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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

The Birds (1963)


Cast:

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Director

  • Evan Hunter, Writer

  • Robert Burks, Cinematography

  • Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner

  • Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner

  • Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth

  • Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels

  • Veronica Cartwright as Cathy Brenner

  • Ethel Griffies as Mrs. Bundy

  • Charles McGraw as Sebastian Sholes

  • Ruth McDevitt as Mrs. MacGruder

  • Lonny Chapman as Deke Carter

*Recognition:

  • The Birds was released on March 28, 1963.

  • It would go on to gross just short of $14 million internationally and finish 17th at the 1963 box office.

  • Unfortunately, critics were very mixed on the film at the time with the majority hating it or loving it with very few in between.

  • The Birds was nominated for one Oscar for Ub Iwerks for Best Special Effects.

  • With the passage of time, much like many other of Hitchcock's works, the film's standing among critics has much improved. The film has been very influential on the horror genre inspiring filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter.

  • Film critic David Thomson refers to it as Hitchcock's "last unflawed film".

  • Italian film maker Federico Fellini ranked the film among his top ten favourite films of all-time list, and Akira Kurosawa ranked the film at No. 55 on his Top 100 favourite films of all time list.

  • In 2000, The Guardian ranked the scene where the crows gather on the climbing frame at No. 16 on their list of "The top 100 film moments". The scenes where birds are attacking humans viciously were collectively ranked at No. 96 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

  • In 2021, the film was ranked at No. 29 by Time Out on their list of "The 100 best horror movies".

  • The film was honored by the American Film Institute as the seventh greatest thriller in American Cinema.

  • In 2016, The Birds was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

  • The Birds currently holds a 94% among critics on RT, a 90 score on Metacritic, and 3.8/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Making people terrified of birds.


Plot Summary: Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" is a masterful thriller that proves once again why the director is a true cinematic genius. Set in the quaint coastal town of Bodega Bay, the film opens with a chance encounter between the handsome lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), and the enigmatic socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). This seemingly innocuous meeting sets the stage for a spine-tingling and unforgettable descent into avian terror.


As Melanie follows Mitch to his family home in Bodega Bay, the tranquil coastal scenery gradually transforms into a nightmarish battleground as the local bird population inexplicably turns hostile. Seagulls, crows, and sparrows become relentless aggressors, attacking the townsfolk without provocation. Hitchcock ingeniously uses the unexplained bird attacks as a metaphor for the uncontrollable and irrational fears that lurk in the human psyche. As the bird attacks intensify, the inhabitants of Bodega Bay are forced to confront their vulnerability in the face of a seemingly unstoppable force.


Hitchcock's genius lies in his ability to create a sense of mounting dread by employing a series of escalating avian attacks, building tension with each feathered assault while weaving a complex narrative that delves into the fragility of human society, subtly exposing the tenuous grip we have on our environment and our emotions.


Did You Know:

  • Alfred Hitchcock revealed on The Dick Cavett Show (1968) that 3,200 birds were trained for the movie. He said the ravens were the cleverest, and the seagulls were the most vicious.

  • Mitch Zanich, owner of the Tides Restaurant at the time of shooting, told Alfred Hitchcock he could shoot there if the lead male in the movie was named after him, and Hitchcock gave him a speaking part in the movie. Hitchcock agreed: Rod Taylor's character was named Mitch Brenner, and Mitch Zanich was given a speaking part. After Melanie is attacked by a seagull, Mitch Zanich can be heard saying to Mitch Brenner, "What happened, Mitch?"

  • 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.

  • 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 that were taught to fly at it. Surviving photos of the shooting of the scene were published in the book "Hitchcock at Work" by Bill Krohn.

  • Sir Alfred Hitchcock approached Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of Psycho (1960)) to write the script, but he wasn't interested in the story. The final screenplay (from a Daphne Du Maurier short story) was written by Evan Hunter, best known to detective story fans under the pen name Ed McBain.

Best Performance: Alfred Hitchcock (Director)/Ub Iwerks (Special Effects at Disney)

Best Secondary Performance: Alfred Hitchcock (Director)/Tippi Hedren (Melanie)

Most Charismatic Award: Rod Taylor (Mitch)/Tippi Hedren (Melanie)

Best Scene:

  • Opening Credits

  • Pet Store

  • Delivering the Lovebirds

  • Annie and Melanie

  • Attack at the Schoolhouse

  • Attack at the Restaurant

  • Final Attack

  • Driving Away

Favorite Scene: Annie and Melanie/Attack at the Restaurant

Most Indelible Moment: Attack at the Schoolhouse/Driving Away


In Memorium:

  • Suzanne Somers, 76, American actress (Three's Company, Step by Step, She's the Sheriff)

  • Phyllis Coates, 96, American actress (Adventures of Superman, Superman and the Mole Men, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn) first on-screen Lois Lane.

  • Mark Goddard, 87, American actor (Lost in Space, The Detectives, Blue Sunshine)

  • Rudolph Isley, 84, American Hall of Fame singer (The Isley Brothers) and songwriter ("It's Your Thing", "That Lady", "Twist and Shout", writer of "Summer Breeze")

  • Piper Laurie, 91, American actress (Carrie, The Hustler, Children of a Lesser God), 3x Oscar nominee for all three.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Mrs. Bundy: Because there are 8,650 species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that 5,750,000,000 birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world...

Traveling Salesman: Kill 'em all. Get rid of the messy animals.

Mrs. Bundy: ...probably contain more than 100,000,000,000 birds!


Mother in Diner: [to Melanie] Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you're the cause of all of this. I think you're evil. EVIL!


Lydia Brenner: I wish I were a stronger person. I lost my husband four years ago, you know. It's terrible how you depend on someone else for strength and then - suddenly all the strength is gone, and you're alone. I'd love to relax some time. I'd love to be able to sleep.


Sebastian Sholes: Hell, maybe we're all getting a little carried away with this. Admittedly a few birds did act strange, but that's no reason to...

Melanie Daniels: I keep telling you, this isn't 'a few birds'! These are gulls, crows, swifts...!

Mrs. Bundy: I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?


Mrs. Bundy: Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty to the world.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.25

Impact/Significance: 5.25

Novelty: 9.5

Classic-ness: 5.5

Rewatchability: 6.75

Audience Score: 8.15 (80% Google, 83% RT)

Total: 41.4


Remaining Questions:

  • What caused the birds to attack?

  • Were the birds supernatural?

  • Why was the last shot of the film in black and white?

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