The Birds (1963) - Illustrated Reference

The Birds was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and premiered on the 28th March 1963. Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright, Suzanne Pleshette and Charles McGraw. Screenplay by Evan Hunter based on a story by Daphne du Maurier. 119mins.

Melanie Daniels drives to Bodega Bay to deliver two love birds to Mitch Brenner’s sister on arriving there a seagull swoops down and hits her on the forehead. Soon there are other incidents of birds striking people eventually the whole town is under attack by thousands of birds of every variety. But what is causing this strange phenomenon?

Author Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was born in London, England, her most famous novel was Rebecca (1938) which in 1940 became an Oscar-winning film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). She also wrote the novel Jamaica Inn (1936) which was directed by Hitchcock in 1939. The Birds was a short story included in a collection by de Maurier titled The Apple Tree published in 1952

Rod Taylor (1930-) / Mitch Brenner

Born in Sydney, Australia, Rod Taylor’s films include – Giant (1956), Raintree County (1957), The Time Machine (1960),101 Dalmations (1961 voice of Pongo), Seven Seas to Calais (1962), The VIPs (1963), The Liquidator (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), Dark of the Sun (1968), The Train Robbers (1973) and Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Tippi Hedren (1930-) / Melanie Daniels

Born in New Ulm, Minnesota, Tippi Hedren won a Most Promising Newcomer Golden Globe for The Birds (1963), her films include – Marnie (1964), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), The Harrad Experiment (1973), Roar (1981), Pacific Heights (1990) and I Heart Huckabees (2004).

Jessica Tandy (1909-1994) / Lydia Brenner

Born in London, England, Jessica Tandy won a Best Actress Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), her films include – Dragonwyck (1946), Forever Amber (1947), The Bostonians (1984), Cocoon (1985), Batteries Not Included (1987), Cocoon the Return (1988), The House on Carroll Street (1988) and Nobody’s Fool (1994).

Veronica Cartwright (1949-) / Cathy Brenner

Born in Bristol, England, Veronica Cartwright won a Best Supporting Actress Saturn Award for Alien (1979), her films include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Right Stuff (1983), Flight of the Navigator (1986), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Money Talks (1997) and The Invasion (2007).

Suzanne Pleshette (1937-2008) / Annie Hayworth

Born in New York City, Suzanne Pleshette’s films include - 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), Fate is the Hunter (1964), Nevada Smith (1966), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Power (1968), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976).

Charles McGraw (1914-1980) / Sebastian Sholes

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Charles McGraw’s films include – The Killers (1946), Armored Car Robbery (1950), The Narrow Margin (1952), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), Away All Boats (1956), The Defiant Ones (1958), Spartacus (1960), Cimarron (1960), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).

Melanie Daniels: What were the crows after at the school?
Bird Woman: What do you think they were after?
Melanie Daniels: The children.
Bird Woman: For what purpose?
Melanie Daniels: To kill them.
Bird Woman: Why?
Melanie Daniels: I don't know why.
Bird Woman: Birds have been on this planet since archaeopteryx. 140 million years ago. Doesn't it seem odd that they'd wait all that time to wage war against humanity?
Man in Diner: Get yourself guns and wipe them off the face of the Earth!
Bird Woman: That would hardly be possible.
Mr. Carter: Why not Mrs. Bundy?
Bird Woman: Because there are 8,650 species of birds in the world. It is estimated that 5,750,000,000 birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world...
Man in Diner: Kill 'em all! Get rid of the messy animals!
Bird Woman: ...probably contain more than a hundred billion birds.
Doomsayer in Diner: It's the end of the world!

After the success of Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock was on the lookout for another sensational story. The Birds appealed to him because birds were essentially harmless creatures, the challenge was how do you make them terrifying?

Daphne du Maurier’s short story was adapted to screenplay by Evan Hunter (1926-2005) who’s more famous pseudonym was Ed McBain, a best-selling author of crime fiction. Hunter had sold over a hundred million books in his lifetime.

All that remains of du Maurier’s story were the title and bird attacks.

The original story was set in Cornwall, England and centres on a family living in an isolated cottage, the bird attacks are connected to the rise and fall of the tides. The story ends with the terrified family trapped in their cottage surrounded by birds, their fate unknown.

