, the real bus will be following behind very shortly. They escape by the skin of their teeth upon their arrival in Berlin and are briefly helped by a woman from Poland who claims to be Countess Luchinska - she says she will help them find their next destination if they agree to sponsor her and get her away to America. They agree. She takes them to the Post Office where they meet their next contact, Arthur, who passes on the information taht they need to get to a specific travel agency. The police arrive and as they flee, the countess hurls herself at their pursuers and aids their getaway.
At the travel agency, they meet the farmer again. He has set up plans for them to escape in costume baskets after the last performance by a touring ballet company. Sarah and Michael attend the ballet and await the interval with patience as they acknowledge the red-haired man who is to be their aid.
However, the ballerina on stage is the woman from the airport in East Berlin and she recognises Michael in the audience. She alerts the authorities off-stage and the theatre begins to fill with police. Michael, in a blind panic, yells 'Fire!' at the top of his voice. Panic ensues and as the crowd storms for the exits, they escape to the dressing room where the red haired man helps them hide in the baskets.
Aboard the East German boat to Sweden, they remain hidden, but the ballerina is also on board and as the baskets are being lifted by crane, she alerts the authorities (again - bitch!) and they fire upon the baskets with a machine gun. The baskets fall to reveal nothing but tutus. Meanwhile, the red-haired man, Sarah and Michael have leapt overboard and climbed up the Swedish dock in safety.
Back on safer soil, they huddle together in a cabin, trying to get dry by a stove - a reporter tries to get pictures of them, but they snuggle under the blanket away from prying eyes.
This isn't exactly packed with witty one liners or anything, but there were some nice moments which made me grin...
Henrich Gerhard to Michael on the presence of Sarah in East Berlin: "I hear you brought a little excess baggage!"
Michael to Karl: "Give me five minutes with her. After all, she's my girl."
Sarah: "Put that in the past tense!"
Lindt, in a moment of pure randomness: "Did I tell you that my sister Emily got knocked down by a tram in Vienna?"
The Countess: "It will be undrinkable. Disgusting liquid they call coffee!"
This is only the second time I have watched Torn Curtain but I did enjoy it just as much as the first time. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews are both incredibly likable people on screen and they do have a certain chemistry between them.
Other notable cast members include Lila Kedrova as the countess (whose role in the movie could easily be done without, but she does provide some much-needed comic relief, even if tinged with a poignant back-story); Günter Strack as the somewhat creepy Karl Manfred and Wolfgang Kieling as Gromek. I could see the latter role also being played by Peter Lorre in a different decade.
Some wonderful scenes include the bus ride and the tension as they try desperately to get away - the fraulein's repeated hysteria highlighting the nervousness of the passengers and the ever-nearing 'real' bus. It's genuinely exciting.
I also love the scene in the post office where the countess is desperately trying to get hold of Arthur, but time after time, she is declined. It's made almost unbearable because we as an audience know that a gentleman has become suspicious and alerted the police. The longer they wait for Arthur, the more danger they are in.
Another little moment I approve of whole-heartedly is a terrific over-head shot of Michael crossing the lobby whilst a number of char ladies scrub the floor. It's one of those images which sticks in one's head.
The climax in the theatre is reminiscent of both The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much but it is still effective. Especially the fake flames on the stage giving Michael the idea of how to escape. I was hoping he might actually start a real fire using Gromek's lighter, which he had kept post-execution, but maybe he was too considerate about the theatre's architecture.
Finally, let's mention that brilliant murder scene. The non-English speaking farmer's wife and Michael gang up against this 'heavy' in order to stop him from ruining their plans. The farmer's wife is superb, first stabbing him then attempting to cripple him with a few whacks of the shovel against his shins - and then dragging his weaker body to the gas oven to smother him finally.
It's all done so intimately with the camera and the silence of the soundtrack almost punctuates the brutality of the moment.
There are moments where you feel Hitchcock is purposefully paying homage to his own films! Look out for references to Blackmail and Psycho in particular.
It is easily the best scene in the whole film.
There are moments which could have benefited from slicker editing, but on the whole, it's a fun thriller in which the 'secrets' are merely the macguffin. Not perfect, but enjoyable 7/10
It is now ten to seven in the evening. So much for keeping it brief!
