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Film / The Birds

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The Birds is a 1963 suspense/horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. The film's innovative special effects, soundtrack, and apocalyptic theme influenced later "revenge of nature" disaster films.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a young San Francisco socialite who decides to follow lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to his home in Bodega Bay, California. She apparently picks the wrong time to visit. The birds of Bodega Bay are becoming increasingly aggressive and soon every human being around comes under attack, with Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), a close friend of the Brenners, becoming one of the early casualties.

Unlike most other films of its era, The Birds doesn't have a music score or an ending in the conventional sense. The soundtrack was supervised by composer Bernard Herrmann; bird cries and wingflaps were played on an expanded Trautoniumnote  (called the Mixtur Trautonium) by Oskar Sala, assisted by the German composer Remi Gassmann.

The screenplay was written by Evan Hunter. Ub Iwerks helped out with the special effects involving the birds. There was a made-for-TV sequel, The Birds II: Land's End (1994), with a new cast of characters (and Ms. Hedren gamely contributing a cameo as a shopkeeper). It fared poorly.

The Birds provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Elderly Mother: If the character's ages are the same as their actors, 54-year-old Lydia has a 33-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. Which is actually completely possible, but the vast age difference between the siblings (plus Lydia looking much older than 54, as well as Cathy actually being younger than her actress) has led to considerable speculation that Cathy is actually Mitch's daughter.
  • Actor Allusion: In Melanie's first scene when she's walking down the street, a kid wolf whistles at her and she gives him a smile. This is a reference to a commercial Tippi Hedren had done where the same thing happened. When Hitchcock saw her in the commercial, he put her under contract immediately.
  • After-Action Patch-Up: Mitch treating Melanie's head wound in the diner. This scene depicts the beginning of a friendlier relationship between the two of them.
  • And Starring: "And Introducing 'Tippi' Hedren." Technically not true, since she'd had a small uncredited role in 1950's The Petty Girl.
  • Antagonist Title: The titular flocks of birds that attack the townspeople.
  • Author Appeal: Bird motif (this more explicit than other films) and an icy blonde lead actress.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: In this case, birds.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The infamous ending, which indicates that the birds have succeeded in taking over the town, and quite possibly the entire country.
  • Balloon-Bursting Bird: The film involves said avians attacking a little girl's birthday party. During the assault, the birds pop a number of balloons.
  • Bat Scare: While the evil avians are a recurrent threat, their final attack, as Melanie enters a room and finds it's filled with them, must fit.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted and played straight. Melanie's hair does (eventually) get disheveled, and she gets some nasty head wounds towards the end. But for all the running and falling down, her clothes are always perfectly clean and free of wrinkles.
  • Big Bad: The birds themselves. Interestingly, they don't quite cause the conflict so much as they are the conflict itself; their attacks kickstart and drive the plot, and they are not as much characters as they are a full-scale living doomsday scenario.
  • Big "NO!": Well, how would you react if you were attacked by birds in a small room, sending you into a catatonic state, and then your friends tried to guide you outside into a landscape of staring birds to get to the car? Naturally Melanie flat-out refuses, at first.
  • Bittersweet Ending: See No Ending below for the details. However, Lydia and Melanie share a tender moment in one of the last shots, implying that the old woman has come to care for her - and that the trauma may have actually bonded them.
  • Break the Cutie: This is Melanie's main character arc. She starts sure of herself, and her last line in the film is a PTSD-fueled Rapid-Fire "No!" when she sees that getting to the car will involve marching through a humongous bunch of birds.
  • Break the Haughty: Mrs Bundy the ornithologist is a pompous Agent Scully who refuses to believe that the birds are attacking. The last we see of her is after the chaos in the town - and she's visibly stunned into silence.
  • Broken Bird: Pun aside Melanie is reduced to a catatonic wreck after getting attacked by birds in the attic. It was a similar situation for her actress in real life too.
  • The Cameo: Richard Deacon, well known to 1963 audiences as The Dick Van Dyke Show's Mel Cooley, as Mitch's neighbor in San Francisco.
  • Cassandra Did It: Melanie is the one who argued against the ornithologist who said birds lack the ability to flock together and attack, and immediately after an attack is blamed because the attacks started after she arrived.
  • Cassandra Truth: It takes a very long time for the main characters convince the law enforcement that birds are attacking, them chalking it up to coincidence. Not until the largest attack on the town occurs do they start investigating.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: As everyone plans to flee the house, Cathy begs to bring the love birds Melanie got her as a present — reminding everyone of the reason Melanie ended up in Bodega Bay in the first place.
  • Creator Cameo: In true Hitchcock tradition, the director can be seen walking two dogs out of the pet shop at the start of the film.
  • Creepy Crows: A fair segment of nature's battalion here, and are strongly associated with this movie.
  • Daylight Horror: Most of the bird attacks happen during the day.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: While Annie admits she still has feelings for Mitch even after their relationship failed, her death at the hands of the birds halfway through the film prevents it from culminating into anything.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The movie opens with a romantic-flirtation plot.
