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The Birds (1963)

The Birds (1963)
June 22, 2012 - 7:30 pm

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Following on the heels of the massively successful Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds does for our fine feathered friends what that earlier film did for showers, as a seaside community is terrorized when seemingly normal birds turn suddenly and inexplicably malevolent.

Hitchcock’s first film for Universal since 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt, The Birds stars Rod Taylor as brash young lawyer Mitch, and Tippi Hedren, in her first screen appearance, as wealthy San Francisco socialite Melanie, whose visit to Mitch’s family home turns into a harrowing ordeal. Shot partially on location in Bodega Bay, California, Hitchcock alternates masterfully between long, elevated shots of the surroundings and intimate close-ups, building dramatic tension before unleashing the full horror of the birds’ assault on the community and the psyches of its residents.

In achieving this vision, loosely adapted from the 1952 Daphne du Maurier short story, Hitchcock pursued a variety of innovations to overcome numerous technical challenges. The soundtrack of The Birds, supervised by longtime collaborator Bernard Herrmann, contains no music, relying instead on bird sounds, manipulated electronically to menacing and ominous effect. Thanks, in large part, to the rapid montage style of the attack sequences, The Birds contains almost 1,400 shots, or more than twice the average Hitchcock film. Finally, the avian menace itself was brought to life through a combination of animation, mechanical birds, and live birds, trained by handler Ray Berwick to swoop, dive, gather, and nip on command. While no birds were harmed in the making of the film, the same cannot be said of Tippi Hedren who, for the final attic sequence, endured a brutal week of shooting described by Donald Spoto in "The Art of Alfred Hitchcock": "two men, with heavy gauntlets protecting them from fingertips to shoulders, opened huge boxes of gulls which they threw directly at her, hour after hour."

—Nina Rao

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions. Producer: A. Hitchcock. Based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier. Screenwriter: Evan Hunter. Cinematographer: Robert Burks. Editor: George Tomasini. Cast: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright.

35mm, color, 120 min.