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After a brief encounter with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco bird shop, fur-coated playgirl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) drives to Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds to present to Mitch’s young sister on her birthday. Mitch’s possessive mother (Jessica Tandy) is resentful of Melanie’s arrival, but is distracted from the budding romance by the increasingly hostile behavior of local birds. As the bird numbers swell into their thousands, Melanie and the Brenners batten down the hatches. They have every right to fear that nature has gone nuts, but are powerless to prevent death and destruction. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Thirty years before Steven Spielberg switched on a computer and brought dinosaurs back to life after 65 million years of extinction, two female artists slogged away in a studio sweatbox hand-painting common seagulls onto tiny film frames. It took them three months to complete work on a scene that lasts less than 10 seconds on the screen, but in 1963 there was no-other way to capture the moment.

Alfred Hitchcock used real birds, fake birds and trained birds. Some were tethered; some were hurled into camera range and others were lured by feasts of fish and food scraps.But many of the swoopers and marauders were paint jobs, pure and simple, and perhaps it was too much to ask that they should not forget to paint their (missing) shadows as well.  Hitchcock needed something special after Psycho and with the thought of Norman Bates and his stuffed birds still fresh in his brain, Hitchcock turned to a Daphne Du Maurier short story for inspiration.

The rights had been acquired for the Hitchcock television series, but when he read of actual attacks by disease-crazed birds the director saw the potential for a full length feature. According to an informative four page booklet that comes with each DVD in an eclectic release of 14 Hitchcock titles (on January 22, 2003) Tippi Hedren (real name Nathalie) was discovered by Hitchcock after seeing her in a TV commercial for a slimming product called Sego. Her test for the role (opposite Martin Balsam) is included in the bonus material and it reveals a coolness about her; an aloofness (it was probably nerves) that makes the haughty Hedren just right to play the ice princess who turns petulant when Rod Taylor treats her as a shop-girl in the overstretched opening sequence.

Melanie’s long drive to Bodega Bay to resume her unlikely flirtation with Mitch is barely justified, and Jessica Tandy clucking over him like a mother hen is enough to send anyone packing. But when Melanie is wounded by an aggressive seagull it’s a portent of the excitement to come. And, slowly, it flows in a flurry of flapping wings and fearsome beaks. There are attacks in the schoolyard, in a phone booth, at home and an impressive (and explosive) hit on a service station. Few wished that a young Veronica Cartwright, as an especially repellent child, would survive.

Innocents fall as the feathers fly in what seems like unmotivated attacks but the ambiguity is deliberate, though critics were divided and read more substance, allegory and Freudian myth into it than the director ever intended. “Man versus Nature,” they twittered. “Menace magnified into apocalypse…a Christian parable…full of subterranean hints as to the ways in which people cage each other…Hitchcock’s vision of Judgment Day.”

Hitchcock, who always felt that messages were…well, for the birds, reduced it all to platitude: “All you can say is (that) nature can be awful rough on you.” 

Bernard Hermann is credited with the soundtrack, but there is no music. What he creates is a symphony of artificial bird sounds that are spooky and sinister in the context of the story. The ending is inconclusive, but in the background there’s a low, ominous hum, as if Judgment Day is truly on the wing.

The film is steeped in irony (Tippi Hedren keeping caged birds; then trapped in a phone booth being attacked by marauding gulls) and rich in sounds, silence…and suspense. There is no music, but there’s an eerie presence as she sits, silently waiting in the school playground as crows gather menacingly on the monkey bars and in the end there’s a low ominous hum as more birds assemble suggesting carnage to come.

Published January 30, 2003

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FEATURE by Keith Lofthouse


CAST: Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Susan Pleshette and ‘Tippi’ Hedren.

DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.33.1 Full Frame

SPECIAL FEATURES: All About The Birds feature, Tippi’s screen test, Universal Newsreel stories, trailer. Storyboard Sequence and script pages of a deleted scene. Alternative ending with sketches and storyboard. Production stills and four page behind the scenes booklet with production notes.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

DVD RELEASE: January 22, 2003

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