My memory of watching Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS (1963) was a terrifying story where nature runs wild and humans are (of course) helpless — helpless! Rewatching, it turns out to be much smaller scale, birds turning belligerent in one small, coastal community, though one character does speak darkly of how disastrous it would be if all birds, everywhere, turned against us.
While the bird attacks are frightening, particularly when a swarm of birds shoots out of Mitch’s (Rod Taylor) chimney into the house, this is more a romance than a horror/suspense film. Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch have a meet cute in a bird store. She’s a half-reformed party girl whose father’s connections keep her out of trouble; he’s a lawyer who has nothing but disdain for someone so frivolous and irresponsible. Yep, they find each other the most obnoxious, annoying people they’ve ever met, so it’s obvious they want to get horizontal.
This fits the Hitchcock motif Hitchcock Romance discusses, that marriage is both the natural outcome of growing up and a means of getting there. Melanie’s trying to shed her irresponsible life; Mitch has left more than a few broken hearts in his wake, including his neighbor Annie (Suzanne Pleshette). Not that he’s a rake, but his mother (Jessica Tandy) doesn’t want to let go of him. The need to leave our parents and step out on our own is another Hitchcock theme (Psycho is an example of what happens when they don’t let go).
Unfortunately, the romance flops badly. Hedren was Hitchcock’s discovery, a blonde beauty in the mold of Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Kelly, however, had talent; Hedren shows none, nor any screen presence. Even if she did, things are very slow-paced for the first hour as Melanie hunts down Mitch in his rural home (he commutes to San Francisco for work) and ingratiates herself with his family. Maybe it would have worked with Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman but like I said, Hedren isn’t in their league. The shock of the bird attacks doesn’t make up for the tedium. “He shot his wife in the head six times — even twice would be overdoing it.”
Hedren wasn’t any better as the star of MARNIE (1964), playing a serial embezzler who gets jobs long enough to rip her employer off, sends the money to her mother (Louise Fletcher), then moves on. Unfortunately, Mark (Sean Connery) spots the attractive blonde at work one day, then recognizes her when she starts a job with his own company. After establishing her guilt, he pressures her to marry him, then sets himself up as her therapist. Not only is she a thief, she freaks out at the thought of sex or intimacy, panics in thunderstorms and recoils from the color red; Mark is determined to heal her.
This one mesmerized me when I caught it on TV as a tween but it doesn’t hold up. First off, there’s Hedren, still talentless; perhaps a director who was better with actors could have gotten a better performance, but Hitch wasn’t an actor’s director. Grace Kelly could have pulled it off; The Films of Sean Connery says Hitchcock tried and failed to woo Kelly out of retirement.
Second, as my friend Ross has often said, Connery’s behavior is just as strange, pressuring a woman into marriage, then obsessively trying to fix her even though she can’t even stand to touch him. Hitchcock Romance seems to conclude this reflects the Power of Love and that the many absurdities and unconvincing sets are Hitch’s way of signaling this isn’t a realistic movie (if so, it still doesn’t make it good). Another film book says the story reflects Hitch’s frustration at not being able to seduce Hedren, or that after she said no he lost all interest in the film. Either way, it’s quite forgettable. However it does have Diane Baker, Mariette Hartley and Alfred Napier giving good supporting performances. “That’s very interesting because the record shows you made your living from the touch of men.”
TEEN TITANS GO VS TEEN TITANS (2019) has the cast of the 2003-6 Teen Titans meet their counterparts from Teen Titans Go when both series’ Trigons merge (“I am Hexagon — no, not the shape!”), bringing the teams into a bemused encounter as they try to figure each other out (“They must be heroes, they’re so — tall!”). More fun than either of the Hitchcock films this week, with alt.versions including Funny Animal Titans, Baby Titans, an animated version of the live-action show and a brief cameo by the Wolfman/Perez team (though I didn’t spot the Silver Age team anywhere). Great fun, though I’m puzzled why the 2003 Robin is written to be as big a doofus as the Go! version. Weird Al Yankovic plays the Gentleman Ghost.“I like to think of you as a cool uncle … who’s not that cool.”
#SFWApro. Cover art by Nick Cardy; all rights to images remain with current holders.