The Birds (film)

The Birds

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Evan Hunter
Based on Novel:
Daphne du Maurier
Starring Rod Taylor
Jessica Tandy
Suzanne Pleshette
Tippi Hedren
Music by Oskar Sala
Remi Gassmann
Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Robert Burks, ASC
Editing by George Tomasini
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 28 March 1963 (1963-03-28)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.5 million
Box office $11,403,529

The Birds is a 1963 horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the 1952 short story "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier. It depicts Bodega Bay, California which is, suddenly and for unexplained reasons, the subject of a series of widespread and violent bird attacks over the course of a few days.

The screenplay was written by Evan Hunter. Though Hunter had read Du Maurier's original short story, Hitchcock told him to disregard it as all he wished to use was the title and the idea of birds attacking people.[1]



Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a young wealthy socialite who meets a lawyer, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), in a San Francisco pet shop. He, looking to purchase a pair of lovebirds for his sister's eleventh birthday, pretends to mistake her for a salesperson, which infuriates her and leads her to inquire as to the reason for his behavior. He mentions a previous encounter that he had with her. Intrigued by him, she finds the address of his home in Bodega Bay, California. She purchases a pair of lovebirds and drives to his house by sneaking across the small harbor in a motor boat, leaving the birds and a note. As she is heading back across the bay, a seagull swoops down and inflicts a cut on her head.

Over the next few days, the avian attacks continue, as Melanie's relationship with Mitch, his clinging mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), and Cathy's teacher (who is also Mitch's ex-lover) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) develops. The second strange bird incident occurs when Melanie stays for the night at the Hayworths' house as a gull swoops down and kills itself upon hitting the front door. The next attack occurs at Cathy's birthday party, where the children are set upon by seagulls and attacked. The following evening, sparrows invade the Brenner home. Avian violence escalates when Lydia discovers a friend dead in his bedroom with windows smashed, his eyes pecked out and dead birds everywhere. Lydia, horrified, returns to the farm where she is comforted by Melanie. Lydia asks Melanie to check on Cathy at the school. While Melanie waits on a bench outside the school, crows slowly accumulate on the playground behind her. Becoming aware of the birds, Melanie warns Annie and the two attempt to evacuate the children safely. As Melanie, Annie and the children flee from the school, the birds attack, harming several children.

Following this attack, an argument erupts at a local restaurant over the cause and legitimacy of the claims of this strange behavior. One resident believes the attacks are a sign of the apocalypse, but a traveling mother chides the man and others for scaring her children. Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies), an amateur ornithologist, insists that different bird species do not flock or attack together. Despite her words, a motorist is attacked while filling his car with gasoline; he is knocked unconscious, and the gasoline continues to pump out onto the street. Another motorist, unaware he is standing in the puddle of gasoline, disregards warnings from the people in the restaurant, and lights a cigar and drops the match on the ground. An explosion and fire result and Melanie is forced to take refuge in a phone booth as thousands of birds attack the townspeople. After returning to the restaurant, the hysterical mother accuses Melanie of being the cause of the attacks, noting that the birds didn't begin being violent until after her arrival in Bodega Bay. After this attack subsides, Melanie and Mitch find Annie dead on her front porch and Cathy crying at the window.

Melanie and Mitch's family take refuge in the Brenners' house, boarding up the windows. The house is attacked by the birds more viciously than ever before, and at several points they nearly manage to break in. Mitch is injured when a few birds manage to break through a window. In the evening, when everyone else is asleep, Melanie hears noises from the upper floor. Not wanting to disturb a sleeping Mitch, Melanie takes the torch and investigates. Entering a room at the top of the stairs, she finds that the birds have managed to break through the roof. They violently attack her, sealing her in the room until Mitch comes to her rescue. He and Lydia tend to her, but determine she must get to the hospital in her catatonic state. A sea of birds ripple menacingly around the Brenners and Melanie as they leave the house but do not attack. The radio reports several smaller bird attacks in nearby communities. The film concludes ambiguously, as the car slowly makes its way through seemingly infinite flocks of birds into the sunrise.


  • Alfred Hitchcock makes his signature cameo as a man walking dogs out of the pet store at the beginning of the film.



