The Birds (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Screenplay by||Evan Hunter|
|Based on||The Birds
by Daphne du Maurier
|Cinematography||Robert Burks, ASC|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||119 minutes|
The Birds is a 1963 suspense/horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on the 1952 story "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier. It depicts Bodega Bay, California, which is, suddenly and for unexplained reasons, the subject of a series of widespread and violent bird attacks over the course of a few days.
The screenplay was written by Evan Hunter. Hitchcock told him to develop new characters and a more elaborate plot, keeping Du Maurier's title and concept of unexplained bird attacks.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), a young socialite, meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet shop. Mitch wants to purchase a pair of lovebirds for his sister's eleventh birthday, but the shop has none. He recognizes Melanie from a previous encounter, but she does not remember him, so he plays a prank by pretending to mistake her for a salesperson. She is infuriated when she realizes this, even though she also likes to play practical jokes. Intrigued, Melanie finds out that Mitch lives in Bodega Bay, purchases a pair of lovebirds, and takes the long drive to the bay. She secretly deposits the bird cage inside Mitch's mother's house, with a note. Mitch spots her on the water during her retreat, and manages to talk to her after she is attacked and injured by a seagull. Mitch invites her to dinner, and she hesitantly agrees.
Melanie develops a relationship with Mitch, his widowed mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). She also befriends local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), who is Mitch's ex-lover. When Melanie stays for the night at Annie's house, they are startled by a loud thud; a gull has killed itself by flying into the front door. At Cathy's birthday party the next day, the children are set upon by seagulls. The following evening, sparrows invade the Brenner home through the chimney.
The next morning, Lydia goes to visit a neighboring farmer who has experienced similar trouble with his chickens as Lydia has with hers. She discovers his corpse (with its eyes pecked out) after the birds assaulted his house. She flees the scene in terror. After being comforted by Melanie and Mitch, Lydia is concerned about Cathy's safety at school. Melanie drives there and waits for class to end, initially unaware that a huge number of crows are massing nearby. Horrified when she sees the playground engulfed by them, she warns Annie, and they evacuate the children. However, the motion of the children evacuating the schoolhouse stirs the crows, and the birds attack, injuring several children.
Melanie meets Mitch at a local restaurant. Several patrons describe their own encounters with strange bird behaviour. A drunk believes the attacks are a sign of the Apocalypse, and a traveling salesman suggests exterminating them all. An expert ornithologist dismisses the reports of attacks as fanciful and argues about it with Melanie. A young mother becomes increasingly distressed by the conversation and chides them all for frightening her children. Suddenly, the birds begin to attack the people outside the restaurant. At a nearby gas station, a motorist is attacked by the birds while filling his car with gasoline; he is knocked unconscious and the gasoline pours out onto the street. The salesman from the restaurant, unaware that he is standing in a puddle of the gasoline, lights a cigar and drops the lit match. The gasoline ignites, killing him. The birds attack in greater numbers as people pour from the diner to survey the damage; Melanie is forced to take refuge in a phone booth as the birds create chaos outside, stabbing and pecking people and causing traffic accidents and many other severe injures. Mitch rescues Melanie and they return to the restaurant, where the hysterical mother accuses Melanie of being "evil" and causing the attacks, and the ornithologist sits in silence. Melanie and Mitch return to Annie's house and find that Annie has been killed by birds while pushing Cathy indoors to safety.
Melanie and the Brenners barricade themselves inside the Brenner home. The house is attacked by waves of birds, which several times nearly break in through the sealed doors and windows. During a nighttime lull between attacks, Melanie hears noises from the upper floor. Not wanting to disturb the others' sleep, Melanie enters Cathy's abandoned bedroom and finds that the birds have broken through the roof. They violently attack her, trapping her in the room until Mitch comes to her rescue. She is badly injured and nearly catatonic; Mitch insists they must get her to a hospital. A sea of birds ripple menacingly around the Brenner farm as Mitch prepares Melanie's car for their escape. The radio reports the spread of bird attacks to nearby communities, and suggests that the National Guard may be required to intervene because civil authorities are unable to combat the inexplicable attacks. The film concludes ambiguously, as the car carrying Melanie, the Brenners and the lovebirds slowly makes its way through a landscape where tens of thousands of birds are perched, although they do not immediately attack.
- Alfred Hitchcock makes his signature cameo as a man walking dogs out of the pet store at the beginning of the film. They were two of Hitchcock's own Sealyham terriers, Geoffrey and Stanley.
