Alfred Hitchcock's Birds Strike Again
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Julien's Auction.
Alfred Hitchcock almost forgot about a particular film property he owned the rights to for years. It was a short story by Daphne du Maurier entitled “The Birds.”
Hitch was riding high on the success of his film “Psycho” and after three years was looking for another winner. “The Birds” was about a series of unexplained bird attacks on people in a small English village.
The director hadn’t even thought about the property in years until he heard about real-life bird attacks in California. The idea of nature turning on man intrigued him and he decided “The Birds” would be his next film.
Hitch settled on Evan Hunter, a popular novelist to write the screenplay. There wasn’t much meat to the original short story. Hitch and Hunter had to build plot and character development from the ground up.
The only thing remaining from the original short story was the unexplained bird attacks.
The crux of the story is wealthy socialite Melanie meets lawyer Mitch in San Francisco. She heads to his seaside home in Bodega Bay, two hours north of San Francisco for a surprise visit when a seagull plunges down and cuts her forehead. Romance blossoms over the next two days between the couple and the bird attacks worsen.
Gulls attack children at a party. A neighborhood farmer ends up dead with his eyes pecked out. There’s an attack on school children and finally on the town itself. The film ends when Melanie, Mitch, his mother and young sister pile into the car surrounded by strangely quiet birds and head off into the sunset. They need medical attention for Melanie because she was attacked in the attic by the birds.
Hitch knew the movie would be costly to make. In the end it required 20 weeks of filming during the spring and early summer of 1962. To save money Hitch cast lesser known actors. Rod Taylor played Mitch. Tippi Hedren whose previous experience included only commercials was cast as Melanie.
“I signed her to a contract because she is a classic beauty,” Hitch told a reporter. “Movies don’t have them anymore. Grace Kelly was the last.”
Camera trickery, hundreds of special effects, mechanical birds, live trained birds—the shoot was a technical nightmare.
"In one test of the mechanical birds, they released these strange looking creatures that looked like model airplanes with wings that moved up and down. There was also a glider type of bird that was just about as laughable," said Assistant Editor Bud Hoffman.
Besides birds, the movie was a monumental study of human relationships and how people respond to the world and each other under pressure.
“The Birds” was released in March 1963 to a mixed response from critics and a modest profit. Among Hitchcock fans the film remains a favorite.
Director Federico Fellini called “The Birds” an apocalyptic poem and one of cinema’s greatest achievements.
On March 31 & April 1 a selection of Hitchcock items was featured at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif. Here are some current values.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” Poster; one-sheet; Paramount, 1956; good condition; 41 inches by 27 inches; $448.
“The Birds” Poster; one-sheet framed; Universal, 1963; good condition; 60 inches by 40 inches; $896.
Wax Figure; recreation of famous promotional image from “The Birds,” fiberglass mannequin; wax head; glass eyes; dressed in suit; black crow prop sits on his shoulder; Universal, 1963; 67 inches high; $3,438.
Self-Portrait; pen-and-ink on artist board; famous profile image of Hitchcock as seen from the rear; 14 inches by 11 inches; $7,680.