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George At 

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The Birds

In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock's challenge was following up one of the biggest box office hits of his career, 1961's "Psycho". As Hitch often did, he doubled down on the scares with THE BIRDS.

The film takes its time in setting up the terror as we meet wealthy young Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, very good in her film debut after Hitchcock discovered her in a diet soda TV commercial) entering a pet shop in downtown San Francisco.

After a chance meeting with famous eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor at his best), Melanie decides to buy the love birds that Mitch was looking for and deliver them to his home outside the city.

In the first half hour, we see several birds acting strangely, but the first shock comes when a large gull comes down and attacks Melanie when she's approaching Mitch's country home.

It seems incidental at first and the film moves on, setting up an unspoken attraction between Mitch and Melanie, surrounded by all the eccentric characters you'd expect in a small town in the early sixties.

And then Hitch turns the screw and the birds descend on the small town in several vicious attacks.

The scene in the schoolyard has become a film classic, with Melanie sitting down on a bench and looking over at monkey bars where one crow sits. While we watch birds fly in behind her, she looks back several moments later to a huge murder of crows waiting to attack the school children when the bell rings a moment later.

Hitchcock stages the attack perfectly and shows incredible camera work later when the downtown area is attacked and we see the worst moments of the attack from a half mile above the mayhem.

There are equally creepy quiet moments lurking through the farm houses of the town.

Hitchcock serves up one of his most interesting film endings here, avoiding his standard THE END title credits for something much more still and disturbing.

Watch for Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show) as Annie, Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) as Mitch's mother Lydia and Veronica Cartwright (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Witches of Eastwick, Alien) as Mitch's young sister.

It's the only Hitchcock film without any music, instead choosing strange electronic sounds as its score.

Suspenseful, smart and fascinating, THE BIRDS was a huge hit in 1963 and holds up very well more than half a century later.

Hedren is stunning.

Hitch and his talented flock get an A.

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