The Birds: Ten Things to Know About The Movie

Here are 10 trivia facts about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds from 1963, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. Most of this film’s setting is in a real-life small town.

The exterior shots for The Birds were filmed in Bodega Bay, California. Not all the filming was done there, as Alfred Hitchcock didn’t really like location shooting, so a good deal of the film was shot at Universal Studios. When Tippi Hedren (bio; videography) is attacked in the rowboat, that scene is in Bodega Harbour and the schoolhouse shown as the Bodega Bay School was really the Potter Schoolhouse in the town of Bodega, about five miles from Bodega Bay. An interesting fact about the gas station in Bodega Bay; it didn’t exist in that spot until it was built years later — but the script called for the gas station to be visible from the windows of the Tides Restaurant… and with a little Hitchcock magic, the gas station is there.

2. A newspaper plays a small role in the plot.

Hedren’s part of Melanie Daniels was that of a heiress to a newspaper dynasty and uses her influence to get information on Mitch Brenner played by Rod Taylor. Mitch however, is dismayed that her often annoying public antics were always treated with impunity due to her powerful dad’s position.

Jessica Tandy from the movie The Birds

Jessica Tandy Best Actress, 1990

3. A main character’s mother in this film is an Oscar winner, but not for this movie.

Jessica Tandy is a multiple nominee and winner of many coveted acting awards, including  a Golden Globe and an Emmy. But the big one for many performers is the Academy Award, where she was nominated twice and won her Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy in 1990. Jessica Tandy currently holds the record as the oldest Oscar winner; she was 81 at the time, eclipsing fellow Hollywood legend George Burns, who won his at 80.

4. Based on a short story that shares little in common with the filmed version.

The original story and the Hitchcock movie are both set in a small  bayside town location, but the characters aren’t the same, nor is the plot. Among other differences, the Daphne Du Maurier tale is centered on a young couple and their children; the Melanie Daniels character was written for the screen. Oddly enough, Du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” was originally supposed to be used on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. When it became a full-fledged film, the screenplay was written by Evan Hunter after it was turned down by Joseph Stefano, screenwriter on Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960. Hunter, an accomplished writer, is also known by one of his pen names, Ed McBain.

5. Filmed before the computer age, one scene’s special effects took a full week to shoot.

It took seven days to shoot the scene near the end of the movie when Hedren is savagely attacked in an attic. She said years later that it was “the worst week of my life.” Before the days of computer-generated special effects, the flying birds’ very quick wing motion did not photograph well against a blue screen. It was decided the only way to get the proper results was to use the “sodium vapor process,” found only at the Walt Disney studio…along with famed animator Ub Iwerks, the definitive expert on that process. The effects were created and more than 350 different special effects were employed in the movie. Iwerks’ official title was “special photographic advisor.”

The Birds: Mattel Barbie Doll 2008

Mattel Barbie Doll 2008

6. The female lead’s real-life daughter is also an actress.

Tippi Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffith is an Oscar-nominated actress, best known for her title role turn in Working Girl. During the filming of  The Birds, Hitchcock gave the young Melanie a gift of a doll sporting the same hairdo and green suit worn by her mother in the movie. Problem was, the gift came in a wooden box that, to a child, resembled a coffin! (To mark the film’s 45th anniversary in 2008, Mattel released the Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Special Edition Barbie pictured here.) Incidentally, throughout most of  the shooting, the script called for Hedren to wear the same green outfit (designed by Edith Head), and to accommodate the rough treatment they would get, Hitchcock had six identical suits made for her.

7. After its first TV showing, it held the record for the most-watched film on TV.

The Birds was the highest-rated movie shown on TV from when it first played on NBC in January of 1968 until its record was shattered four years later, by Love Story, in October, 1972.

8. This was the first film to carry a major Hollywood studio’s name change.

Universal Pictures, at one time seen on-screen as “A Universal Picture,” eventually gave way to a name change as “Universal-International.” Then in 1962, the studio reverted back to their original name and was called Universal Pictures again. The Birds was the first film to display the new logo on screen.

9. The director is as well known for his films as for the TV show that bore his name.

Are there any film fans who don’t know of Alfred Hitchcock? Volumes have been written about the master craftsman but it is sufficient to say his films will live forever, as will his TV shows, which gain myriads of new viewers each year thanks to the magic of cable television and pre-recorded media.

The Birds: Suzanne Pleshette

10. One of the supporting characters dies a gruesome death in the film.

The scene where audiences see the lifeless body of Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds is unforgettable — as is her body of work. Playing  Bodega Bay schooleatcher Annie Hayworth, her sweet, warm brunette persona contrasts with Tippi Hedren’s distant, cold and icy blonde character. Along with The Birds, fans also enjoyed her pairing with Troy Donohue in Rome Adventure, but one thing is for sure… many more people knew her best as Emily Hartley on TV’s The Bob Newhart Show.

Pleshette once said, “I don’t sit around and wait for great parts. I’m an actress, and I love being one, and I’ll probably be doing it till I’m 72.” Suzanne almost fulfilled her own prophecy as she died just before her 71st birthday.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy Alfred Hitchcock, ever the showman, in this marvelous trailer for The Birds: