Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds from 1963 is very loosely based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novella of the same name. Hitchcock’s first American film and international success had been an adaption of her Gothic melodrama Rebecca, and later Nicholas Roeg would adapt du Maurier’s eerie story Don’t Look Now, which became a staple on the late-night movie circuit in the 70’s.
du Maurier’s original story is more concerned with the revenge of nature, exemplified by the suddenly hostile birds working in concert to punish humanity for its hubris and arrogance. As such it can be seen as a fore-bearer of a particularly English sub-genre of ecological apocalyptic fiction, John Wyndham, J.G Ballard and Anna Kavan all produced work in this vein.
Hitchcock told the screenwriter Evan Hunter to keep the central premise of unexplained bird assaults but to develop new characters and expand upon the plot. Given the end result it is hard not to see The Birds as a symbolic take on the ungovernable nature of female sexuality, in all its myriad forms.
The Birds centres on the character of Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren), a chic and irresponsible socialite who becomes a cuckoo in the nest when she impulsively follows love interest Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to his home in the small coastal town of Bodega Bay, California with a pair of caged lovebirds in tow. Mitch is defined solely in relation to the women in his life; his overbearing and jealous mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and his ex, the local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Soon after the birds begin to inexplicably attack the residents of the town, massing, with even birds of different species flocking together to launch aerial invasions. At one point a hysterical mother in the diner expressively connects the menacing behaviour of the birds with the arrival of Miss Daniels. Somehow her presence upsets a delicate balance, unleashing all the forces in nature inimical to humanity.
Below is a short clip of the school scene, a masterclass in suspense.