“It’s the end of the world.”
Today, we celebrate the 55th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting masterpiece, The Birds, which was released in 1963. Along with 1960’s Psycho, The Birds is one of the films that are identified with Hitchcock.
The man is known as a Master of Suspense for good reason. His films not only captivate the audience, but terrify them with the possibility of a grim, macabre reality. The situation that he drops you in is plausible and, at the same time, terrifying. He is known for building up the tension, mystery and uncertainty in his films – adding to the symphony of suspense. Hitchcock was, indeed, a visionary.
The Birds is about a young lady, Melanie Daniels, who travels to California’s small seaside town with a pair of lovebirds for her possible boyfriend, Mitch Brenner, an eligible bachelor that she met in a pet shop in San Francisco. The quaint town of Bodega Bay turns chaotic when strange occurrences begin to happen, terrorizing the residents in the town – events that wage war between nature and humanity.
The original story was created by Daphne Du Maurier (Don’t Look Now 1973), with a screenplay by Evan Hunter (The Young Savages 1961). The movie stars Roy Taylor (Inglorious Basterds 2009), Tippi Hedren (Marnie 1964), and Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy 1989).
The Birds delivers by climaxing to a level that overpowers the viewer. The disturbing sounds of shrieking birds, waiting to attack their next victims, scratch at that instinctual itch to avoid creatures with beaks and talons. The townspeople twist and turn in revulsion while alienating themselves from one another in order to keep at a safe distance. The silence between the squawks becomes deafening as each person contemplates their own demise.
The acting is good and totally believable, especially when put up against this kind of situation. There is pure terror in the eyes of the kids trying to escape the mass flock of birds, and the worry and dread portrayed by the adults is tangible. No matter how many times you watch The Birds, the essence of terror and fear is still palpable in the film. His characters have personality, flavor and even humor, making them all the more relatable.
- When audiences left the film’s UK premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, they were greeted by the sound of screeching and flapping birds from loudspeakers hidden in the trees to scare them further.
- Rod Taylor claims that the seagulls were fed a mixture of wheat and whiskey. It was the only way to get them to stand around so much…. a question on all of our minds.
- The schoolhouse in Bodega, California, had been known to be haunted. According to Tippi Hedren, the entire cast was spooked to be there. She also mentioned how she had the feeling that “the building was immensely populated… but there was nobody there.” When Hitchcock was told about the schoolhouse being haunted, he was even more excited to film there.
- The sound of reel-to-reel tape being run backward and forward was used to help create the frightening bird squawking sounds in the film.
- The classic scene in which Tippi Hedren watches birds attacking the townsfolk was filmed in the studio from a phone booth. When Melanie opens the phone booth door, a bird trainer had trained gulls to fly at it. Surviving photos of the shooting of the scene were published in the book, Hitchcock at Work by Bill Krohn. She was actually cut in the face by a bird!
- The movie features 370 effects shots. The final shot is a composite of 32 separately filmed elements.
- When Melanie enters Bodega Bay School for first time, we can hear a child singing. When they turn around to see Melanie, and the child is clearly not moving their lips.
- When Melanie is driving up the coast road, a shot shows the lovebirds sitting in their cage on the floor. Audio clearly has a gear shift sound, but the shadow of the gear shift never moves, nor is a shadow hand shown.
- During the bird attack on the house, Melanie falls back, almost swooning, and crushes a lamp-shade. But, during the rest of the movie, the lampshade remains in perfect condition.
- When Melanie brings a bedridden Lydia some tea, Lydia’s hair is a mess. Then her hair is neatly arranged. In the next shot, it’s messed up again.
- At the end of the movie when Mitch gets in Melanie’s car to take it out of the garage, he closes the window of the car. After a minute when he gets out of the car in front of the garage, the window is open.
- When the actors enter the Brenner house, there is a fireplace to their left. But the exterior shots of the housefront show no fireplace at all, and aerial shots show only one chimney at the far end of the building towards the barn.
- Traveling Salesman at diner’s bar: “Kill ’em all. Get rid of the messy animals.”
- Doomsayer in diner: “It’s the end of the world!”
- Melanie Daniels: “It said, ‘Dear Mister Brenner, I think you need these lovebirds after all. They may help your personality.'”
- Melanie Daniels: “Well, it might have been good enough in Rome, but it’s not good enough now.”
- Melanie Daniels: “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
- There were no ending credits. In the opening credits, the title “The Birds” was slowly pecked away by the passing crows.
- There is no music in the opening credits.
- During the credits at the beginning, sound effects from the film are played.
If you’re a fan of classic cinema and a lover of Alfred Hitchcock, you must have some thoughts on this 55 year old classic, and why it earns its place in everyone’s classic thriller collection.