In the movie there is no explanation to the bird attacks, it seems to start when Melanie Daniels enters Bodega Bay. The ending was left ambiguous, the birds allow the Brenner’s to leave their house along with Melanie, on the radio are reports of attacks by birds in other towns. There is no “The End” title, as they drive off the film fades to black and to the Universal logo.

One of the endings considered for the film was a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds implying that the attacks were spreading to the major cities.

The movie contains no music score, Hitchcock’s favourite composer Bernard Herrmann worked on the film as sound consultant. Electronically enhanced and distorted bird sounds would substitute for music.

Tippi Hedren was in a commercial for a diet drink on TV when Hitchcock spotted her and asked her to audition for the part of Melanie Daniels. She was hyped as “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly” in Look magazine.

The film contains 370 special effects shots. The final shot alone was a composite of 32 separate elements.

Legendary matte artist Albert Whitlock worked on the film. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is an aerial view of Bodega Bay, a seagull flies into shot, than more birds appear until the screen is full of them. A complex shot combining real footage, matte painting and seagulls matted in.

In the scene near the end where Tippi is in a room full of attacking birds, she was really badly scratched, pecked and bruised, real birds were thrown at her, some were tied to her clothes. Some of the blood was real. The scene took a week to shoot. Filming was shut down for a week afterwards so she could recover.

When Tippi asked Hitchcock why she would foolishly walk up to that room by herself, he replied “Because I tell you to.”

In the opening scene where Tippi crosses the road and walks into the pet store there is a transition from a location shot to an on set shot. The transition point is when she passes behind a sign.

Hitchcock’s cameo is near the start of the movie, he is seen walking out of a pet shop with two dogs while Tippi Hedren walks in.

The Birds cost $2.5m to make and was one of the big hits of 1963 grossing $11.4m in the US, it was nominated for a special effects Oscar losing to Cleopatra.

The Birds ranked #7 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Thrillers list. Evan Hunter’s script was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award, losing to Charade.

A Made-for-TV sequel appeared in 1994 – The Birds II: Lands End – it doesn’t take place in Bodega Bay and Tippi Hedren appears in an unrelated role. The movie received a thumbs-down from critics and director Rick Rosenthal removed his name from the credits.

A remake of The Birds was announced in 2007 and was to have starred George Clooney and Naomi Watts with Martin Campbell directing, but nothing came of it.


The Critics Wrote –

"Making a terrifying menace out of what is assumed to be one of nature's most innocent creatures and one of man's most melodious friends,

Mr. Hitchcock and his associates have constructed a horror film that should raise the hackles on the most courageous and put goose-pimples on the toughest hide." (Bosley Crowther, New York Times)

“Hitchcock at his best. Full of subterranean hints as to the ways in which people cage each other, it’s fierce and Freudian as well as great cinematic fun.” (Tom Milne)

“The dialogue is stupid, the characters insufficiently developed to rank as cliches, the story incohesive... Hitchcock's direction has never been so tired, so devoid even of attempts at sardonic realism.” (Stanley Kauffmann)

“Fans hooked on Hitchcock may be dismayed to discover that, after 38 years and more than 40 films, dealing mainly in straightforward shockery.

The Master has traded in his uncomplicated tenets of terror for a new outlook that is vaguely nouvelle vague... Why did the birds go to war?...Hitchcock does not tell, and the movie flaps to a plotless end.” (Time)

“A major work of cinematic art.” (Andrew Sarris)

"Psycho, everyone was heard saying, couldn’t be topped. He has topped it. The Birds is, in every way, a bit more serious, more thoroughly conceived film; an excellent blending of character and incident, of atmosphere and terror.

If he had never made another motion picture in his life, The Birds would place him securely among the giants of the cinema." (Peter Bogdanovich)

The Birds (1963) Trailer

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21 comments

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I think I have only seen this movie one time....and reading the first paragraph in your hub...I have come to the conclusion I need to see it again...as I have no memory of Jessica Tandy or Suzanne Pleshette even being in the movie.

Awesome photos as usual but I really like photo #9 of the car driving towards the water....wow what detail in that shot. Looking at the reviews...it seems Stanley Kauffmann really did not like this movie and makes me wonder what he thought of the other Hitchcock movies.

