Tippi Hedren - Melanie Daniels
Rod Taylor - Mitch Brenner
Susanne Pleshette - Annie Hayworth
Jessica Tandy - Lydia Brenner
Veronica Cartwright - Cathy Brenner
Alfred Hitchcock - Director
Evan Hunter - Screenplay
Robert Burks - Photography
Daphne du Maurier - Original Story
Bernard Herrmann - Sound Consultant
Alfred Hitchcock once admitted that he was in constant conflict with his audience. "When a new Hitchcock film appears, the public and critics sit back at the start and say to themselves, 'Let's see him scare me.' My job is to get them up on the edge of their seats, and to keep them there. It gets more difficult all the time because one must find new ways to surprise an audience. Any time a viewer of one of my films can say to himself, 'I knew that was coming,' I've lost him.
In The Birds, Hitchcock perhaps went to the greatest lengthsof his career to avoid those "cliches." His Technicolor film version of Daphne du Maurier's novella (then widely accepted as one of the greatest horror stories by a living author), scripted by Evan Hunter, showed thousands of birds making organized attacks on mankind--evil was presented as an environmental fact of life.
The director also reportedly drew inspiration from a 1961 incident in which seabirds attacked the terrified residents of Monterey Bay. Recent research has shown that the birds were suffering the effects of ingesting contaminated plankton, but in 1961, the then-inexplicable "revolt of the birds" helped Hitchcock devise the simple but horrifying "what if" premise.
In the key role of Melanie Daniels, Hitchcock cast Tippi Hedren, a model he spotted in a TV commercial. The blonde beauty rose to the challenge, working all but one-half day of the film's 75-day schedule. Acting opposite leading man Rod Taylor and stage actress Jessica Tandy (playing Taylor's mother), Hedren took sides in the bird war on mankind--but not until after she had been fomally introduced to her "co-stars."
"For a solid week," said Hedren, "we were in large cages with the birds. And five prop men threw birds at us for seven long days. They didn't exactly bite us, but they couldn't get out of our way. In order to stand it, I shut off something mentally and said to myself, 'You can do this.' It was awful." Hedren, besieged by birds for days on end while filming the terrifying attic attack scene, suffered a breakdown during production.
Perhaps the most important player on Hitchcock's team was animal trainer Ray Berwick. "I don't think (Hitchcock) knew what he was getting into," Berwick said. "He quickly had to give up any idea of using mechanical birds if he wanted realism. No book or ornithologist could give us guidance on the control of flocks of wild birds."
"I got used to [the birds] rather quickly," claimed Jessica Tandy, "simply by looking upon them as other actors. Although I must say, I was beginning to wonder in some of those scenes toward the end. I've never had another actor bite me before."
After Hitchcock completed principal photography, two separate units continued their special effects work. Ub Iwerks, on loan from Walt Disney Studios, begna intricate laboratory work while the shooting of special effects was done by another unit. To publicize The Birds, Hitchcok, his wife Alma and Hedren went to New York to begin and advance promotional tour. Joined there by Berwick, they took part in a one-hour segment of the Today show devoted to The Birds. Hitchcock also addressed an overflow crowd of top Washington journalists at a luncheon meeting of the National Press Club.
Then, The Birds was selected to inaugurate the 1963 Cannes Film Festival with a gala showing. "The Birds Is Coming!" was the key phrase of all advertising. Critics raved and audiences flocked to see Hitchcock's most expensive film to date--perhaps enticed by Hitchcock's claim that his depiction of an assault upon the human race "could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made." A masterpiece of thrills and sophisticated, subtle humor, The Birds became one of 1963's top grossers and yet another feather in the cap of the Master of Suspense.
"It is merely an exercise in imagination," Hitchcock claimed, "done necessarily with complete realism. We had no extensive bird data to go on, except the basic idea provided by du Maurier in her story. I like to think that our birds are merely getting back at the human race for centuries of being hunted and shot . . . This horror story offers a unique challenge to delight me. It will give audiences the entertaining taste of fear and the knot in the stomach they expect from me.
--from the collector's edition, widescreen
DVD release of The Birds, Universal.
A selection of The Birds related films.
Find The Birds on eBay.com
A selection The Birds related books.
A History of Horror
Any comments, additions or suggestions should be adressed to:
History of Horror / Eric B. Olsen / email@example.com
Other Web Sites:
The Film Noir 'net Hard Bop Homepage
The War Film Web Author Eric B. Olsen