Monday, July 18, 2011
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Jay Presson Allen & Evan Hunter
Source Material: The novel by Winston Graham
Running Time: 125 minutes
Monday 18th July, 2:00pm
It has been over a fortnight since the last update, but I knew I was going to have one weekend off before the end of my project so that I could neatly time the final film to coincide with Hitchcock's birthday. To be frank, I wish I had chosen this weekend to skip as I was hung-over throughout Sunday and had to postpone the viewing until today - but I'm having a long weekend anyway, so it's not too much trouble.
Tomorrow, it's my birthday (bless) and this is why I am having an extra long weekend. I always like to take the day off work when it's my birthday - I recall one year when I could not because I was away on a work conference. My, I was a bit stroppy that year I can tell you! Ah, the foibles of a mardy-pants...
I have been a fan of Marnie for many years. Maybe it's because I am a frigid thief with repressed childhood memories in denial of my own past. Or maybe it's because it's a damn fine film. You decide.
Marnie Edgar - Tippi Hedren
Mark Rutland - Sean Connery
Lil mainwaring - Dianne Baker
Sidney Strutt - Martin Gabel
Bernice Edgar - Louise Latham
Cousin Bob - Bob Sweeney
Man at racetrack - Milton Selzer
Susan Clabon - Mariette Hartley
Mr Rutland - Alan Napier
Sailor - Bruce Dern
Detective - Henry Beckman
Sam Ward - S John Lautner
Rita - Edith Evanson
Mrs Turpin - Meg Wyllie
A woman with jet-black hair is at a train station carrying a suitcase in one hand and with a smaller yellow handbag tucked under her other arm.
Meanwhile, Mr Strutt is describing the woman who has stolen money from him to a pair of detectives.
"Five foot five, a hundred and ten pounds, size eight dress, blue eyes, black wavy hair... even features... good teeth..."
He admits he had given her the secretarial job knowing she had no references. Mark Rutland arrives and surveys the scene, he knows the woman Mr Strutt speaks of as he's met her before on a previous visit.
At a hotel, the black-haired woman is filling one suitcase with old clothes and filling another one with new clothes. She transfers a heap of money from the yellow handbag to another. She changes the Social Security account number card from her wallet stating her name to be 'Marion Holland' and replaces it with one for 'Mary Taylor' - then she washes the black dye out of her hair. She is blonde.
She travels to the train station, leaves the old cases in a locker and throws away the key.
She returns to a guest house where she is known as 'Miss Edgar' and then heads out to Garrod's where she keeps her beloved horse, Forio.
Later, Marnie visits her semi-invalid mother who is babysitting for a young girl names Jessie Cotton of whom Marnie is unashamedly jealous due to her own mother's affections towards her. She hates the red gladiolas in the front room and removes them, replacing them with the chrysanthemums she has brought. In an emotional confrontation, Marnie asks why her mother doesn't seem to love her and for this she is slapped hard across the face.
A few days later, Marnie has now applied a brown dye to her hair. She applies for a job at Rutland's & Co, a publishing firm. Whilst interviewed by a Mr Ward, Mark Rutland watches and indicates that he would like Mr Ward to give the job to 'Mary Taylor' rather than a more qualified applicant - but fails to give his reasons.
Here we also meet Lil Mainwaring, Mark's sister-in-law. He is widowed, but had remained firm friends with his dead wife's sister who seems to have feelings for him herself.
During her early days working at Rutland's, 'Mary Taylor' notices that Mr Ward always opens a small locked drawer before going to the safe. She learns that Mr Ward keeps the safe combination in there as he can never remember it. She also accidentally spills some red ink on her white blouse and has a hysterical reaction to the colour emblazoned on her sleeve.
One night, during some overtime working directly with Mark Rutland, there is a terrible storm. 'Mary' is distraught and terrified. Mark goes to her aid and they both narrowly miss being hurt when a branch from a tree crashes through the window.
