Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Birds, The [1963]

US movie (1963). Universal. Pr Alfred Hitchcock. Dir Hitchcock. Spfx Lawrence A Hampton. Special photographic advisor Ub Iwerks. Screenplay Evan Hunter (> Ed McBain). Inspired by "The Birds" by Daphne Du Maurier in The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Some Stories (coll 1952); other contributory influences are The Revolt of the Birds (1927) by Melville Davisson Post (1871-1930) and The Birds (1936) by Frank Baker. Starring Veronica Cartwright (Cathy Brenner), Ethel Griffies (Mrs Bundy), Tippi Hedren (Melanie Daniels), Suzanne Pleshette (Annie Hayworth), Jessica Tandy (Lydia Brenner), Rod Taylor (Mitchell Brenner). 119 mins. Colour.

Emotionally retarded socialite Daniels comes to Bodega Bay in romantic pursuit of chic lawyer Brenner; simultaneously, the birds of the resort begin to attack humans, with Daniels – at least initially – an apparent focus. The attacks build up in numbers and intensity – some of the set-pieces have become almost Icons of the cinema – until, with the birds in complete control, they abruptly halt, the few human survivors being permitted to escape from their Polder into the outside world . . . although reports are coming from there, too, of unprovoked avian attacks.

TB seems less a plotted tale than a string of incidents, each expertly tightening the terror, leading up to a resolution that never comes; there is no real development, and no explanation. Yet the movie has astonishing power, and has drawn countless interpretations, most rooted in psychoanalysis, precisely because of its lack of surface rationale – which lack might be taken as one marker of the borderline between fantasy and Science Fiction. One tempting interpretation is that TB is a fantasy of Perception: we are seeing everything through Daniels's eyes, her rejection by the birds being a parallel of her rejection as unsuitable prospective daughter-in-law by Brenner's mother Lydia; only in the final moments, with Daniels crazed through fear, do we see matters with the eyes of an outsider.

Bizarrely, TB was dismissed as froth by contemporary critics, who thought it was a Horror Movie. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.