On August 18, 1961, residents in the town of Capitola, California, awoke to find sooty shearwaters slamming into their rooftops, and their streets covered with dead birds. News reports suggested domoic acid poisoning (amnesic shellfish poisoning) as the cause. According to a local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Alfred Hitchcock requested news copy in 1961 to use as "research material for his latest thriller". At the end of the same month, Hitchcock hired Evan Hunter to adapt Daphne du Maurier's novella, "The Birds", first published in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. Hunter had previously written "Vicious Circle" for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which he adapted for the television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He also adapted Robert Turner's story "Appointment at Eleven" for the same television series. Hunter later suspected that he was hired because he had demonstrated he could write suspense (with the 87th Precinct novels, as Ed McBain) and because his novel The Blackboard Jungle had received critical acclaim. The relationship between Hunter and Hitchcock during the creation of The Birds was documented by the writer in his 1997 autobiography Me and Hitch, which contains a variety of correspondence between the writer, director and Hitchcock's assistant, Peggy Robertson.
Hunter began working on the screenplay in September 1961. Hunter and Hitchcock developed the story, suggesting foundations such as the townspeople having a guilty secret to hide, and the birds an instrument of punishment. Hunter suggested that the film begin using some elements borrowed from the screwball comedy genre then have it evolve into "stark terror". This appealed to Hitchcock, according to the writer, because it conformed to his love of suspense: the title and the publicity would have already informed the audience that birds attack, but they do not know when. The initial humor followed by horror would turn the suspense into shock.
Hitchcock solicited comments from several people regarding the first draft of Hunter's screenplay. Consolidating their criticisms, Hitchcock wrote to Hunter, suggesting that the script (particularly the first part) was too long, contained insufficient characterization in the two leads, and that some scenes lacked drama and audience interest. Hitchcock at later stages consulted with his friends Hume Cronyn (whose wife Jessica Tandy was playing Lydia) and V.S. Pritchett, who both offered lengthy reflections on the work.
Hitchcock decided to do without any conventional incidental score. Instead, he made use of sound effects and sparse source music in counterpoint to calculated silences. Hitchcock wanted to use the electroacoustic Mixtur-Trautonium to create the birdcalls and noises. Hitchcock had first encountered this predecessor to the synthesizer on Berlin radio in the late 1920s. It was invented by Friedrich Trautwein and further developed by Oskar Sala into the Trautonium, which would create some of the bird sounds for this film.
The director commissioned Sala and Remi Gassmann to design an electronic soundtrack. They are credited with "electronic sound production and composition", and Hitchcock's previous musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann is credited as "sound consultant".
Source music includes the first of Claude Debussy's Deux arabesques, which Tippi Hedren's character plays on piano, and "Risseldy Rosseldy", an Americanized version of the Scottish folk song "Wee Cooper O'Fife", which is sung by the schoolchildren.
The special effects shots of the attacking birds were done at Walt Disney Studios by animator/technician Ub Iwerks, who used the sodium vapor process ("yellow screen") which he had helped to develop. The SV process films the subject against a screen lit with narrow-spectrum sodium vapor lights. Unlike most compositing processes, SVP actually shoots two separate elements of the footage simultaneously using a beam-splitter. One reel is regular film stock and the other a film stock with emulsion sensitive only to the sodium vapor wavelength. This results in very precise matte shots compared to blue screen special effects, necessary due to "fringing" of the image from the birds' rapid wing flapping.
Premiere and awards
The film premiered March 28, 1963 in New York City. The Museum of Modern Art hosted an invitation-only screening of The Birds as part of a 50-film retrospective of Hitchcock's film work. The MOMA series had a booklet with a monograph on Hitchcock written by Peter Bogdanovich. The film was screened out of competition in May at a prestigious invitational showing at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival with Hitchcock and Hedren in attendance.
Ub Iwerks was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. The winner that year was Cleopatra. Tippi Hedren received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress in 1964, sharing it with Ursula Andress and Elke Sommer. She also received the Photoplay Award as Most Promising Newcomer. The film ranked #1 of the top 10 foreign films selected by the Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards. Hitchcock also received the Association's Director Award for the film.
Reception and interpretation
The Birds received a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 96%, with the consensus: "Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Alfred Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history." The eminent film critic David Thomson refers to The Birds as Hitchcock's "last unflawed film".
Humanities scholar Camille Paglia wrote a monograph about The Birds for the BFI Film Classics series. She interprets the film as an ode to the many facets of female sexuality and, by extension, nature itself. She notes that women play pivotal roles in The Birds. Mitch is defined by his relationships with his mother, sister and ex-lover – a careful balance which is disrupted by his attraction to the beautiful Melanie.
The film was honored by the American Film Institute as the seventh greatest thriller and Bravo awarded it the 96th spot on their "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments" for the scene when the birds attack the town.