Over the next few weeks, Mark and 'Mary' begin to spend more time together. He takes her to the races, where a man approaches 'Mary' saying he knows her as Peggy Nicholson, but she denies it flatly. At one point, they are going to place money on a horse named 'Telepathy' but when 'Mary' sees the red dots on the silks of the jockey, she changes her mind and insists that Mark does not bet on that horse. Unfortunately, it goes on to win...
Mark even takes 'Mary' to meet his father one weekend at the family home where she meets Lil once again. Mark's father takes to 'Mary' quite quickly as he too is extremely fond of horses.
Then, the day comes when 'Mary' is to do what she came to the job to do. One Friday evening, she waits in the ladies' powder room until everyone has gone home. She takes a stolen key to open the small drawer and reads the safe combination:
4 turns left to 36
4 turns right to 20
2 turns left to 16
2 turns right to 8
1 turn left to 5
The safe opens, as she fills her bag with money, she is unaware of a cleaner mopping the corridor floor just feet away. Removing her shoes to remain unheard, she slips them into her coat pockets and tiptoes past the cleaner who is intensely mopping away. One shoe slips from Marnie's pocket and clatters to the ground... the woman remains mopping, unfazed by the noise. The woman is mostly deaf, thankfully.
The next day, Marnie is blonde again and out galloping on Forio. She is shocked to see Mark waiting for her upon her return.
He confronts her and explains how he'd already had suspicions about her from the day he saw her at the interview. He tracked her to the stables having been lead by clues she had dropped whilst out at the races with him. She continues to fob him off with lie after lie, but he is having none of it. Eventually, he drags the truth out of her but, instead of turning her over to the police, uses emotional blackmail and proposes to her. He thinks she should stay with him at the family home.
She has little choice.
They are married and they take their honeymoon on a cruise. Both Lil and Mark's cousin Bob are curious about this sudden romance and Lil in particular is keen to find out more...
Whilst on the cruise, Mark learns of Marnie's frigidity and is perplexed by her terror of sexual advances. He promises to keep his distance and for days they enjoy reasonably civil mutual conversations, but eventually the façade falls apart. He becomes tense with sexual frustration and tears her night dress from her. He apologises and covers her with his own gown. She is stunned into a state of shock and in this almost comatose state, she "allows" him to make love to her. The next morning, he wakes to find her gone - he dashes out in the early morning air and searches the deck - he finds her face down in the ship's swimming pool but manages to resuscitate her.
They return home. Lil overhears Mark and Marnie discussing Strutt and the possibility of jail. She does some investigating of her own and also eavesdrops on a phone conversation Marnie has with her mother, whom she had told everyone was dead.
Mark, as a sort of peace offering, brings Forio home from the stables for Marnie to ride. Whilst she is out, Lil tells Mark about what she knows and also about Marnie's mother. She says she wants to help, but mark asks her to merely be a friend to Marnie.
Mark gets a private detective to look into Marnie's mother's life and discovers some interesting facts about a court case.
Later at night, Marnie has her recurring nightmare about a tapping and her mother being hurt. Mark comes in and wakes her to try and get her to tell what the dream is about. They argue once more and he tricks her into exposing something from deep within through free-association with words. Her reactions to 'sex', 'death' and 'red' are telling...
Days later, a party is being thrown at their home. Lil has gone and invited Strutt. He recognises Marnie as the girl who stole money from his business, but is not entirely sure. Marnie panics and realises she has to bolt.
Mark tells her not to, saying her can persuade Strutt not to press charges if they repay the money - this is when she admits to other crimes and Mark believes with the right circumstances, things can be smoothed over - he can afford to pay off her 'debts' if necessary.
The next day, Mark is trying to persuade Strutt and whilst he does that, Marnie is joining the others on a fox hunt. Once she spies the red of one of the jackets, she flees, racing on Forio over the fields. Lil chases after her. One final jump over a wall is too much. Forio trips and falls, throwing Marnie off and crippling himself. Marnie, in tears bangs on the door of a nearby house where she forces the owner, Mrs Turpin, to give her a gun. Lil tries to assist, but Marnie is determined to do this herself. She takes the gun and shoots Forio in the head.
