Saturday, July 25, 2015

Going to the Birds

An unexpected hit which helped the Horror genre
In 1963, a film was released that turned a sleepy little town on the Northern Coast of California into a mecca for film buffs the world over. Overnight (well, actually it took nearly three full years in which to write, develop, produce and release the movie), Bodega Bay became a household word and ornithology was looked upon with a new respect – or fear perhaps.

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s first attempt at a horror movie, actually a precursor to that genre in the future, proved to be a mighty success. The film received a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 96% with the comment; “Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history”.

From the folks of Rotten Tomatoes – that was quite a compliment. Hitchcock had a flying success – yes the pun was intended.

We at J and L believe that there is not a person alive who once had the chance to view the film ‘The Birds’ hasn’t had at some time in their life a slight sense of apprehension when noticing a grouping of winged creatures alighted on telephone lines.

Nothing wrong here, move on without fear - if you can???
“Just birds.” Yeah, but looking over the shoulder cannot be stopped. Hitchcock, you truly scared us with that gem – thanks a lot!

Alfred came up with the idea after reading a novella by Daphne du Maurier “The Birds” which actually takes place in Cornwall, England right after World War II and was published in 1952. Along with the writing by du Maurier a slight disturbance had gotten the director’s attention in 1961 in the town of Capitola, California. On August 18, 1961 the residents suddenly found their small town being ‘attacked’ by thousands of birds who were flinging or flying themselves to death against windows, rooftops and anywhere else they could spread their wings for the last time. A local newspaper in Santa Cruz wrote that the citizens believed the birds of demise were possessed by demons or perhaps drugs – it was the sixties after all. Anyway, Hitchcock had an epiphany– that’s how genius directors think – death, disaster, scared people all equal to a hit film.

Roll the celluloid!

Hitchcock hired Evan Hunter in September of 1961 to write the script after working with him on earlier projects and knew her style well as she knew what her boss wanted also. They worked together and finished the script. 

The always famous cameos of Alfred Hitchcock

Now for the actors:

A good looking lead male – Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner hit the mark as the handsome attorney from San Francisco who made it a tradition to be home with his widowed mother and younger sister every weekend in Bodega Bay.

An attractive leading lady – Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels truly made the right statement as a beautiful and spoiled socialite from San Francisco who happened to bump into ‘Mitch’ in a bird shop in San Francisco (coincidence) and decided he was to be her next boy toy – so a short drive to Bodega Bay in her silver Aston Martin convertible wouldn’t be such a problem. Really, watch your hairdo ‘Melanie’!

What every woman wears in a boat -  a mink coat!
The rest of the cast – Jessica Tandy (as Mitch’s mother), Suzanne Pleshette (as Mitch’s platonic friend – yeah), Veronica Cartwright (as Mitch’s younger sister), and the others were more than enough talent to get the point across to the audience – these were real people living in a small oceanside town seventy miles north of San Francisco and they were scared out of their minds with the winged demons dive bombing anything that moved. Poking heads and eyes with their pointed beaks made movie viewers scream in the plush seats and look into the skies as they left the movie theaters.

As stated earlier – once viewed, once warned.

Now, this is Hollywood after all so reality has a lot of help from fantasy and trickster maneuvers. The actual shooting of the Potter School House, the church and the children running from the birds – as well as the wonderfully attractive shot of Suzanne Pleshette sans eyeballs was actually filmed in the town of Bodega which is five miles southeast of Bodega Bay. An inland tiny town which fit what Hitchcock and Hunter envisioned as the perfect look.

Suzanne Pleshette with eyes - for now before the angry birds
Bodega Bay was used for filming other integral parts of the film including the rather sad but funny scenes in the Tide Water Bar where the patrons were eating, drinking and thinking why were the birds acting so aggressively. Ethel Griffies, who played ornithologist Mrs. Bundy poo-poos the ideas of birds being nasty to everyone in the establishment when in the next instance birds are on a free-for-all swooping here and there tearing the eyeballs out of anyone on the street.

“Oops, my bad,” she retorts after looking out the window and seeing a man being blown up at the gas station across the street after a gangster bird came in low and took him out.

Right - very friendly birdies!
Okay, perhaps that’s not how it truly was in the script but could be if a sequel was made today.

The rest of the film had various smaller locations and the special effects were created at Disney Studios but it was and is Bodega Bay which will always be the place where birds lost their minds and beat the daylights out of humans for a couple of days. That’s all it took to make a legend – two days of ducking, diving, scratching, and poking to put a town into the annuals of movie history.

How the school and church look from the same angle today

J and L, on our trip driving the Highway 1 north of San Francisco came across Bodega Bay and being fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s work decided it was time to delve a little more into this film phenomenon.

John in front of Potter School which is a private residence now
With a little research and exploration, the truth of the filming made it clear this is where we needed to be. With an almost cult following “The Birds” has made this coastal city a must see by movie buffs and each year the town hosts a festival in honor of the filming and Tippi Hedren actually visits and talks to fans and does autograph sessions.

 Rumor has it that this coming Labor Day may be her last visit but we all know those Hollywood types – they like final statements so they can come back the next year and have larger crowds.

Laureen discussing techniques with Alfred in Bodega

Traveling can bring unexpected and wonderful experiences and that’s why J and L travel – to see things, read about them and smile together.

That’s what exploring is all about isn’t it?

It could happen again - who knows?

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