Episode 48: The Birds

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Thoroughly rehydrated after their detour to post-apocalyptic Australia last episode, Sean and Cody venture into the depths of avian paranoia and Alfred Hitchcock’s abusive soul as they review this classic 1963 horror masterpiece. In The Birds, manic pixie dream girl creepy stalker Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) uses a pair of lovebirds to troll Mitch (Rod Taylor) by delivering them to his family’s house on the California coast. But just as she makes the delivery, birds of all kinds suddenly decide this is the perfect moment to wage an epic jihad against humankind, and the little town of Bodega Bay is first on their target list. Environmental issues discussed include “revenge of nature” stories in fiction, bird behavior and their propensity to attack, a real-life incident involving a mass bird invasion in coastal California in 1961 and its relationship to ocean ecosystems and a toxic algae, unknown at the time but discovered long after the film was made.

Just how fantastic is the scenario depicted in this film—have birds really attacked humans, and if so, under what circumstances? How can toxic shellfish cause a bird invasion? What’s the history of these kind of “revenge of nature” movies, and has climate change made them even more topical than they were in the 1960s? Why don’t people get anchovies on pizzas or salads anymore like they used to 50 or 60 years ago? What’s the relationship between this film and those When Animals Attack shows from ‘90s Fox TV? How did shooting this picture ruin Tippi Hedren’s life? Just how much of a sick, misogynistic bastard was Alfred Hitchcock, and, knowing now how awful he was, should we stop watching his movies? Are Hitchcock’s chintzy rear-pro backdrops deliberately shoddy, or was he just getting lazy? All of these questions are swooping in for the attack in this terrifying episode of Green Screen.

Content warning: this episode contains discussion of psychological and physical abuse.

Original 1963 trailer for The Birds. Sorry, no HD version available.
Most of the clips of The Birds available online ignore the first half and sample only from the second half, where the bird attacks truly beginThis is the fulcrum point of the film: where a neighbor is found pecked to death. It’s the film’s first terrifying image.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) arrive at a kids’ birthday party just as the birds decide to spoil the fun. This is the first large-scale bird attack depicted in the film.
The Rube Goldberg-style chain of events leading to the gas station explosion could come off as incredibly hokey and hackneyed. Here, Hitchcock brings it off with aplomb, creating terror out of absurdity.
The infamous attic scene. It was filming this sequence that Hitchcock’s unconscionable abuse of Tippi Hedren was at its most egregious.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

Environmental History: Eco-Horror

Stephen A. Rust and Carter Soles, “Living in Fear, Living in Dread, Pretty Soon We’ll All Be Dead,” Inderdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Summer 2014):
https://www.jstor.org/stable/26430358

Environmental History: The Capitola, CA Bird Attack of August 1961

Wally Trabing,”Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 18, 1961 (contemporary news coverage):
https://history.santacruzpl.org/omeka/items/show/82839#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0

Laurel Hamers, “This Hitchcock Movie was Inspired by Crab Toxin Frenzy in Capitola,” San Jose Mercury News, December 7, 2015 (Archive.org link):
https://web.archive.org/web/20161105104917/https://www.mercurynews.com/2015/12/07/this-hitchcock-movie-was-inspired-by-crab-toxin-frenzy-in-capitola/

Environmental History: Anchovies off the California Coast

Samantha Clark, “Anchovy Numbers in Decline, Groups Say,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, October 29, 2015:
https://web.archive.org/web/20200811223348/https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2015/10/29/anchovy-numbers-in-decline-groups-say/

Arthur F. McEvoy, The Fisherman’s Problem: Ecology and the Law in the California Fisheries, 1850-1980 (Cambridge University Press, 1986) (Archive.org link):
https://archive.org/details/fishermansproble00arth

The Movie

Alfred Hitchcock’s History of Abusive Behavior

Alan Evans, “Tippi Hedren: Alfred Hitchcock Sexually Assaulted Me,” The Guardian, October 31, 2016:
https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/31/tippi-hedren-alfred-hitchcock-sexually-assaulted-me

Martin Chilton, “Alfred Hitchcock: A Sadistic Prankster,” The Telegraph, August 13, 2016:
https://web.archive.org/web/20210416233706/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/29/alfred-hitchcock-a-sadistic-prankster/

Kyle B. Counts & Steve Rubin, “The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds,” Cinefantastique, Vol. 10, Issue 2, Fall 1980:
https://the.hitchcock.zone/wiki/Cinemafantastique_(1980)_-_The_Making_of_Alfred_Hitchcock%27s_The_Birds

In a 2012 interview with Huffington Post Live, Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds, tells the truth about her relationship with Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock’s Terrible Backdrops

Elisabeth Bronfen, “Screening and Disclosing Fantasy: Rear Projection in Hitchcock,” Screen, Vol. 56, No. 1, March 2015 (Abstract only):
https://www.zora.uzh.ch/id/eprint/109970/

Where you can find The Birdshttps://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-birds

The Birds (1963) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/
The Birds (1963) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-birds/

Next Movie Up: Orlando (1992)

The image associated with The Birds is presumably copyright (C) 1963 by Universal Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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