The Birds (1963)

120 mins | Horror | 28 March 1963

Director:

Alfred Hitchcock

Writer:

Evan Hunter

Producer:

Alfred Hitchcock

Cinematographer:

Robert Burks

Editor:

George Tomasini

Production Designer:

Robert Boyle
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HISTORY

On 28 Jun 1961, DV announced that director Alfred Hitchcock had acquired screen rights to Daphne Du Maurier’s 1952 short horror story, “The Birds.” The news item noted that Hitchcock planned to make the film for his own company, Shamley Productions. A little over three months later, the 3 Oct 1961 LAT reported that the director was “undecided” about whether to use color or black and white film for the project. He was quite certain, however, about the changes he and writer Evan Hunter had made to Du Maurier’s story, which took place in a farming community in Cornwall, England: Hitchcock’s The Birds would be set in a coastal village near San Francisco, CA, and feature a group of more sophisticated characters.
       Although the LAT anticipated that filming would begin in Jan 1962, a 2 Mar 1962 DV production chart indicated a start date of 6 Mar 1962. Various contemporary sources noted Hitchcock’s “discovery” of actress Tippi Hedren, who, up to that time, had appeared only in television commercials. The Birds would mark her first credited appearance in a theatrical feature, although she played a bit role in The Petty Girl (1950, see entry). A 22 Mar 1962 LAT article indicated that the start of principal photography in Bodega Bay, CA, was delayed a few days by rainy weather. Once shooting began, Hitchcock despaired about the bright sun, complaining to the 1 Apr 1962 NYT: “It’s a color film and I wanted it dark and gloomy. Now we’ll have to subdue the color in the film lab.” The old ... More Less