Still in shock, she wanders back to the house, still holding the gun. She goes upstairs, takes the keys from Mark's study and heads back to the Rutland company offices. She heads straight for the safe, opens it and struggles with her urges and impulses. Mark arrives in time and gets the gun off her and tells her they are going to take a trip to see her mother.
Arriving in Baltimore as a storm begins, Mark confronts Mrs Edgar, insisting she tells the truth about Marnie's past - force her to explain the missing memories that have been tormenting her all these years. Mrs Edgar won't and she goes to attack Mark, but as they struggle, Marnie's memory clicks into place and she begins to remember...
In flashback, we see the young Mrs Edgar. She provides young sailors with entertainment for a small sum but sue to the small abode, she has to wake up her daughter with a knock on the door in order to get her to move to the settee so she and the gentlemen callers can use her bed.
This particular evening, young Marnie is too distressed and cries. The sailor comes out to tell her to keep quiet, he brushes her hair and begins to kiss her neck. Mrs Edgar throws herself at him, telling him to take his hands off her daughter. In a fight, they fall, damaging Mrs Edgar's leg - she cries out in pain. Little Marnie grabs the fire poker and beats the sailor over the head until he dies.
The truth is revealed. Mrs Edgar told the police she killed the sailor in self defence. She also tells of how she had slept with Marnie's biological father just the once but he had run off when she became pregnant. She had them spent her life inflicting this dangerous image of men upon her daughter, trying to protect her.
Marnie now knows that her mum had always loved her and had simply wanted to protect her and keep her decent, but instead, it had turned Marnie into a liar, a cheat and a thief.
Mark takes Marnie in his arms and takes her away, promising to take care of her.
Marnie sees a picture of an animal in Mark's office:
Mark: "...that's Sophie. She's a jaguarundi. South American. I trained her."
Marnie: "Oh, what did you train her to do?"
Mark: "Trust me."
Marnie: "Is that all?"
Mark: "That's a great deal.. for a jaguarundi."
Mark has an odd slant on romance:
Mark: "It seems to be misfortune to have fallen in love with a thief and a liar."
Mark: "I've tracked you and caught you, and by God, I'm gonna keep you!"
When Mark asks Marnie why she threw herself in the ship's pool rather than overboard, she tells him frankly: "The idea was to kill myself, not feed the damn fish."
Finally, my favourite line, which is delivered twice at different moments...
Marnie: "There. There now..."
There are three key scenes which I think are simply fantastic. Firstly, the safe-breaking scene in which Marnie steals the money whilst the cleaner silently mops just feet away and Marnie has to escape unheard. It's terrific direction and has edge-of-your-seat tension. You genuinely want her to get away with it.
Secondly, the accident involving Forio and Marnie - the wall, the crippling and then the shooting - it's heartbreaking and so difficult to watch. Brilliant.
Thirdly, the revelatory finale shown in flashback where we learn the truth about Marnie's psychosis. Superbly shot, terrifyingly intimate and deeply shocking. Bruce Dern's cameo in this movie is brief but intrinsic to the plot and just unnerving enough to warrant the audience's compliance with the ultimate justice he is served.
Other scenes of note are the 'rape' scene and the brilliant 'free-association' scene where she first answers blithely until she cracks and words of meaning and distress pour from her lips. That scene always gives me goose-bumps.
There are stories told about Hitchcock's darker side overpowering some of the elements in this film - particularly over Tippi Hedren and the uncredited Evan Hunter. I find it uncomfortable to imagine the negative aspects of Alfred's personality and when the final product is so utterly bewildering, one wonders if he had the right to exert such power "willy-nilly". Had his success gone to his head by this point? that's open for debate.
Bernard Herrmann's final score for Hitchcock and, once again, it is superb. The themes within are haunting and they live on in your mind long after the film is over.
People will forever connect Herrmann with Psycho and Vertigo particularly, but this is just as emotive and effective.
Oh, and let's mention Sean Connery, shall we? This man is one of the biggest male sex symbols in cinema history. Here he is a saviour, a hunter, a leader, an emotional blackmailer and a sexual predator who, in no uncertain terms, rapes his own wife. Both Mark and Marnie are, basically, despicable people but they show the inhumanity that is possible within all of us to a degree. Humanity's flaws embodied in male and female roles.
