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.