The story begins as an innocuous romantic triangle involving wealthy, spoiled Tippi Hedren, handsome Rod Taylor, and schoolteacher Suzanne Pleshette. The human story begins in a San Francisco pet shop and culminates at the home of Taylor’s mother (Jessica Tandy) at Bodega Bay, where the characters’ sense of security is slowly eroded by the curious behavior of the birds in the area. At first, it’s no more than a sea gull swooping down and pecking at Tippi’s head. Things take a truly ugly turn when hundreds of birds converge on a children’s party. There is never an explanation as to why the birds have run amok, but once the onslaught begins, there’s virtually no letup.
The Birds features a classic Alfred Hitchcock set-up: average people placed in circumstances turned upside-down. And of course, there are the requisite dark insinuations and strange psychological underpinnings. Though we’re never sure why the birds are rising up, their behaviour seems to be a response to mankind’s complacency and arrogance. It’s a frightening yet sportive vision of Judgement Day. As in Psycho, Hitchcock’s previous film, the normalcy of the setting is allowed to set in before the audience is thrown into the perverse drama. When the bird violence comes, Hitchcock pulls out all the stops to make it as realistic as one could imagine. There are 371 trick shots in the film. Some have dated, but for the most part the effects are still effective. The last shots are especially memorable. And the movie features a unique soundtrack from frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann: no music, only bird sounds organized as if they were music, for maximum creepy impact. The Birds stands as the end of an unprecedented period when Hitchcock could no wrong; he made only five more features, with decidedly mixed artistic and financial results.
1. Tippi Hedren’s screen test
2. Universal International Newsreels – “The Birds is Coming” and “Suspense Story”
3. Documentary: All About The Birds
A wonderfully informative 80-minute documentary combining current interviews with archival materials and scenes from the film. Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, production designer Robert Boyle, screenwriter Evan Hunter, matte artist Albert Whitlock’s colleagues Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, Hitchcock collaborator Hilton Green, actors Tippi Hedren, Veronica Cartwright and Rod Taylor, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, author Robin Wood, makeup artist Howard Smit, and composer Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith all contribute valuable input to Hitch’s memorable classic.