  • Disappeared Dad: Frank Brenner, Lydia's husband and father to Mitch and Cathy, died some time prior to the events of the film. Lydia talks about missing him during a conversation with Melanie.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: One of Mitch's clients shot his wife in the head six times for changing the channel when he was watching a ball game.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Annie is found lying on her back with her legs splayed—as if she's been raped.
    • The attack in the attic can also have shades of this, some points looking like the birds are holding Melanie down as they peck different parts of her body as well as her gasping in pain.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The trailer has Hitchcock go on about the ways mankind has made use of birds before he hears a cacophony of flapping wings and screeches. It seems to imply the birds are behaving the way they do to get back at humans for the exploitation of their kind and countless birds that have been killed throughout history, though it's not an interpretation the movie itself dwells on.
  • Eyeball-Plucking Birds: One scene depicts a person whose eyes are pecked out by a flock of birds.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Melanie sees a sparrow in the Brenners' fireplace just before dozens of them come pouring into the room through the chimney.
  • Foreshadowing: There's plenty of actual foreshadowing in the first half of the movie — Melanie taking time to notice a swarm of seagulls in San Francisco, and attention to lots of birds sitting on telephone poles.
  • For the Evulz: Different, random groups of birds start swarming and killing the populace of Bodega Bay. No reason or explanation is given as to why they attack. They just do it. Though Hitchock himself in the trailer for the film makes the implications that the real reason they're attacking is to get revenge on humanity for millennia of abusing and killing their kind.
  • Fowl-Mouthed Parrot: The reason Melanie orders the mynah bird at the beginning of the film. She planned on teaching the bird a few of the "semantics" she picked up in a college class at Berkley before giving the mynah to her uptight Aunt Tessa.
  • Grudging "Thank You": Lydia thanks Melanie in this way for taking care of her after a nervous breakdown.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: It starts off feeling like a romantic comedy, and takes its time getting to the real point. Then lots and lots and lots of angry birds happen, turning into a horror movie.
  • Hates Being Alone: Lydia's turmoil stems from this, due in large part to her husband passing away. She reveals to Melanie that this is why she's reluctant to accept Mitch getting together with anyone, since it could potentially mean he'll also leave her.
  • Heroic BSoD: Melanie enters a catatonic state after the final attack in the attic.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Mitch's Birthday is the day the birds attack in full.
  • Hysterical Woman: After the big bird attack in town, one of these confronts Melanie and calls her the cause of all of this because the attacks started the day Melanie arrived.
    Woman: I think you're evil! EVIL-! (gets bitch-slapped by Melanie)
  • Idiot Ball: This could easily be called Idiot Ball: The Movie. Laying aside the (somewhat) understandable skepticism that the birds are launching coordinated attacks, practically everybody in this movie spends time running serious yardage with the idiot ball by foregoing even basic self-preservation. Checking out suspicious noises without letting anybody else know, several people tending to first aid for a bird peck without taking the simple precaution of shutting off a gas pump, and multiple instances of the good old standard horror tactic, splitting up. How any of the main characters survived their own childhoods is a mystery.
  • Idle Rich: Melanie, as the daughter of a newspaper owner, doesn't really need a job and spends most of her time goofing off.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The birds attack a group of children twice in the film, but all of them survive. There's mention of one needing to be taken to hospital, but ending up fine.
  • In Name Only: Well, technically it's based on the du Maurier short story. The screenwriter actually had read the short story, but Hitchcock specifically told him not to bother with it, as all he wanted to use was the title and the core premise of birds attacking people. Needless to say, the author Daphne Du Maurier was not pleased with this.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Sung by the schoolchildren as crows gather on the jungle gym.
  • It Can Think: The birds prove themselves to be terrifyingly adept at planning and sneak attacks, most notably when they lie in wait for the kids to leave the school.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: There is no music at all in the soundtrack, not counting the singing children.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Flighty blonde socialite Melanie is Light, no-nonsense brunette schoolteacher Annie is Dark.
  • The Lost Lenore: Gender-inverted. The true cause of Lydia's reserved attitude for much of the film stems from how much she's been struggling to move on from her husband's passing, and how she feels inadequate to fill the void in the family's lives left by him on her own.
  • MacGuffin: The love birds Melanie takes up to Bodega Bay, though they may well have something to do with the bird attacks.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Melanie begins the story appearing to be one, quirkily flirting with Mitch and getting into all sorts of scraps. It gets rapidly deconstructed when the horror starts.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The birds silently gathering on the playground equipment behind Melanie.
  • Missing Mom: Melanie's mother has been gone for years. She's implied to be a Daddy's Girl as a result.
  • No Ending:
    • The birds enter their resting phase and allow the characters to leave the besieged house. You never find why they started, or if they'll start attacking again.
    • An expanded ending was in the planning stages, with two additional scenes that were never filmed, but it was just as open to interpretation. After a drive through the town, which is now in ruins and has bodies of the unlucky locals lying in its streets, the characters head down to San Francisco... where they find the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in birds, silently watching them.
