Mitch the Louse
"I think you're a louse," Melanie tells Mitch Brenner.
"I am," he responds.
And he's right. He is a louse—at first.
Consider the evidence. The first thing Mitch does is play a practical joke on Melanie. She's pretending to be a clerk in the store where he's buying some birds. So, he tweaks her back. You know, to teach her a lesson.
But then, he goes on to be a self-righteous jerk about it.
MITCH: We met in court ... I'll rephrase it. I saw you in court ... Don't you remember one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate-glass window?
MELANIE: I didn't break that window. What are you, a policeman?
MITCH: No, but your little prank did. The judge should have put you behind bars. I merely believe in the law, Miss Daniels ... I just thought you might like to know what it's like to be on the other end of a gag. What do ya think of that?"
How smug and self-righteous is that? He's reprimanding her like she's 12. He's totally using what he knows about her past to ridicule her. And we're supposed to see him as cute and charming and righteous: "I merely believe in the law, Miss Daniels." Go soak your head, Mitch. Doesn't the law say something about confidentiality?
He keeps it up when Melanie comes out to Bodega Bay. She's brought his sister a birthday gift, and she's clearly smitten with him (who knows why, but she is). But, he just keeps sneering at her, tweaking her about having been in the gossip columns and of "running around with a pretty wild crowd." He gets all judgmental and superior. "I loathe you. You're arrogant and conceited," Melanie says.
And, she's right.
(Yeah, we have an opinion about this one.)
Mitch must think women swoon for guys who are condescending. You know, the bad-boy thing. And, even worse, the film agrees with him; the more of a jerk he is, the more Melanie likes him. The film and Melanie almost endorse his louse-ishness.
Yeah, we know—it was a movie of its time. That doesn't mean we have to condone it.
Maybe we've been too hasty. Maybe this is all just charming, flirtatious banter. After all, as the film goes along, Mitch does seem to be less louse-like. He seems delighted and grateful that Melanie has brought the lovebirds. He's sympathetic when Melanie talks about her estrangement from her mom. After she's attacked by the birds in the attic, he's genuinely horrified and insists on getting her to a doctor, no matter the risk.
Men: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. At least in Hitchcock films.
When the birds attack, Mitch stops being a smug louse and starts being more of a standard-issue action/suspense hero. He does competent hero things like insisting that the threat from the birds is real, boarding up the house, and then getting everyone safely into the car.
Mitch proves to be "manly," after all.
Every important woman in the film wants Mitch's affections. Lydia, Cathy, Annie, and Melanie: all these "birds" flock around him like Royal Wing Mealworms and Nuts Suet Balls.
Critics tend to blame the bird attacks on the women in Mitch's life. They're a manifestation of Lydia's maternal anxieties about keeping hold of Mitch. Or, they're because of Melanie's sexual desire for Mitch. ("I think you're the cause of all of this. I think you're evil. EVIL!")
But, what if the birds aren't about Lydia's desires or Melanie's desires, but are actually about Mitch's desires? The first bird attack occurs when Mitch is approaching Melanie at the bay and a seagull strikes her. Later, the birds kill Annie, who was stuck on Mitch. Then, they go after Melanie again in that gruesome attic scene.
Remember Annie's dry comment about San Francisco? "I guess that's where everyone meets Mitch." And Mitch himself says, somewhat ominously, "I think I can handle Melanie Daniels by myself." And Lydia says, "Mitch has always done exactly what he wanted to do." All of this suggests that Mitch might be a selfish playboy who picks up hearts (like Annie's) and then discards them as he wishes.
Rather than a symbol of dangerous femininity, then, the birds could be a symbol of dangerous masculinity—a warning, in other words, about lousy, dashing men, and the kind of violence their condescension might hide. Annie starts a relationship with Mitch and ends up dead. Melanie starts one and ends up traumatized—and possibly maimed for life.
Maybe we blame Adam this time, not Eve.