Not surprised that Charade beat it out for the Edgar Allan Poe award....fascinating hub on another Hitchcock classic and one I will being watching again in the near future....as I am having a hard time remembering the movie other than birds attacking humans and cars and the anti-climax ending.... Voted up and interesting and informative.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Bruce, your comments are always appreciated. Yeah this film had some harsh reviews but director Peter Bogdanovich liked it a lot. Every movie has someone who loves it or hates it, even The Exorcist! ;)

Suzanne Pleshette could easily have been the leading lady, so pretty, she died a few years ago, sadly.

It was unusual in those days for a movie not to have everything neatly explained at the end. The book sort of blamed it on the tides making the birds go mental while the film just doesn't bother, another reason why I love Hitchcock.


DIYmyOmy profile image

DIYmyOmy 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

Fabulous job on this article, and The Birds is one of my favorite Hitchcock gem (and Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors).

I love all the photos, and the quote is a great touch as well.

Voted it up and 'awesomed' it!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks DIYmyOmy, appreciate the comment and votes. Glad you liked it. The Birds was one of the first Hitchcock films I remember seeing when I was young. I liked it before I even knew who Hitchcock was. :)

It's the closest Hitch ever got to science fiction in his movies.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

Well, you were publishing a new hub quite often during my music festival vocal segment when I had no time to read any hubs. I'm so behind now! Well, I'll focus on The Birds tonight.

The Birds is one of the few gory horror films that I've seen multiple times. I'm quite familiar with the background of the making of the movie. I won't go into my thoughts about that, because it's too complex for a comment on the film - plus I read a hub by Hyphenbird on, among other things, spoilers being included in the comments by readers of the hub when there has been no warning that there will be spoilers. Sometimes people see a comment that reveals the ending to films or books they've never seen/read. And as there are plans to make a movie about the making of the movie, that might spoil things for people? I don't know that I want to see it or not.

I don't see there was any point in making the sequel.

I've read The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne DeMaurier.

You have Veronica Cartright down as 1949 only, no "-"

I'm quite familiar with the careers of all the adults in the movie. I love Tandy and Plashette (esp. her TV career). I'm more familiar with Rod Taylor than another R. Taylor. I know I've seen Cartright's films you list, But I have no idea what she looks like as an adult, so I have no idea who she was in those movies.

I read a lot of Ed McBain mysteries. When he died, the was remembered in the movie world as Hunter, the screenwriter for this film first, and as Ed McBain second.

I've spoken to people via internet to people who live in Bodega Bay, and when you stay there in a hotel, you get a copy of this film to watch.

By the way, the poem that the children sing in the film did exist already in several verses understand them. But when the poem is in front of me, I can hear the song in my head.

I've lost track of the times I've seen the trailer.

My favourite poster is the one with Rod Taylor by himself at the window.

Great Hitchcock film.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hello Flora, good to see you back from your music festival, I hope it went well. Yeah I've been busy posting hubs, while I'm in the mood for it, next week I might not be. :)

Thanks for the info, anecdotes, correction, observations and comment, much appreciated. Well I did promise you a film you've seen! I can well imagine Hitchcock fans visiting Bodega Bay because of this film. I would have gone if I was living in the US.

Thanks for posting! Altogether now - "I married my wife

in the month of June. Ristle-tee, rostle-tee Now, now, now..." :)


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Well I just watched The Birds....my handy dandy notebook says I had watched in before....roughly in 1984 according to my notebook....but I only remember the scene at the school with the kids running down the street and the very ending of the movie....other than that no memory at all for the rest of the movie.

I thought Tippi Hedren looked more like Grace Kelly in this movie than any other movie I have seen her in....Hitch was trying to turn her into the next Grace Kelly....and probably trying to turn Rod Taylor into Cary Grant.....especially with the first third of the movie. I actually have to admit that I now like the ending as well....thanks for doing this hub which got me motivated to watch the movie again.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

Bruce - When Grace Kelly married and became Princess Grace, the people of Monaco wouldn't let her act anymore. She was Hitch's favourite actress. What you said is exactly the problem Tippi had - and Vera miles as well. They were not Grace Kelly.

