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The Birds - Notes

Although often thought of as a horror director, Alfred Hitchcock only ever made two pictures that could be classified in that genre. Psycho which we'll see here in a couple of weeks and tonight's film which was its immediate successor, 1963's The Birds.

Critically disparaged at the time for its sensationalist elements it was a huge hit with the punters, becoming the highest rated movie ever upon its initial TV screening in 1968. At this distance it can be seen as a magnificent achievement both technically and in its ability to terrify. There is no music to heighten the terror, just treated birdsong and artificial noise generated by sound producer and composer Oscar Sala from his mixtrautonium, a very early proto-synthesiser. There is no monster, just a brilliantly choreographed abundance of birdlife, real, puppet and animated.

Even the acting is, in some cases, minimal. The lead Tippi Hedren was discovered by Hitch on a TV ad for some long-forgotten diet drink and this flick was her first big screen appearance. While no great actress she was adequate for the most part and hardly had to act at all for the bird scenes. For her climactic solo spot with the avian avengers she was subjected to attack after attack from terrified creatures attached to her by nylon threads for a week. Legend has it that there may have been some spite in the director's treatment, she spurned his advances:

"To be the object of somebody's obsession is a really awful feeling when you can't return it", she was quoted as saying.

Her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, was given a doll by Hitch at the time. It looked uncannily like her mom and came in an ornate wooden case that looked awfully like a coffin&

See if you can spot Hitch walking his beloved Sealyham Terriers.

The young sister of hero Rod Taylor - best known as the owner/operator of 1960's The Time Machine - was played by Veronica Cartwright, little sister of Angela who made her name as part of TV's Lost in Space family. She came to fame in her own right as Lambert in the original Alien and played equally hysterical roles in The Right Stuff and The Witches of Eastwick.

Her onscreen mother, Jessica Tandy, got an '89 Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy and played opposite hubby, Hume Cronyn, in both Cocoon and batteries not included.
For more elderly eccentrics be with us next week for a lesser-known Hitchcock gem, The Lady Vanishes.