It may be hard for some to watch Sean in this role having known him for so long as the suave and debonair James Bond (who may be a womaniser, but never to the extent of forcing himself upon an unwilling victim) but it's a performance worth savouring.
The film owes much to Tippi Hedren's performance as without such a powerful portrayal of the anti-heroine, the film may have been less of a success. 9/10
(Only four films to go!!)
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Title: The Birds
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Evan Hunter
Source Material: A short story by Daphne Du Maurier.
Running Time: 119 minutes
Sunday 3rd July, 10:00am
Ah, 1963. What a superb year. Two of my favourite films were released (The Haunting and The Birds) and Doctor Who began on BBC television. If I could travel back in time and experience it all first hand, I would. Oh, and perhaps give a bit of warning to the U.S. president. i.e. "Duck!"
Despite political assassinations, 1963 was not half bad.
In 2008, I visited San Francisco and found the city itself to be reasonable pleasant and entertaining, but I had the best time when I visited Bodega Bay - I felt at home there. I ended up spending a fortune on Bodega Bay/"The Birds" merchandise. I have no regrets about that!
I am attempting to remain fairly upbeat and chipper as I type this, but I am suffering from rather nasty cramps in my intestines which are subsequently leading to dashes to the old 'W.C.' - I haven't eaten anything out of the ordinary, so I can't really explain it. Maybe this is the start of a new form of terror coming to a theatre near you... "The Bowels".
Enough about my infernal internal problems, let's crack on with one of the best films ever made (God, I sounded a bit like Alan Partridge there. Ooh - 'Partridge'! Birds everywhere.)
Mitchell Brenner - Rod Taylor
Lydia Brenner - Jessica Tandy
Annie Hayworth - Suzanne Pleshette
Melanie Daniels - 'Tippi' Hedren
Cathy Brenner - Veronica Cartwright
Mrs Bundy - Ethel Griffies
Sebastian Sholes - Charles McGraw
Mrs McGruder - Ruth McDevitt
Deke Carter - Lonny Chapman
Salesman - Joe Mantell
Fisherman - Doodles Weaver
Al Malone - Malcolm Atterbury
Post Office Clerk - John McGovern
Drunk - Karl Swenson
Mitch's Neighbour - Richard Deacon
Helen Carter - Elizabeth Wilson
Farm Hand - Bill Quinn
Hysterical Mother - Doreen lang
Schoolkid - Morgan Brittany
Melanie Daniels, socialite and a daughter of a newspaper editor, heads to Davidson's Pet Shop in San Francisco in order to pick up a mynah bird as a gift for her Aunt Tessa who is soon to return from overseas.
Mrs McGruder tells Miss Daniels that the bird has not yet been delivered but she will telephone to find out when it is due.
While Melanie waits, a man named Mitchell Brenner enters the shop. He recognises Miss Daniels and pretends to not know her and addresses her as though she were a salesperson. Melanie, always game for a bit of role play, enjoys the scenario until he asks too many leading questions. She accidentally lets a canary free and she and Mrs McGruder struggle to catch it. When it comes to rest on a table, Mitch catches it and returns it to its cage, referencing Melanie's name as he does so. This makes are angry and he explains that he knew her by sight. He had come into the store initially to buy some love birds for his sister's eleventh birthday. He leaves Melanie fuming but she chases after him and notes his licence plate - WJH 003 - she then calls Charlie at City Desk and asks him to trace it for her. Then, she gets Mrs McGruder's help to purchase some love birds.
Melanie has the information she needs and she heads to Mitch's apartment with the two love birds in a cage. She leaves them outside his door with a note, but his neighbour alerts her to the fact that Mitch is away in bodega Bay for the weekend. This infuriates Melanie, so she decides to drive up to Bodega Bay and deliver them personally.
When she arrives, she visits the local Post Office and General Store to find out Mitch's address and the name of his sister. They tell her where to find his home and say that his sister is either called Lois or Alice. They suggest she ask Miss Hayworth, the schoolteacher.
When Melanie meets Annie she learns that the girl is called Cathy. Annie Hayworth is suspicious of Melanie and slightly resents her classy looks and obvious wealth.
