Last year I was lucky enough to go to an open air screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’. It was a magical night, with the sun setting behind us and the film projected onto the side of a castle. But aside from the memory of the experience, I also came away that evening with a new style obsession.
‘The Birds’ was released in 1963, and for those who haven’t seen it, the main character is a spoiled socialite and notorious practical joker called Melanie Daniels, who one day goes shopping in a San Francisco pet store when she meets the hunky Mitch Brenner. Mitch is looking to buy a pair of love birds for his young sister’s birthday; he recognizes Melanie but pretends to mistake her for an assistant. She decides to simultaneously get her own back and flirt with him by buying the birds and following him to the quiet coastal town of Bodega Bay, where Mitch spends his weekends. As the weekend progresses, strange occurrences related to Bodega Bay’s bird population become increasingly more frequent and sinister. I’ll leave it there in case you get round to watching it yourself.
Melanie Daniels, played by starlet and former model Tippi Hedren, is clearly meant to be the style icon of the piece, but I would argue that the secondary female character, Annie Hayworth, makes a more compelling pitch for the title. Annie Hayworth, played by Suzanne Pleshette, is the lovely local school teacher who was drawn from the city to Bodega Bay in an attempt to remain close to Mitch after their relationship faltered, despite having accepted that nothing more than friendship would ever materialise. Her self-induced melancholy translated into sultry stares into the middle distance and her tragic tale delivered in Pleshette’s naturally husky voice are the stuff true fictional icons are made of.
Annie Hayworth is perhaps surprisingly accepting of Brenner’s new love interest Melanie Daniels, and with a sense resignation even offers a kind of guarded friendship towards the flashy blonde. Like yin and yang, the scenes in which they both appear are like watching night and day in the same room. Pleshette’s warm, earthy character is a perfect contrast to the icy blonde beauty Melanie Daniels. To quote the ever insightful Gertie, ‘Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but I’ve always loved the drama of dark hair’, so perhaps I’m naturally drawn to a brooding brunette over an untouchable porcelain ice-queen such as Melanie. Also, having since read a little about the actress Suzanne Pleshette (yes, I was that effected by the film!) by all accounts she was a vivacious and fun loving individual with a love of sharing dirty jokes whilst on-set, so perhaps the appeal of Annie Hayworth has now fused in my mind with my vision of the zesty Pleshette. Anyway, how can you make the distinction between when a character ends and the actor begins!
Stylistically, the silhouettes of Hayworth’s outfits are similar to the more fashionable Daniels’, but Hayworth’s garments also reflect the colder climate of Bodega Bay as well as her profession. Muted, moody and earthy tones seem to have been the costumier’s palette for the character, but I would argue they fail to subdue Annie’s restrained sexiness. I don’t know what Mitch Brenner was thinking!