    • The book explains that the attack patterns are somehow connected to the tides, meaning that there are guaranteed breaks when one can go outside to get food and rebuild defenses. The birds of prey do join in, but the narrator makes plans to attach barbed wire to the windows and chimney to keep them from getting in. Strangely, despite the overall situation seeming to be much more grave in the book than in the adaptation (Nat and his family are possibly the only survivors in all of Europe, if not the whole planet, and the military intervention suggested in the movie is shown to fail miserably in the book) and leading up to essentially the same type of No Ending, the novella still manages to give a more optimistic taste than the movie does.
  • Noodle Incident: Melanie's mischievous character is established by reference to a prank she pulled that resulted in the shattering of a plate-glass window. Though she supposedly had to appear in court because of it, the nature of the prank is never explained.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A classic example. the movie never once establishes why the birds are attacking. This only serves to make it prime Paranoia Fuel; imagine, one day every single flighted bird in the world goes on what can only be described as a homicidal rampage and nobody knows why.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Melanie's face after seeing a massive flock of birds gathered next to the school.
    • Lydia, though a subdued version, when the man who sold her the chicken feed mentioned he had a call from another customer that his chickens wouldn't eat either (and had a different feed brand).
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Rod Taylor keeps lapsing into his natural Australian accent in the last half-hour.
  • Pretty in Mink: Melanie dons a fur coat for much of the film.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: Uses diegetic sounds and electronic bird noises in place of a musical score.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Why the birds attacked and whether it has anything to with the two birds Melanie bought at the start is never addressed.
    • Why the chickens wouldn't eat is never explained.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The story practically invites you to interpret the birds as an allegory for whatever you find threatening in the real world. Especially the restaurant scene, where you have unresolved arguments between someone who thinks the world is doomed, someone who denies that the threat could even exist, someone who claims the threat has always existed, and someone who points out that the important thing is to try to stop the threat. Especially keeping in mind that the original short story was allegedly inspired by the Nazi air raids on Britain during World War II.
  • Scenery Porn: Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks make good use of the photogenic Northern California coastline.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A mother dining in the cafe with her two children overhears Melanie explain about what happened at the school and tries to hitch a ride with another diner patron. Unfortunately for her, the birds attack again and her would-be driver picks a really bad time to light a cigar.
  • Species Title: An Antagonist Title about a murder of various birds.
  • Stupid Scientist: At one point the main characters meet Mrs Bundy, an ornithologist, who denies that the birds of various species are going out of their way to attack humans. She is seen with the other diner patrons after the first truly large-scale attack. She doesn't say anything, instead simply huddling against a wall and glancing over her shoulder. It's pretty obvious that she's realized how wrong she was.
  • Suicide Attack: Whether or not they know they'll be killed, some birds die ramming onto doors and glass.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • May also apply to the guy from the bar in the gray hat and suit who was ranting about how nasty birds were before going out to lead the lady with her kids out of the town, who lights his cigar over spilled gas which he somehow didn't notice as a result of the attacking birds. Given that he was also kind of a jerk he may also count as an Asshole Victim.
    • None of the characters takes even basic precautions against getting pecked bloody, such as wearing gloves or wrapping their arms with cloth.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • It's truly amazing how similar some moments in this movie are to a zombie horror film. With the masses of weak but overwhelming killers, the shock at the outlandish idea that such creatures could ever attack, barricading houses and hysterical survivors, you could easily see this as Hitchcock putting his own stamp on the conventions... but zombie movies wouldn't come about for another five years.
    • One of the earliest films to use Developing Doomed Characters. Except here the horror comes as part of a Halfway Plot Switch, the attacks build up and the developing is all about justifying why Melanie is in Bodega Bay in the first place.
  • The Unreveal: We never do learn exactly what is causing the birds to attack.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: When Cathy starts coughing and acting like she's nauseous after a bird attack, Melanie takes her to the bathroom, and while we don't see what's going on, we can hear Cathy getting sick.
  • Wham Shot: Of the man's eyes pecked out.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Melanie gets a pet for her aunt that she is implied to pick up before she buys Cathy the love birds. She says later that she was going to teach it to talk before giving it to her aunt, implying it's back in her apartment in San Francisco. She had only planned to stay in Bodega Bay a couple of hours, which means the pet went the whole weekend without food (unless Melanie phoned a friend to look in on it). Fridge Horror if that one went ballistic like the other birds too.
  • Wolf Whistle: In the opening scene Melanie gets one of these from a little kid, to whom she turns and smiles. This was apparently an Actor Allusion to a diet soda commercial Tippi Hedren had appeared in, which Hitchcock had seen.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The first two mass bird attacks happen to groups of children.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Melanie thinks she's the plucky heroine of a frothy Romantic Comedy, with her fondness for playing pranks and her Stalker with a Crush treatment of Mitch. Once the Halfway Plot Switch happens, she realizes this isn't the case anymore.
  • Zerg Rush: Once the birds get wound up in large numbers, this becomes their favorite tactic.


Video Example(s):


The Birds

Type B. This movie could be seen as the Trope Codifier.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / FeatheredFiend

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