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Revisiting a Classic: Ways to Supplement Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds on Its 60th Anniversary

Love Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic, The Birds? We have some ways to appreciate it even more.

By Tara Bennett
Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963)

Sixty years later, The BirdsAlfred Hitchcock's adaptation of author Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name — remains one of the vaunted director's best films. The Birds also ranks high as one of cinema's scariest portrayals of man versus nature. Because of its enduring popularity and complexity, the film has remained a popular topic with academics, documentarians, and authors, all seeking to shed light on why the story and the making of story continue to endure.

With The Birds celebrating its 60th anniversary and available now on Peacock, SYFY WIRE has curated some support materials to enrich your experience with the classic film. 

Ways to Supplement Your Viewing of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds

Daphne du Maurier's The Birds

The Birds (1963)

Hitchcock was already a fan of author Daphne du Maurier's work, having adapted her novel, Rebecca, into a well-received 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Many are not aware that du Maurier's short story, The Birds, was also the inspiration for this 1963 adaptation. The story first appeared in her 1952 collection, The Apple Tree, and depicts events that happen on the Cornwall coast as birds attack the human population all across the British Isle. Told from the perspective of veteran, Nat Hocken, The Birds is a rather bleak depiction of the futility of trying to fight the avian onslaught. Many consider it to be a metaphor for how British citizens felt during the bombings of WWII. 

RELATED: When birds attack, the science behind 'The Birds'

The True Story Behind The Birds

Actress Tippi Hedren in a scene from the movie The Birds (1963)

Hitchcock obviously kept the personal story of the birds attacking a coastal town, but he also looked to the real life phenomenon that Hitchcock read about in the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper on August 18, 1961. It covered the bizarre story of mass bird attacks near Monterey Bay, California. 

Eyewitness Edna Messini told the paper what she saw: "Struggling to the door, I was awed at the sight of hundreds of birds — all with the cry of a baby. They were heavy with sardines unable to fly and lost in the dense fog as they came in from the sea attracted by our lights. They slammed against the building, [regurgitating] fish blood and knocking themselves out. Our manager phoned me, asked what to do? She knew it was the end of the world, panic set in, sure it was germ warfare.”

In the decades since, scientists have found several possible reasons for the attacks, including domoic acid poisoning, a neurotoxin created by warm water micro-algae blooms that infiltrated the bird's food sources. But back in the early '60s, Hitchcock knew a lack of concrete reason for the bird attacks would be far more terrifying for cinema audiences.

The Making of The Birds 

Hearing Hitchcock talk about his films is always worthwhile, and this documentary uses archival interviews from the director and new (at the time) interviews from the cast reflecting back on how they got involved. Screenwriter Evan Hunter speaks to the adaptation changes, including the premise that The Birds would be a "screwball comedy that turns terrifying." The doc also gives deserved kudos to the tremendous amount of special effects used to create the bird attack scenes. 

RELATED: 'Psycho' vs 'The Birds': Here's how these two Hitchcock horror classics stack up

The Girl (2012)

It was only after Hitchcock passed away in 1980 that the depth and breadth of his "obsessions" regarding his blonde, leading ladies became more clear. For actor Tippi Hedren, who plays Bodega Bay outsider Melanie Daniels, she says Hitchcock was particularly brutal in creating an experience while shooting the film that actually caused harm. When she declined his advances, she says the punishment was the intensity of the phone booth attack scene that actually exposed her to shattered glass injuries.

The director's issues were fully explored in biographer Donald Spoto's 2009 book on Hitchcock, Spellbound by Beauty. He corroborated Hedren's accounts and theorized that Hitchcock wanted to frame the actress as "his perfect woman," which became his unhealthy pursuit. In 2012, the book was adapted into the bio-pic, The Girl, which cast Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as Hitchcock.

The Birds is now streaming on Peacock.