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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 (1930-2015) / 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)