- American Film Institute nominations
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains
- Birds (Villains) Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)
Sequel and remake
An unrelated sequel, The Birds II: Land's End, was released in 1994, with different actors. The film was a direct-to-television film and received negative reviews. The film's director, Rick Rosenthal, removed his name from it, opting to use the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee. Hedren appeared in the film in a supporting role, but not as her original character.
In 2007, Variety reported that Naomi Watts would star in Universal's remake of the film, which would be directed by Casino Royale director Martin Campbell. The production would be a joint venture by Platinum Dunes and Mandalay Pictures. Hedren stated her opposition to the remake, saying, "Why would you do that? Why? I mean, can’t we find new stories, new things to do?" Development has been stalled since the 2007 announcement. On 16 June 2009, Brad Fuller of Dimension Films stated that no further developments had taken place, commenting, "We keep trying, but I don't know." Martin Campbell was eventually replaced as director by Dennis Iliadis in December 2009.
- Stafford, Jeff. "The Birds". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
- Box Office Information for The Birds. The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
- McCarthy, Michael (5 February 2009). "Final cut for Hollywood's favourite dog". The Independent. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
- Trabing, Wally (August 21, 1961). "Alfred Hitchcock Using Sentinel's Seabird Story". Santa Cruz Sentinel. p. 4.
- Hunter 1997b, p. 26
- Chandler 2005, p. 269
- Hunter 1997b, p. 30
- Hunter 1997a
This short book was adapted by Sight & Sound in its June 1997 edition.
- Hunter 1997b, p. 27
- Hunter 1997b, p. 29
- Mcgilligan, p. 616
- Raubicheck & Srebnick 2011, p. 92
- Gottlieb & Allen 2009, p. 23
- Auiler 1999, pp. 207–9
- Auiler 1999, pp. 209–217
- Auiler 1999, p. 516
- "The Birds". TCM. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Blue" Gene Tyranny. "All Music Guide". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
- Pinch & Trocco 2004, p. 54
- Nickety Nackety Now Now Now on YouTube sung by early country music singer Chubby Parker, recorded on Silvertone Records in 1927.
- "Top SFX shots No.6: The Birds". Den of Geek. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "Festival de Cannes: The Birds". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
- "69th & 70th Annual Hero Honda Bengal Film Journalists' Association (B.F.J.A.) Awards 2007-Past Winners List 1964". Archived from the original on 21 February 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
- The Birds at Rotten Tomatoes
- Thompson 2008, p. 97
- Paglia 1998
- "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". BravoTV.com. Retrieved July 18, 2012.
- AFI 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
- AFI 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees
- AFI 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)
- Tucker, Ken (18 March 1994). "TV Review - The Birds II: Lands End". Ew.com. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Graser, Marc; Siegel, Tatiana (18 October 2007). "Naomi Watts set for 'Birds' remake". Variety. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
- Adler, Shawn (16 October 2007). "Original Scream Queen Decries ‘Birds’ Remake As Foul". MTV. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
- ""The Birds" Remake May Not Happen". Worst Previews.com.
- "‘The Birds’ Remake Gets A New Director?". Screenrant.com. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
- "Rumor Control: 'The Birds' Remake Begins at the 'Last House on the Left'?". Bloody-disgusting.com. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
- Auiler, Dan (1999). Hitchcock's Secret Notebook. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 074754588X.
- Chandler, Charlotte (2005). It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography. Simon and Schuste. ISBN 0743245083.
- Gottlieb, Sidney; Allen, Richard, eds. (2009). The Hitchcock annual anthology: selected essays from, Volumes 10-15. Wallflower Press,. ISBN 1905674953.
- Hunter, Evan (1997a). Me and Hitch. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571193064.
- Hunter, Evan (1997b). "Me and Hitch". Sight & Sound (British Film Institute) 7 (6): 25–37.
- Mcgilligan, Patrick (2004). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060988274.
- Paglia, Camille (1998). The Birds. London: British Film Institute. ISBN 0-85170-651-7.
- Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01617-3.
- Raubicheck, Walter; Srebnick, Walter (2011). Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, And Marnie. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252078241.
- Thompson, David (2008). Have You Seen…?" A Personal introduction to 1,000 Films. New York: Knopf.
- Vagg, Stephen (2010). Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood. Bear Manor Media. ISBN 1593935110.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Birds (film).|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Birds|
- The Birds at the Internet Movie Database
- The Birds at the TCM Movie Database
- The Birds at AllMovie
- The Birds at Box Office Mojo
- Monograph on The Birds at Senses of Cinema
- Analytical summary by Tim Dirks at AMC Filmsite
- Complete script of the film
- Video Essay on "Why Do the Birds Attack?" on YouTube