Revisiting ‘The Birds’

This week I continue to revisit films from the Universal library scheduled to receive the full restoration and Blu-Ray treatment in celebration of the studio’s centenary. Today, I will take a closer look at Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film, The Birds.
In his follow to the granddaddy of the modern slasher film, Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock brings terror to the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Here’s the setup (synopsis courtesy of MUBI.com):

[Hitchcock] couples a tone of rigorous morality with dark humor to create a thriller that begins as a light comedy and ends as an apocalyptic allegory.

Loosely based on a Daphne du Maurier story and a (recent) Santa Monica newspaper account, “Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes,” The Birds [tells the story of] wealthy reformed party girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), who enjoys a brief flirtation with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet shop and decides to follow him to his Bodega Bay home.

Bearing a gift of two lovebirds, Melanie quickly strikes up a romance with Mitch while contending with his possessive mother and boarding at his ex-girlfriend’s house.

And with that, (literally) all hell breaks loose. First, the birds attack a children’s party; while it startled the crowd, they quickly dismiss it as a terrifying, but fluke occurrence. Gradually, the attacks increase in frequency and ferocity.

As mentioned above, for the time, the special effects were groundbreaking. Of course by today’s CGI standards, they look a little dated; but for me this is irrelevant. The terror behind the film is not in the realism or detail of what you are seeing but rather the terror lies in the mere fact that the birds have decided to turn on civilization apparently without any provocation. In a moment of levity, right in the midst of the birds’ reign of terror, patrons of a diner have a debate about the terror WE have unleashed and the possibility that this is nature’s retaliation. And with a sense of wicked irony, we see a patron ordering and eating some chicken.

In her first starring role, Tippi Hedren is the epitome of Hitchcock’s “Icy Blonde”. There is a lot more that can be discussed about the psycho-sexuality of her and the other characters in the story, but I will leave that to more qualified folks who have spoken and written about this subject extensively.

At its best, The Birds is signature Hitchcock with its high level of craft and execution. It is a thrilling and fun piece of film that is bound to entertain you.

A Few Bits of Trivia (Source: IMDb.com)

  • Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird in one of the shots.
  • As previously stated, there is no musical score for the film except for the sounds created on the mixtrautonium (photo at right), by Oskar Sala, and the children singing in the school. In spite of this, Hitchcock’s frequent musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann is credited as a sound consultant.
  • The scene where Tippi Hedren is ravaged by birds near the end of the movie took a week to shoot. The birds were attached to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away.
  • The film does not finish with the usual “THE END” title because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of unending terror.
  • A number of endings were being considered for this film. One that was considered would have showed the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered by birds.

Hitchcock’s Cameo

Hitchcock can be seen at the start of the film walking two dogs out of the pet shop Melanie Daniels is entering.

Comments

  1. Hi, iluv and company:

    Excellent topic and photos!

    I’ve always had the feeling that Hitchcock was in playful mood when directing ‘The Birds’ and had a desire to toy and become familiar with and refine some of the newer technologies (Back screen shooting, sound effects, looping and modification) of its day.

    Don’t get me wrong. ‘The Birds’ is still one of Hitchcock’s better, later films. Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are great as they seek answers to the unknown. Though there seemed to be a whole lot more build-up and suspense for a less than satisfying pay-off.

    PS: Keep your eyes open over at Ruth’s ‘FlixChatter’ the next few days. I’ve done a guest review of a favorite of mine from way back. The Thing from Another World that should be up soon.

    • Thanks Jack!

      I agree that this is definitely a sign of Hitch on the gradual decline … but it is still better than some others’ “best” work, isn’t it.
      And you are on point about the playfulness surrounding this production. The dialogue is rather sharp and ironic in several places.

  2. Great look at this Hitchcock classic, Iba. Besides the great points you bring up regarding this extraordinary film, I think the famed British filmmaker accomplished something in this that he rarely did. A handful of scenes hit real emotional tones. For example, he had the audience connect with Suzanne Pleshette’s Annie Hayworth is such a way that her death was a wrenching one (to Melanie and the girl Cathy) instead of merely thrilling in a voyeuristic manner. When I saw this a kid, I felt scarred by it (still do). Good point about the breakthrough special effects of the time. I’d even say that I still prefer them to many of today’s CGI versions (which can come off as animation-like too many times as they’re plopped into live action sequences). Well done, Iba. Thanks.
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  3. Really looking forward to getting my hands on the Blu-ray, especially after the sterling work on the release of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT which is a great movie given a marvelous presentation.

    This is a powerful and genuinely peculiar movie, by which I mean that it seems to be pulling in many directions with many strange and unexplained undercurrents in the various relationships reflecting the mysterious and ultimately unresolved nature of the attacks – and in the end, while I probably hated the conclusion as a youngster, I now find that emotionally it seems to ultimately coalesce quite successfully. Evan Hunter wrote a very amusing memoir about the making of the film, ME & HITCH, which is well worth tracking down, though eh completely disputes many of the layers of deep interpretation that the film has been subjected to. With all due respect to Mr hunter, who as ‘Ed McBain’ wrote some of the best police procedurals of the last 50s years, I think he’s flat out wrong about that.
    Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) recently posted..Twilight (1998) – Tuesday’s Forgotten FilmMy Profile

    • Great analysis Sergio. You bring up a very salient point about all of the different things going on in the story. It is quite complex. It is a Hitchcock film after all :)

  4. My comment disappeared. I’m not sure if you’re approving comments or not so I’ll post it again if I can remember. :)

    Just wanted to say that The Birds is one of those films that always draws me in even though I’ve seen it several times. The special effects are quite good enough for what’s needed, in my opinion. Think of the color carnage they’d show today if the film were remade. No thanks.

    I enjoyed reading your post, it reminded me it may be time to see this movie again.But maybe I’ll wait until they polish it up a bit.

    The idea of nature running amok is a scary one in and of itself. I don’t think it necessarily has to be birds at all. It could have been anything, really. The world runs for us on a system of natural checks and balances, but we’re foolish to think it will go on indefinitely making allowances for our missteps.

  5. This is one of those Hitchcock classics I haven’t seen yet and another film I’m looking forward to in Universal’s new restoration project. Looks like another one to put on my to-buy list.
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  6. Great spotlight! This was actually the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw, way back in high school. I enjoyed it then, but I ought to give it another viewing to see how it compares now that I have seen more of his work.
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  7. Terrifying Hitchcock classic.

    Nice write up.
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  1. […] Seeing The Birds on the big screen is an impressive experience. Well I have already waxed poetic about the virtues of the Hitchcock classic earlier this year so I will not go into great detail here. But this past Wednesday I had the […]

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