On 28 Jun 1961, DV announced that director Alfred Hitchcock had acquired screen rights to Daphne Du Maurier’s 1952 short horror story, “The Birds.” The news item noted that Hitchcock planned to make the film for his own company, Shamley Productions. A little over three months later, the 3 Oct 1961 LAT reported that the director was “undecided” about whether to use color or black and white film for the project. He was quite certain, however, about the changes he and writer Evan Hunter had made to Du Maurier’s story, which took place in a farming community in Cornwall, England: Hitchcock’s The Birds would be set in a coastal village near San Francisco, CA, and feature a group of more sophisticated characters.
       Although the LAT anticipated that filming would begin in Jan 1962, a 2 Mar 1962 DV production chart indicated a start date of 6 Mar 1962. Various contemporary sources noted Hitchcock’s “discovery” of actress Tippi Hedren, who, up to that time, had appeared only in television commercials. The Birds would mark her first credited appearance in a theatrical feature, although she played a bit role in The Petty Girl (1950, see entry). A 22 Mar 1962 LAT article indicated that the start of principal photography in Bodega Bay, CA, was delayed a few days by rainy weather. Once shooting began, Hitchcock despaired about the bright sun, complaining to the 1 Apr 1962 NYT: “It’s a color film and I wanted it dark and gloomy. Now we’ll have to subdue the color in the film lab.” The old and somewhat ramshackle buildings in Bodega Bay and surrounding environs, however, were much more to the director’s liking. In addition to shooting sequences at a condemned 100-year-old schoolhouse and an unkempt oceanfront property located at Bodega Head, filmmakers took exterior shots of the local Tides Restaurant as well as a pet shop in San Francisco, CA, some sixty miles south.
       While in Bodega Bay, Hitchcock was fined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permit infractions. A 26 Mar 1962 DV news brief explained that Hitchcock Productions had obtained permits to collect a certain number of live seagulls, and a certain number of dead seagulls. Inspectors visited the site and found that the number of birds gathered by the film crew far exceeded what the permits allowed. In addition, there was no valid permit for the sixty various songbirds on set. Film critic Kyle B. Counts described the making of The Birds in the fall 1980 issue of Cinemafantastique and noted that the government fined the film company $400.
       Throughout the early months of production, trade journals expressed curiosity over the financing of the film. A 22 Mar 1962 NYT article stated that the esteemed director was “using his own money,” and speculated that the budget was “well in excess of $1 million.” Hitchcock dismissed interest in the financial structure, later quipping in the 1 Apr 1962 NYT that the film was being made “with television money,” a reference to his successful television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents (CBS and NBC, Oct 1955–Sep 1962). Around the time of the picture’s release, Hitchcock acknowledged in a 3 Apr 1963 Var interview that The Birds cost $3 million.
       On 4 Apr 1962, Var reported that cast and crew were close to finishing their Bodega Bay shoot. The company then returned to Revue Studios on the Universal Pictures back lot in Universal City, CA, to complete interior scenes and special effects work. Revue was where Alfred Hitchcock Presents was produced. The 7 Aug 1962 DV noted that Hitchcock had engaged Ub Iwerks, one of Walt Disney Studios’ “top technicians,” to assist with the special effects scenes.
       Back in 1961, the director initially thought he might combine live action photography with animation. During production, however, the NYT observed that trained birds were being used for close-up shots, while in one particular scene, mechanical stuffed ravens were attached to actors’ clothing. “Thousands of other birds” were filmed at the San Francisco city dump, with the idea that the footage could be superimposed over the live-action Bodega Bay sequences. According to Cinemafantastique, the complex work of unifying disparate elements fell to Iwerks, who had developed a sodium vapor process that produced pristine composite shots. Unlike the blue screen technique, which often rendered a “fringe” effect around the superimposed matte, the sodium vapor process used a prism to simultaneously create a matte and counter-matte around the filmed object. When these matte shots were combined with other footage in an optical printer, the result was quite clean. Cinemafantastique noted that “all special effects and combination printing were to be executed under Iwerk’s supervision, with special design work and all the first generation optical printing his prime responsibilities.” The Birds received an Academy Awards nomination for Visual Effects, but lost to the epic Cleopatra, (1963, see entry).
       The NYT reported, on 30 Oct 1962, that Universal Pictures had agreed to distribute Hitchcock’s independently made film, in addition to others produced in the future. The studio’s involvement guaranteed a strong publicity campaign. The 7 Feb 1963 DV described a ten-minute promotional short featuring Hitchcock and Universal president Milton R. Rackmil, while the 13 Feb 1963 Var made note of a “five-minute trailer” the director had filmed with Tippi Hedren. Various contemporary sources remarked on the grammatically incorrect phrase, “The birds is coming!” used on billboards nationwide to stir interest in the film.
       Following the world premiere on 28 Mar 1963 at the RKO Palace in New York City, LAT critic Philip K. Scheuer panned the “implausibility” of the story in his 29 Mar 1963 review. However, he commended the “amazing trick photography” and visceral sound composition. The 27 Mar 1963 Var review concurred that the “absence of music” was a “novelty,” describing the “tone-less” electronic composition as “appropriate and arresting.” A 14 Dec 1962 DV news item indicated that Hitchcock went to Berlin, Germany, to work on creating the unusual score with musical innovators Remi Gassmann and Oskar Sala, who played a Trautonium—an expressive electronic instrument.
       Two days after the picture’s 10 Apr 1963 Los Angeles opening, Var reported that the single-day box-office gross of $51,381 had set a record for Universal Pictures. The figure accounted for twenty-nine theaters and drive-ins in the Los Angeles area. On 9 May 1963, The Birds was presented on the opening day of the Cannes Film Festival as an out-of-competition entry.
       The Birds was ranked #7 on 100 Years…100 Thrills, AFI’s 2001 list of the most thrilling American films of all time. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Cinemafantastique
Fall 1980.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1962
p. 6.
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1962
p. 1.
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
14 Dec 1962
p. 3.
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1963
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
3 Oct 1961
Section A, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
22 Mar 1962
Section C, p. 23.
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1963
Section D, p. 13.
New York Times
22 Mar 1962
p. 40.
New York Times
1 Apr 1962
p. 119.
New York Times
30 Oct 1962
p. 30.
New York Times
29 Mar 1963
p. 5.
Variety
4 Apr 1962
p. 2.
Variety
13 Feb 1963
p. 13.
Variety
27 Mar 1963
p. 6.
Variety
3 Apr 1963
p. 12.
Variety
12 Apr 1963
p. 4.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Miss Hedren's cost des
MUSIC
Electronic sd prod & comp
Electronic sd prod & comp
VISUAL EFFECTS
Pictorial dsgn
Sp photog adv
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Asst to Mr. Hitchcock
Scr supv
Bird trainer
Main titles
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Birds" by Daphne Du Maurier in The Apple Tree (London, 1952).
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 March 1963
Premiere Information:
New York world premiere: 28 March 1963
Los Angeles opening: 10 April 1963
Production Date:
began 6 March 1962
Copyright Claimants:
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Copyright Dates:
28 March 1963 21 April 1963
Copyright Numbers:
LP25722 LP35397
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
120
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While in a San Francisco pet shop, wealthy Melanie Daniels becomes attracted to Mitch Brenner, a young lawyer who is trying unsuccessfully to find a pair of lovebirds for his little sister Cathy. Acting on a sudden impulse, Melanie buys two of the birds and decides to deliver them to Mitch's home on an island in Bodega Bay. After secretly leaving the birds in the Brenner house, she is returning to the mainland by motor boat when a seagull swoops down on her, gashes her forehead, and then flies away. Mitch meets her at the mainland pier and brings her back to his home. The next day a group of birds attack Cathy and her friends during a birthday party. That evening hundreds of finches fly down a chimney and terrorize Melanie and the Brenners. Panic in the small town mounts as birds murder a chicken farmer by pecking him to death, create a flash fire at a gas station, and swarm over the local children as they leave school. Following the death of schoolteacher Annie Hayworth, most of the townspeople leave their homes and head for San Francisco. Mitch boards up all entrances to his home and awaits the onslaught. The birds dive against the house, tearing at shingles and gnawing at doors, but they are unable to get inside. When Melanie goes to the attic, however, she is attacked by a roomful of crows who have made a hole in the roof. Mitch manages to rescue her but realizes the house is no longer safe. With the coming of morning, the birds are momentarily quiet. Taking advantage of the silence, he puts Melanie and his family into ... +