Steve - The festival went well, although we usually have 5 days of vocal competition. This year through various things being booked at the same time, we went only 2 1/2 days. But we had some great singing.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Bruce, it's great that you gave The Birds another look. I like the way you keep dates of the first time you see a film. I wish I did that too. I just keep a database of when I buy things like films, books, music etc

Flora, glad to hear the festival was a success and there was plenty of singing. :)

Btw if you want to see how Veronica Cartwright looks as an adult there's a good portrait of her in my Alien hub. You can't mistake her and she looks a bit like her sister Angela who went on to do Sound of Music and TV's Lost in Space.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Hey Steve....from 1983 to 1988 I wrote down every movie I saw and rated the movie from 1 to 4...4 being the best....sadly as adult responsibilities took over...I stopped doing the notebook....but I did keep it....I get a kick out of seeing how many movies I saw at the theater back then...now I get to see a non-kids movie about twice a year....those damn kids...lol..


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

It was a cool idea to keep track of the dates. Have you ever wondered how many films you've seen in total? Most film guides list about 20,000 noteworthy movies, one way is to grab one of these guides and make a mark next to each film you recognise as seeing. It'll take time though. :)

Thanks for posting.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

One of my favorite Hitchcock films. I saw this last year at an outdoor showing at Bryant Park in Manhattan. It looked great on a big screen in the dark. Tippi Hedren could have been Hitch's number one leading lady but apparently his obsession with her and his controlling nature creeped her out. She's mostly an environmentalist and animal activist now. My kind of woman.

Another entertaining hub,

Rob


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting Rob. I think Tippi and her actress daughter Melanie Griffith were in that lion movie, Roar? I saw it once ages ago. They were living with wild lions and didn't get eaten, madness.


Noel Tanti profile image

Noel Tanti 4 years ago from Malta

together with vertigo, this is my favourite hitchcock film... psycho, as good as it is, i think pales in comparison to the birds...

i recall reading an interview with melanie griffith, tippi hedren's daughter, where she said that hitchcock practically drove her mother crazy... he could be very nasty and obsessive with the women he liked...


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hitch has a dark side! I'm not surprised looking at his films. ;) He wanted to create a superstar, the next Grace Kelly, but Tippi wasn't up to the task. She wasn't a great actress, nor was Grace Kelly but Grace had star quality, beauty and charisma.

Hitch must have given Tippi a lot of grief during Marnie.

Thanks for posting Noel.


Noel Tanti profile image

Noel Tanti 4 years ago from Malta

apparently grace kelly was a bit of a slut on film sets but she never gave face to hitch, which made him loathe and desire her even more... could be he was unloading all this baggage on tippi hedren...


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

I know Hitch desperately wanted Grace Kelly for Marnie, he had her in mind from the beginning. One source says she was considering taking the part but being a princess she ultimately had to say no. I think she missed acting and was getting a little bored with royalty.


Noel Tanti profile image

Noel Tanti 4 years ago from Malta

when you think about it it's quite creepy as hitch was doing to tippi hedren what james stewart did to kim novak in vertigo...


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

You're right, life imitates art. No wonder Tippi felt uncomfortable with it all, she enjoyed the attention at the beginning and than it got a little weird.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

This is an excellent review of a real treat of a film. I could actually agree Steve with some of the criticisms of dialogue and plot, but the gradual build up and the set pieces are pure Hitchcock. What's more, the whole concept of an inoffensive creature - present all around us in its millions - turning bad, makes for a great cinematic idea.

The best set piece for me has to be that scene where the heroine is sitting on a bench outside of the school. The focus is on her but in the background a bird lands on a climbing frame. Then another. And one more. Then there's a brief spell when we only see Tippi, and then finally the camera cuts back to show hundreds of birds on the frame. Brilliant.

Great photos Steve (particularly those of Hitch) - the idea of a remake would certainly entice with amazing special effects I'm sure, but without the directing of Hitchcock? - I wonder.

Good review of one of my favourite Hitchcock thrillers. Voted up in most categories.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Alun, appreciate the comment and kind words. That scene you describe is probably the bit everyone remembers from this film, the birds slowly gathering and waiting outside the school, so brilliantly conceived by Hitch.

Vertigo was recently voted greatest film ever made by critics and filmmakers voting in Sight & Sound magazine, knocking Citizen Kane off the top for the first time in 50 years of voting for the top film.

Thanks for posting amigo.

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