On 18 August 1961, residents in the town of Capitola, California, awoke to find sooty shearwaters slamming into their rooftops, and their streets covered with dead birds. News reports suggested domoic acid poisoning (amnesic shellfish poisoning) as the cause. According to a local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Alfred Hitchcock requested news copy in 1961 to use as "research material for his latest thriller".[2]


Hitchcock planned to cast Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the film's lead roles, but was unable to do so. He used Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, both of whom he signed to personal contracts (only Hedren made subsequent films with Hitchcock, however).[3]


The Birds lacks a conventional incidental score, instead relying on sound effects and sparse source music in counterpoint to calculated silences. Oskar Sala and Remi Gassmann[4] are credited with "electronic sound production and composition," and Hitchcock's previous musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann is credited as "sound consultant." Some of the bird sounds were created by Sala and Gassmann on the Mixtur-Trautonium. Source music includes Claude Debussy's Deux arabesques, which Tippi Hedren's character plays on piano, and "Risseldy Rosseldy", an Americanized version of the Scottish folk song "Wee Cooper O'Fife", which is sung by the schoolchildren.

Premiere and awards

The film debuted at a prestigious invitational showing at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival[5] with Hitchcock and Hedren in attendance. In March 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City hosted an invitation-only screening of The Birds as part of a 50-film retrospective of Hitchcock's film work. The MOMA series had a booklet with a monograph on Hitchcock written by Peter Bogdanovich.

The Birds was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Special Effects. The special-effects shots of the attacking birds were done at Walt Disney Studios by animator/technician Ub Iwerks, who used the sodium vapor process ("yellow screen") which he had helped to develop. The SV process films the subject against a screen lit with narrow-spectrum sodium vapor lights. Unlike most compositing processes, SVP actually shoots two separate elements of the footage simultaneously using a beam-splitter. One reel is regular film stock and the other a film stock with emulsion sensitive only to the sodium vapor wavelength. This results in very precise matte shots compared to blue screen special effects, necessary due to "fringing" of the image from the birds' rapid wing flapping.[6]

The film's special effects did not win an Academy Award; the winner that year was Cleopatra. Tippi Hedren received the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year - Actress in 1964, sharing it with Ursula Andress and Elke Sommer. She also received the Photoplay Award as Most Promising Newcomer. The film ranked #1 of the top 10 foreign films selected by the Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards. Hitchcock also received the Association's Director Award for the film.[7]

American Film Institute recognition

  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills #7

Reception and interpretation

The eminent film critic David Thomson refers to The Birds as Hitchcock's "last unflawed film".[8]


A sequel, The Birds II: Land's End, was released in 1994, with different actors. The movie was a direct-to-television film and received negative reviews. The film's director, Rick Rosenthal, removed his name from it, opting to use the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.[9] The film did use Hedren in a supporting role.


In 2007, Variety reported that Naomi Watts would star in Universal's remake of the film. The remake would also star George Clooney and would be directed by Casino Royale director Martin Campbell. The production would be a joint venture by Platinum Dunes and Mandalay Pictures.[10] Later in 2007, Hedren stated her opposition to the remake, saying, "Why would you do that? Why? I mean, can’t we find new stories, new things to do?".[11]

Development has been stalled since the 2007 announcement. On 16 June 2009, Brad Fuller of Dimension Films stated that no further developments had taken place, commenting, "We keep trying, but I don't know."[12] Martin Campbell was eventually replaced as director by Platinum Dunes host Dennis Iliades in December 2009.[13][14]


  1. ^ Gottlieb, Sidney & Brookhouse, Christopher An Interview with Evan Hunter in Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual Wayne State University Press. p. 201
  2. ^ Wally Trabing, Santa Cruz Sentinel (18, 21 August 1961)
  3. ^ Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media. p. 84
  4. ^ by "Blue" Gene Tyranny. "All Music Guide". Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Birds". Retrieved 27 February 2009. 
  6. ^ "Top SFX shots No.6: The Birds". Retrieved 02 January 2009. 
  7. ^ "69th & 70th Annual Hero Honda Bengal Film Journalists' Association (B.F.J.A.) Awards 2007-Past Winners List 1964". Archived from the original on 21 February 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2008. 
  8. ^ Thomson, David (2008), “Have You Seen…?” A Personal introduction to 1,000 Films; New York: Knopf, p. 97
  9. ^ Reviewed by Ken Tucker (18 March 1994). "Entertainment Weekly Review".,,301495,00.html. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  10. ^ Marc Graser, Tatiana Siegel (18 October 2007). "Naomi Watts set for 'Birds' remake". Variety. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  11. ^ Shawn Adler (16 October 2007). "Original Scream Queen Decries ‘Birds’ Remake As Foul". MTV. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  12. ^ Worst "The Birds" Remake May Not Happen
  13. ^ "‘The Birds’ Remake Gets A New Director?". 03 December 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  14. ^ "Rumor Control: 'The Birds' Remake Begins at the 'Last House on the Left'?". Retrieved 29 August 2010. 

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