‘Nothing you have ever witnessed before has prepared you for such sheer, stabbing shock!’
The film was billed as ‘introducing’ Tippi Hedren. It also starred Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and a young Veronica Cartwright (Alien). The screenplay was written by Evan Hunter. Hitchcock told Hunter to develop new characters and a more elaborate plot, keeping Du Maurier’s title and concept of unexplained bird attacks.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a young, wealthy socialite who meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a lawyer, in a San Francisco bird shop. Brenner wants to purchase a pair of lovebirds for his sister’s eleventh birthday and pretends to mistake Daniels for a salesperson, which infuriates her and leads her to inquire as to the reason for his behaviour. He mentions a previous encounter that he had with her.
Intrigued by him, she finds the address of his home in Bodega Bay, California. She purchases a pair of lovebirds and reaches his house by sneaking across the small harbour in a motorboat, leaving the birds and a note. As she is heading back across the bay, a seagull swoops down and inflicts a cut on her head. At Mitch’s request, Melanie reluctantly agrees to join the dinner at their residence. Over the next few days, the bird attacks continue…
“On an allegorical level, the birds in the film are the physical embodiment and exteriorization of unleashed, disturbing, shattering forces that threaten all of humanity (those threatened in the film include schoolchildren, a defenseless farmer, bystanders, a schoolteacher, etc.) when relationships have become insubstantial, unsupportive, or hurtful.” Filmsite
“There is no motor driving it, no music to tether it, and nothing to hold it aloft apart from that up-draft of sensual atmosphere and existential dread. Hitchcock reportedly worried at length over how to wrap things up. He eventually ditched the scripted final scene in favour of a non-resolution, an open ending – the perfect closing image that leaves the world in the balance and its mysteries all intact.” The Guardian
“The bird attacks are mounted with superb artistry in the same clipped, droll and immaculately staged style we have come to know from Hitchcock … The climactic siege of the farmhouse (which is the only connection to the slim 1952 Daphne Du Maurier short story that the film is based on) with Rod Taylor trying to barricade the house while fighting off frenzied avian suicide attacks or saving a mobbed Tippi Hedren from the attic contains some seat-edge suspense.” Moria: Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film
“The special effects are variable and some are downright terrible but direction and editing (and some uncanny deployment of our feathered friends by Ray Berwick) combine to make it an immensely effective piece of work.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
” …beneath all of this elaborate feather bedlam lies a Hitchcock-and-bull story that’s essentially a fowl ball.” Variety