Something for the Birds turned out to be much wittier and more interesting than I expected based on the silly title and even sillier publicity, which makes it look like a screwball comedy. Out of curiosity, I looked at the user reviews on IMdB—make that singular, review, because there was only one. Written by someone called Matt_Wall, the headline alone was grating: “Oddly Prescient Mismatch Comedy of Oil Lobbyists vs. Environmentalists.” He went further in the text, stating that it was “hard to believe this script was written in the early 1950s.” Oh, really, Mr. Wall?
The eponymous birds are California condors, and the plot is about fighting gas companies who are threatening their existence. Evidently Mr. Wall appears to be one of a disturbingly long list of people (the majority of people?) who seem to believe that nothing much happened before they were born, or before they became aware of it. Gas was first drilled for in California in 1821, and there have been conservationists since Wordsworth (if not Plato), so this was an old story by 1952—an old story, but to be fair, an increasingly headline-worthy one. As for the condor, California’s Audubon Society had been fighting to preserve its habitat since the 1930s. In addition, it almost goes without saying that environmentally conscious movies predate this one. To name a very famous example, which this film resembles, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) has Jimmy Stewart filibustering Congress for the establishment of a national boys’ camp, in opposition to corrupt politicians and dam-builders.
The Birds script, credited to I.A.L. Diamond among others (obscure all), has enough wit so that it hardly needed a screwball spin or the silly musical score. Victor Mature is not a great actor (“Actually, I am a golfer. That is my real occupation. I never was an actor. Ask anybody, particularly the critics”), but he is well cast as the oily lobbyist. On the other hand, Edmund Gwenn and the divine Patricia Neal bring their reliable gifts to their roles; both exude intelligence, dignity, and disarming honesty.
Any summation I offer could not compete with the dialog, which has more than a few good lines aimed at Washington, D.C.’s den of predators and thieves:
“No one has ever accused me of being unpatriotic. In fact, I was the
first man in the House to speak out against the Japanese beetle.”
Congressman: “Is it your practice to distribute gifts to people in high
places?” Lobbyist: “Only to those who accept them.”
“You know how it is in Washington. The more you deny something, the more everybody believes it.”
Said of a widow: “That’s quite an accomplishment, surviving a Southern
After a wolf whistle: “That’s the mating call of the Potomac night
Journalist: “You’d barbecue your grandmother on the Capitol steps for a buck.” Lobbyist: “And you’d be right there with your little notebook taking down her last word.”
Said of a lobbyist: “Steve hasn’t an enemy in the world, but I like