Melanie then takes a boat across the bay to deposit the love birds. She waits until Mitch is out in the barn, enters the house, leaves the birds and a note for Cathy, but tears up the original note she wrote for Mitch.
Back in the boat, she watches from the security of the bay as Mitch discovers the birds. He comes out of the house and spies her. He gets in the car and drives around the bay, getting to the wharf before she does.
Just as she approaches, a seagull swoops down and hits her on the head, making her bleed.
Mitch is appalled and helps her out of the boat. he takes her to the Tides Restaurant to help fix her up.
Lydia, Mitch's mother, comes in and Mitch tells her he has invited Melanie to dinner. Lydia seems to take an instant dislike to Melanie but accepts the guest into her home.
Melanie asks Annie Hayworth if she can rent her spare room for the night and Annie agrees.
That evening at the Brenners', Lydia is concerned about her chickens as they don't seem to be wanting to eat. She calls her chicken-feed supplier and he tells her that a local farmer is having the same problem, even though he uses different feed. She worries there might be a sickness affecting the birds.
Cathy likes Melanie and asks her to come to her birthday party the following day. Melanie says it's unlikely she'll attend as she has to return to San Francisco.
Whilst Cathy and Melanie are talking, Mitch and Lydia are in the kitchen talking about Melanie. Lydia tells of how she'd read about Melanie's antics in Rome where she allegedly jumped into a fountain naked. Later on, as Melanie is about to head back to Annie's, Mitch questions her about this. She denies it and is indignant, stating that the report was in a rival paper to her father's and they just made it up to discredit her. Fuming, she drives back to Annie's where the two woman begin to bond whilst discussing Mitch and Lydia. Just before Melanie heads to bed, there's a thud at the door - they open it to discover a seagull dead on the veranda...
It's Cathy's birthday and the party is in full swing. Melanie has decided to attend all along. She has a deep conversation with Mitch out on the dunes and opens up about her mother who left her when she was eleven years old.
They return to the party where Cathy is playing Blind Man's Buff with her friends. Suddenly, the seagulls start attacking, swooping from the sky and hitting the children. Panic breaks out and the adults struggle to get the kids indoors.
Mitch insists that Melanie stays for dinner as he would like to know she is safe.
That evening, as Lydia, Cathy, Mitch and Melanie relax, a swarm of small birds fly into the living room via the chimney. It's like a blizzard indoors. The women manage to beat their way out and Mitch tries to fend them off. Much later, when the birds have left, the sheriff is round and is perplexed by the whole thing and reluctant to take any serious action.
Cathy is at school and Lydia drives around to Dan Fawcett's home to ask about the chicken problem. She lets herself into the house and discovers the place a mess. Crockery is broken in the kitchen and the windows are smashed. She makes her way through the house looking for Dan. She finds him in his bedroom - dead with his eyes pecked out. She flees the scene in terror and heads straight home.
Mitch puts her to bed and heads off to the farm with the Sheriff.
Melanie makes tea for Lydia and they talk. Lydia opens up about her life and how she feels about losing Mitch. After losing her husband Frank four years ago, she is so scared of being alone. She panics about Cathy and Melanie offers to pick her up from the school.
Melanie drives around to the school and waits on a bench outside smoking a cigarette whilst the children finish their singing lesson. Unbeknownst to her, the climbing frame behind her is slowly filling with a murder of crows. Eventually, one crow in the sky catches Melanie's attention, she follows its flight until it lands on the frame. She is horrified and heads straight into the school to alert Annie.
Annie makes the children do a fire drill and they exit the building and run off down the road. The crows attack. One of Cathy's friends falls and Cathy and Melanie help her up amongst the flurry of wings and beaks. They hide in a car until it's over.
Back at the Tides restaurant, Melanie telephones her father to explain what has been happening. Other locals start sharing their stories but one woman, Mrs Bundy, implies it's all nonsense as she is an ornithological expert. A mother of two small children asks everyone to be quiet as the talk is scaring her children, although, admittedly, it is she who appears more scared. She persuades a travelling salesman to show her the best way to the free-way. They leave the restaurant. It isn't long before they fly back in again as another attack is happening outside.
