How The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier Became a Terrifying Alfred Hitchcock Film

The birds (1963 film)

I made the mistake of seeing The Birds, a 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock when I was young. Not being a fan of all things scary, I never quite recovered enough to give it a second view as an adult, especially since it’s based on a novella of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, an author I admire (Rebecca is one of my favorite classics). 

The following article/review about the film from 1963, the year the film came out, reveals the surprising fact that the masses of birds were — real birds! Of course, in today’s world it would have been done digitally. 


“Could be the most terrifying film …”

From the Galveston Daily News, April 28, 1963: New Technique For ‘Birds’ Unites Music, Shock Effect: Alfred Hitchcock understated it when he said of his latest thriller, The Birds, “It could be the most terrifying film I’ve ever made.”

It is. Opening day audiences, even those who expect shock and excitement from a Hitchcock work, were stunned by never-before-seen passages showing tens of thousands of birds in massed attacks on people.

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The birds (Hitchcock) movie poster, 1965You might also enjoy:
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Revolutionary film techniques

The Birds is revolutionary in techniques. There is no musical score as such. Introduced for the first time is a new electronic sound effects system, invented and composed by Remi Gassman and Oskar Sala of Berlin to produce both “musical” and shock effects.

There are no Hollywood “props” used in the close-up attacks of birds on people. The birds were actually trained for their parts! Hitchcock and his technicians devised a special way to make real birds “dive bomb” in masses. How this was done is not revealed. One exits asking “How?” and “Why?” Hitchcock outdoes Hitchcock in this mystery.

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The Birds - 1963 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the novella by Daphne du Maurier

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A strong, personal, and emotional story

Starring Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, and Suzanne Pleshette, and introducing Tippi Hedren, the new Hitchcock production also develops a stronger and more emotional personal story than any of his previous films.

This aspect of the screenplay, written by Evan Hunter and based on a Daphne du Maurier story, makes the audience impact of the unprecedented bird violence all the greater.

In typical Hitchcock counterpoint, the Technicolor film starts in a high comedy mood with a romantic encounter between Taylor and Miss Hedren in San Francisco. The story moves to a peaceful California seaside community, where the principals become involved in a mounting atmosphere of terror resulting from the unexplained bird assaults.


Skillful acting under Hitchcock’s guidance

Principal actors and supporting cast perform skillfully and engagingly under the guidance of director Alfred Hitchcock.

These include Taylor, an eminently eligible San Francisco bachelor-lawyer; Miss Tandy, as his mother, who blocks any entangling alliances for her son; Miss Pleshette, as his former girlfriend; Veronica Cartwright, as his young sister; Ethel Griffies, as a bird-lover, and Charles McGraw, as a sea captain.

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Tippi Hedren in the Birds - 1963

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Most reviews were similarly positive. A March 28, 1963 review in the Hollywood Reporter concurs with the one above:

“Alfred Hitchcock has concocted an elaborate tease in The Birds, as if to prove that suspense and thrills can be induced as much by the expectation of horror as by horror itself …

Deliberately, Hitchcock prolongs his prelude to horror for more than half the film, playing with audience suspense with comedy and romance while he sets his stage. The horror, when it comes, is a hair-raiser, and audiences should take to the [film] with satisfying response.”

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More about The Birds (1963 film)

2 Responses to “How The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier Became a Terrifying Alfred Hitchcock Film”

  1. This movie was laughable. I don’t understand how anyone could be freaked out by birds – a group of wild humans perhaps – but not birds. This film served only to perpetuate fear against a species that does not deserve it.

    • That’s a good point, Mary. Birds are awesome creatures, certainly better than destructive, complicated humans. But I was a little girl when I saw it and there were some truly disturbing scenes. That’s more of Hitchcock’s fault than the birds!

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