Throwback Thursday: The Birds (1963)

Posted: January 28, 2010 by Rebecca in Horror Movies, Throwback Thursday
Tags: , , , , , ,

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

“Nothing you have ever witnessed before has prepared you for such sheer stabbing shock!”

The Birds begins in San Francisco where we meet our main protagonist, Melanie Daniels (Tippi HedrenMarnie, Pacific Heights, I Heart Huckabees), a rich socialite, as she enters a pet store.  (**Look for Alfred Hitchcock’s signature cameo here**)  She is at the store to pick up a mynah bird (some sort of talking bird) that she is buying as a gift for her aunt. (We later learn that she wants to teach the bird some bad words to shock her prim and proper aunt!) While in the store, a man enters, who we soon learn in Mitch Brenner (Rod TaylorThe Time Machine, Giant, Inglorious Basterds).  He spots Melanie, and as she has a reputation for being a practical joker, decides to “mistake” her for the salesgirl and begins asking her questions about lovebirds, as he wants to buy a pair for his little sister’s birthday.  She pretends to be a salesgirl, and answers his questions, but he soon makes her look like a fool, and then makes it aware that he does know who she is, and that he doesn’t like practical jokers, and he will see her in court.  My heavens!!!

Melanie soon finds out who he is by getting his license plate number, and calling up the newspaper that her father owns, and then decides that she will get back at him by buying him a couple of the lovebirds, and dropping them off at his apartment.  As luck would have it, when she gets to his apartment, his neighbor tells her that Mitch is out of town for the weekend, and has gone up the coast to Bodega Bay.  Well, since Melanie has nothing better to do, she drives up to Bodega Bay, and is soon asking millions of questions of the residents there- Where does Mitch live?  Which exact house?  How can she get there without him seeing her?  What is his little sister’s exact name?  Nothing suspicious at all, and of course she gets all the answers she is looking for.  (Would people nowadays be so forthcoming with all this information?)  Once she finds out his little sister’s name, which is Cathy (Veronica CartwrightInvasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien), from the schoolteacher, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), she rents a boat, and sneaks across the bay to Mitch’s house.  She enters the house as of course it is not locked, drops off the birds, and leaves.  Mitch enters soon after she departs, sees the birds, rushes out of the house, and then spots Melanie in the boat.  He drives to the other side of the bay to meet her.

It is here that we get our first bird attack.  As Melanie is crossing the bay, a gull swoops down, and hits her on the head, cutting her.  Mitch brings her into a diner, where they clean the wound, and even though it was strange, no one thinks much of it.  Later on, Melanie has been invited to dinner at Mitch’s house with his sister, and aloof mother (Jessica TandyCocoon, Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes), and Cathy asks her to stay for her party the next day.  Melanie says that she can’t, and as she is leaving to go back to Annie’s where she has decided to stay the night, she and Mitch have a little scuffle.  When she gets back to Annie’s they talk a bit, Mitch calls and she decides to accept his invitation.  A little while later, a bird flies into the door of Annie’s house, getting killed.  Another weird event.

Well, the bird attacks escalate from here.  They attack Cathy’s birthday party, peck out the eyes of a neighbor, attack the school children as they are leaving school, attack the downtown area and generally wreak havoc.  Eventually Melanie, Mitch, Cathy, and the mother hole up in their house….  Will they escape from the birds??!!

I think that this is a wonderful “when animals attack” movie, and it is also one of my favorite Hitchcock films.  You might think that birds would be easy to fight off, and I think that would be true for a few, but when you have hundreds of birds coming at you…that would be terrifying.  I love the scene where Melanie goes to the school to check on Cathy, and as she is sitting on the bench waiting, the birds slowly take over the playground behind her.  Now if that was me, and when I sat down on the bench there were no birds, and a minute later there were a thousand, I would be petrified, especially if the birds had attacked me before.  This movie has such an ominous tone to it, with our residents not knowing why the birds are attacking, when the next attack will be, and if the attacks will ever stop.  The soundtrack to the movie works perfectly to give it even more of an ominous tone, as really the only sounds we hear (other than when Melanie plays the piano, and the children singing in the school), are the sounds of the birds.  Of course the ending is unforgettable too, as we watch the family drive off, with thousands of birds just watching them- it gives me the chills.

Some quick facts and tidbits

–        This movie was based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, named “The Birds”.  She also penned the books, Jamaica Inn and Rebecca which were both adapted into films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Another notable work that was adapted into a movie was her story “Don’t Look Now”, which was directed by Nicholas Roeg.

–        The scene, near the end of the movie, in which Melanie is attacked by the birds up in the attic, took a week to shoot, and afterward she was hospitalized for exhaustion.

–        For those that are interested in cars, the car that Melanie drives in the movie is an Aston Martin DB2/4 drop-head coupe.

–        One ending that was considered for this film, was to have the final shot be of the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in birds, but it was scraped because it would have been too expensive to film.

–        The dogs that Alfred Hitchcock was walking in his cameo were actually his own dogs.

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