When I was a fourth grader, my family moved to a suburban, middle-class community on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. It was a gentle time when doors didn’t always have to be locked, and children could play outside unsupervised. I was allowed to walk around the corner by myself to my best friend’s house, and on summer nights, it was okay for us to sit on the sidewalk underneath a street light for hours at a time. Our parents had the perfect view of us huddled together, chatting about everything and nothing for hours on end. This was our tradition for years. We used to say, “Oh if that pole could talk…what stories it could reveal.” I don’t remember how we sat out there so long every evening coming up with things to say. I would venture we did converse about our dreams, hopes, our changing bodies, my brother, her sisters, parents, school, boys, and crushes. The usual gamut from any young one. This continued until 1963… neither one wanted to sit outside for long periods of time anymore. You see, between the houses, there were also several telephone poles. And, of course, each one used heavy wires to connect. It all seemed necessary enough until one day, a couple of birds rested on those wires and began to stare at whoever passed. Sometimes, a dozen or so birds were just quietly doing their thing. Or were they really? This was our thoughts because that was the year Alfred Hitchcock’s film, THE BIRDS, premiered. Our innocent lives would never be the same again.
THE BIRDS was publicized as Hitchcock‘s only horror movie he created. He wanted to scare people without giving them a reason for THE BIRDS’ behavior change. He did. This is why no one answers the “why” question when asked over and over during the movie. In interviews, he said he wanted to leave it all “hanging in audience’s minds long after they left the theaters.” This is also why he did not put the two most common words at the conclusion of the film. “The End” is not on the screen because the story never ended. They just escaped. Or did they? Now, that’s psychological horror at its best.
The ensemble of actors was extremely talented. It featured Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedron, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, and Richard Deacon. This was a powerful cast that created bold, strong characters. It took almost four months to film Daphne Du Maurier’s original short story. Over 3,000 real birds were used, along with puppetry and robotic devices. During the climatic attack on Melanie, (Tippi) she endured several real injuries that were used in the final cutting. The scene took a week to film, and afterwards she went to the ER and took a few days off from work.
For me, the age gap between Mitch (Rod) and Melanie did not work. I had trouble believing they were growing loving feelings for each other. Every character in the film evolves or “soften” during those few days in Bodega Bay. THE BIRDS had an alternate ending that I secretly wish was chosen. Hitchcock thought of showing a view of The Golden Gate Bridge covered with thousands of birds. Now that would have really creeped me out even more. In the end, he could not film that scene due to cost factors. As it was, the ending he did use, took 32 different elements pieced together.
There was no musical score created for THE BIRDS. Instead, audiences were treated to moments of just silence with close-ups of the actor’s faces or eyes. Haunting and compelling. When the sounds projected all the different, piercing noises birds make, it foreshadowed horrible, eerie seconds yet to come.
In case anyone remembers, Melanie wears the same green suit once she arrives at the Bay. Edith Head (costume designer) had six exact replicas created for her to use throughout filming. I notice details like this and wonder about the choices different directors make.
For me, THE BIRDS is not just a horror film. It is a mystery thriller as well. The build-up of the visual storytelling makes this film so brilliant. The suspense keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, wanting to yell at the cast to get the hell “out of Dodge.” The diner scene where everyone disbelieves the events of the day and then is followed by that explosive gas station blow-up is an example of making your point. Just get in your cars and drive! Don’t board up your windows. Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s creativity is sheer perfection.
THE BIRDS is a classic, cinematic work of true art that stays within and never allows audiences to view birds in the same sweet way again. You won’t catch me ever standing around under telephone poles. It is so much safer to use my air pods.
THE BIRDS is available to stream on TCM.