The man at the petrol station is hit, he drops the pump nozzle and it leaks across the forecourt. A man oblivious to events around him lights a cigar and drops the match. His life is over as the fire ignites and his car explodes. The flames shoot back to the pump and that too explodes. Chaos ensues and the birds watch callously from above before swooping again. Melanie rushes outside but tries to find shelter in a phone booth. The birds still attack, trying to smash the glass. She escapes and heads back to the diner. Everyone is huddled in a corner. The hysterical mother accuses Melanie of bringing the trouble to Bodega Bay and calls her 'Evil'.
Mitch takes Melanie away once the birds have moved on. They go to fetch Cathy from Annie's home only to find the schoolteacher's corpse on the steps. Cathy is safe inside but visibly distressed. Mitch is fuming and attempts to seek revenge by throwing a stone at one of the birds, but Melanie stops him just in time. They take Cathy away, back to the Brenners' home.
The bay is teeming with birds and Mitch quickly sets about boarding up the windows to the best of his ability. Once all inside, they sit and wait. Lydia is verging on hysteria and Cathy is concerned about her own love birds, knowing they haven't done anything wrong.
An attack on the house is heard from inside. One gull tries to break through the boards in the kitchen, but Mitch fends it off. The back door is being shredded by ravaging beaks. Mitch drags the hall stand/dresser and covers the door, nailing it in place. The power goes out, but Mitch has a torch and they wait for it to be over...
Eventually, everything is quiet again. Hours pass and all are asleep apart from Melanie. She hears noises upstairs. She takes the torch and ascends the stairs. In a room at the top of the house, she finds a hole in the roof. The birds are everywhere. They attack her and she falls back against the door, desperately flailing her arms around to protect herself. They are beginning to overcome her but Mitch has woken and drags her from the room.
Downstairs, they all tend to Melanie's wounds, but she has gone into severe shock.
Mitch insists they take her to hospital. He sneaks outside to retrieve Melanie's car from the garage. The birds are still around, swamping the area, but they are not attacking. Once the car is out of the garage, he goes back into the house to fetch Melanie and his family. With trepidation, they leave the house, Cathy insisting she brings the love birds. They carefully drive off through the masses of birds waiting patiently for their next attack...
Cathy: (on her brother's job) "He has a client now who shot his wife in the head six times. Six times! Can you imagine it? I mean, even twice would be overdoing it, don't you think?"
Annie: "...probably lost his way in the dark."
Melanie:: "But it isn't dark Annie, it's a full moon."
Melanie: (on how she fills her days) "On Tuesdays, I take a course in General Semantics at Berkeley, finding new four-letter words."
"I have an Aunt Tessa... I'm giving her a mynah bird when she comes back from Europe. Mynah birds talk, you know. Can you see my Aunt Tessa's face when this one tells us one or two of the words I've picked up at Berkeley?"
Child in restaurant: "Are the birds gonna eat us Mommy?"
Even Hunter's script is wonderful. It plays with you as it builds up the relationships of the characters and making them flawed yet real.
There are number of moments where I still get chills when watching this film, most particularly when the beaks are pecking through the door.
Hitch has done an amazing job building up the tension slowly and the terrifying his audience with horrific and unwarranted attacks on the humans but still maintaining his edge of black humour.
My favourite shot in this film is towards the end when the trapped family hear that the birds are leaving the house. We silently see their faces looking upwards with hope and fear, then we slowly pan out from Lydia, to incorporate Melanie and then Mitch's face. It's subtle but incredibly effective.
The cast is stunning. Everyone is perfect in their roles from the young Veronica Cartwright as Cathy Brenner to Ethel Griffies as the cantankerous and self-righteous Mrs Bundy. 'Tippi' is beautiful and classy throughout and Jessica Tandy is wonderful as the icy mother who slowly shows signs of thawing.
There is no musical score to the film which makes the whole thing just uncomfortable enough to creep you out. Bernard Herrmann did, however, supervise the sound effects of the birds. The song the children sing was actually penned by the screenwriter, Even Hunter.
Sure, some of the special effects look dated now, but it is still very high on my list of 'favourite films of all-time'. 10/10