Hitchcock on Nature: “The Birds” (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, & Suzanne Pleshette

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren- in her first movie at age 32), a beautiful/impetuous socialite, meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a handsome criminal defense lawyer, at a bird shop in San Francisco one Friday afternoon. He and Melanie flirt (have good chemistry), then he plays a practical joke on her. She decides to return the favor. On Saturday morning, Melanie drives 60 miles to Bodega Bay, where Mitch spends the weekends w/ his widowed mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), and pre-teen sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Soon after her arrival, the birds in the area begin to behave strangely! This movie and the original story by Daphne Du Maurier share no characters, though both have a bayside town setting, birds behaving oddly/attacking, and the same title. The screenwriter, Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain), collaborated w/ Sir Alfred Hitchcock also on Marnie (1964).

Mitch Brenner: Well, uh, these are for my sister, for her birthday, see, and uh, as she’s only gonna be eleven, I, I wouldn’t want a pair of birds that were… too demonstrative.

Hitch saw Hedren in a 1961 commercial for a diet drink. She is seen walking down a street and a man whistles at her figure, then she turns her head w/ an acknowledging smile. In the opening of The Birds, the same thing happens as Melanie walks toward the shop (an inside joke by Hitch). Hedren was provided with 6 identical green suits for the shoot. Suzanne Pleshette (then 25 y.o.) wanted to play Melanie, but settled for the role of Annie, b/c she wanted to work w/ Hitch. He revised the script for Pleshette, making her character younger w/ more depth and a backstory. Mitch Zanich, owner of The Tides, told the director he could shoot in his restaurant if the lead male was named after him, and if he got a speaking part. After Melanie is attacked by a seagull while crossing the bay, Zanich asks Taylor: “What happened, Mitch?” The fisherman helping Melanie w/ the small boat was played by Doodles Weaver, the uncle of Sigourney Weaver.

Mrs. Bundy, elderly ornithologist: I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?

There is no musical score, except for the bird sounds (which were created on an electronic machine), Hedren playing Debussy’s Two Arabesques on the piano, and the children singing Risseldy Rosseldy. This is considered (by many fans and movie critics) to be an annoying song which also goes on for too long- LOL! Hitch said that 3,200 birds were trained for the movie, claiming that the ravens were the cleverest, while the seagulls were the most vicious. One bird (Archine) really seemed to dislike Taylor; he went out of his way to attack the actor, even when cameras weren’t rolling- yikes!

[1 The tension Hitchcock slowly builds and the atmosphere of impending doom he creates are mesmerizing. This was probably the first true apocalyptic nightmare ever put on screen… Nature just turns on humanity all of a sudden…

[2] A lyrically surreal horror soap opera kind of thing. It visits many of Hitchcock’s obsession’s of course, an icy blond and a castrating mother. I’ve always loved the daring-ness of the pacing.

…in The Birds, Hitchcock created a horror that is uniquely quiet. The great man appreciated something that so few others do- the atmospheric potency of silence, and how, in different settings, silences can differ in character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

3 thoughts on “Hitchcock on Nature: “The Birds” (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, & Suzanne Pleshette

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