The movie which some critics called director Alfred Hitchcock’s “last great film” debuted on March 28, 1963. Starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, “The Birds” was a success in theaters, but likely reached its best audience through repeated showings on television.
Hitchcock’s story depicted birds assaulting a seaside village, a one-room schoolhouse, and finally, a rural residence. He kept a constantly-narrowing focus on a small group of people victimized by the unexplained attacks, and the concept served to particularly unnerve viewers watching in the perceived safety of their own homes. Hot on the heels of 1960’s “Psycho,” “The Birds” turned Hitchcock’s storytelling reputation from intrigue and shadowy characters to outright terror and fear of the unknown.
“The Birds” was written for the screen by Evan Hunter, from Daphne duMaurier’s tale of birds attacking a small British town. The film lacks a conventional soundtrack or score, with the exception of a scene in which Hedren listens to schoolchildren singing “Risseldy Rosseldy,” while an increasing number of crows land on playground equipment behind her. Hitchcock creates a suspensful counterpoint between the innocent music inside the schoolhouse and the menacing birds waiting en masse to attack the children.
Which, shockingly enough, they do.
The lasting impact of “The Birds” probably lies in its disconcerting ambiguity. The film ends without giving any reason for the bird attacks. In fact, the final scene manages to present a harrowing image of humans hopelessly outnumbered by creatures once considered feathered friends.