While in a San Francisco pet shop, wealthy Melanie Daniels becomes attracted to Mitch Brenner, a young lawyer who is trying unsuccessfully to find a pair of lovebirds for his little sister Cathy. Acting on a sudden impulse, Melanie buys two of the birds and decides to deliver them to Mitch's home on an island in Bodega Bay. After secretly leaving the birds in the Brenner house, she is returning to the mainland by motor boat when a seagull swoops down on her, gashes her forehead, and then flies away. Mitch meets her at the mainland pier and brings her back to his home. The next day a group of birds attack Cathy and her friends during a birthday party. That evening hundreds of finches fly down a chimney and terrorize Melanie and the Brenners. Panic in the small town mounts as birds murder a chicken farmer by pecking him to death, create a flash fire at a gas station, and swarm over the local children as they leave school. Following the death of schoolteacher Annie Hayworth, most of the townspeople leave their homes and head for San Francisco. Mitch boards up all entrances to his home and awaits the onslaught. The birds dive against the house, tearing at shingles and gnawing at doors, but they are unable to get inside. When Melanie goes to the attic, however, she is attacked by a roomful of crows who have made a hole in the roof. Mitch manages to rescue her but realizes the house is no longer safe. With the coming of morning, the birds are momentarily quiet. Taking advantage of the silence, he puts Melanie and his family into his car and leaves for San Francisco as thousands of birds watch their departure. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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