The Story (continued)
The Birds (1963)
[ATTACK # 2] Significantly - and ominously, at that exact moment, a seagull is found dead on the porch next to the front door (the moon-lit road and setting in front of her house are illuminated):
Annie: Poor thing. Probably lost his way in the dark.
Melanie: But it isn't dark, Annie. There's a full moon. (Annie turns to look at Melanie and the film fades to black.)
[Sunday] The next day during Cathy's outdoor party, while the children are playing games on a lawn enclosed by a protective white fence, a formally-dressed Mitch and Melanie walk together up to the top of a sand dune and nearby hillside, surrounded by coastal mountains and water. He is carrying a martini pitcher and each of them carry a cocktail glass. As he pours her a drink, she demurs that she shouldn't drink: "Now I really shouldn't have any more. I'm driving." When he pressures her to stay through dinner, she declines: "I have to get back," due to her "several jobs...I do different things on different days." Shallow, lacking depth of emotion and "lost," she busily and compulsively fills gaps of time (like Annie) after her disastrous trip to Rome with superficial, distant work including volunteer work and classes: on Mondays and Wednesdays helping ("misdirecting") travelers at the airport's Traveler's Aid before they fly away, on Tuesdays studies in "general semantics" at UC Berkeley "finding new four letter words," and on Thursdays meetings for raising money for "sending a little Korean boy through school."
Melanie: You see, Rome, that entire summer, I did nothing but - well, it was very easy to get lost there. So when I came back, I thought it was time I began, oh I don't know, finding something again. So on Mondays and Thursdays, I keep myself busy...Fridays, they're free. I sometimes go to bird shops on Fridays.
Mitch: I'm very glad you do. A nice innocent little day.
Melanie describes her "very prim and strait-laced" Aunt Tessa, to whom she is giving a talking mynah bird when she returns from a trip to Europe - a bird that speaks shockingly and improperly. Abruptly, the conversation turns to the subject of the child-woman's abandoning, unloving mother who "ditched" Melanie when she was eleven - the age that Cathy is celebrating at her birthday party!:
Melanie: Mynah birds talk, you know. Can you see my Aunt Tessa's face when this one tells us one or two of the words I've picked up at Berkeley?
Mitch: You need a mother's care, my child.
Melanie: (She turns her back - her upturned dress collar hides her expression) Not my mother's.
Mitch: Oh, I'm sorry.
Melanie: What have you got to be sorry about? My mother? Don't waste your time. She ditched us when I was eleven and ran off with some hotel man in the East. You know what a mother's love is.
Mitch: Yes, I do.
Melanie: You mean it's better to be ditched?
Mitch: No, I think it's better to be loved. Don't you ever see her?
Melanie: (She turns away again, and begins weeping with distress in her voice) I don't know where she is. (She turns back, now composed.) Well, maybe I ought to go join the other children.
As they return to the party, the camera pans from them on the hillside across to where Annie guides one of the games - blindfolding Cathy in a children's game of blind-man's bluff [emphasizing the recurring theme of 'seeing' and the film's overall theme of the danger of shallow relationships]. Both Annie and Lydia (carrying a festive birthday cake) stop in their tracks and anxiously watch the couple. At that instant, one of the children cries out: "Look! Look!" as a seagull pecks at Cathy's forehead - an attack that has an eerie resemblance to the one upon Melanie. [ATTACK # 3] Other birds swoop down, causing the victimized children to scream and run for cover. At first, Melanie and Mitch are frozen with paralyzing disbelief, then toss down their glasses after realizing what is happening. In the frightening scene, colorful party balloons burst, as both Mitch (and then Melanie) pry pecking birds from the heads of two innocent girls, one helplessly prostrate on the ground and flailing her arms. They assist everyone to run for cover behind double doors in the house. As Mitch and Melanie look up into the sky, she enumerates the three instances of gull attacks:
Annie: That makes three times.
Melanie: Mitch, this isn't usual, is it? The gull when I was in the boat yesterday. The one at Annie's last night, and now...
Mitch: Last night? What do you mean?
Melanie: A gull smashed into Annie's front door. Mitch - what's happening?
She is easily convinced to stay for something to eat at the Brenner home, to make Mitch "feel a lot better."
The scene dissolves from the faces of two fearful children (framed between Mitch and Melanie) gazing toward the heavens, to a similar pose of Lydia, later that evening, gazing out of a darkened window and pulling the drapes to protectively shield her family. To silence the chatter of the lovebirds in their cage, she covers them with a cloth, exclaiming: "What's the matter with all the birds?" They eat their dinner in the intimate setting of the living room, with their plates on their laps, although Lydia sits at the distant, opposite end of the same sofa from Melanie - their figures are separated by the back of Mitch's upper torso and head in the foreground.
After a high-angle, profiled shot of Melanie's forehead (centering on where she was wounded), she notices one out-of-place sparrow jumping around in front of the fireplace. [ATTACK # 4] Before she can calmly warn Mitch, a stream of hundreds of sparrows and other birds infiltrate the room and fly out of the chimney. Mitch screams out to everyone: "Cover your faces! Cover your eyes!" as he opens the drapes and windows to direct the swirling birds outside. While Melanie protectively shields Cathy on the sofa, Lydia covers her eyes and claws at the birds amassing on her head. Aggressively taking charge, Mitch overturns the coffee table, blocks the fireplace entrance, and beats at the birds in flight. Melanie guides Cathy and Lydia out of the room in one direction, and Mitch leaves from another door - a reversal of defensive tactics from the previous attack. The birds completely engulf the evacuated room - a foreshadowing of their conquest of the entire town.
After the attack, the town's ineffectual sheriff Al Malone (Malcolm Atterbury) visits the disastrous scene of the incident, dumbfoundedly mentioning the obvious: "That's a sparrow, alright," and blaming light in the house for attracting the birds. Stooping down, Lydia gathers shattered pieces of a broken tea cup and other porcelain items from the floor that were smashed when Mitch blocked the fireplace with the table - seemingly dismayed by the destructive forces that have upset her tranquil, domestic life. The skeptical sheriff refuses to call any of the reported bird incidents 'attacks': "Attack's a pretty strong word, don't you think? I mean, birds just don't go around attacking people without no reason, you know what I mean?" When Lydia adjusts the crooked wall painting of her late husband, a dead feathered bird falls from the top of the picture and causes her fright. Melanie volunteers to take Cathy up to bed - and to stay for the night (with Mitch's approval), provoking another reaction from Lydia. As the sheriff leaves, he comments upon the entire scenario: "It sure is peculiar."
[Monday] After a dissolve to black, the next scene views a distant Mitch through the yard's trellis and white fence as he rakes and tends a fire by the side of the bay - possibly burning the dead birds that had invaded during the party. As Lydia calls to him, Melanie (in an old-fashioned, granny nightgown) applies lipstick and listens to her drive off (with Cathy) in their Ford pickup truck toward neighbor Dan Fawcett's farm, to discuss their problems with chickens. After dropping Cathy off at school, she drives up to the farm where hired farm hand George (Bill Quinn) welcomes her in the yard and encourages her to find Dan Fawcett inside. After Lydia enters alone into the unlocked kitchen door when there is no answer, she calls out: "Dan, are you home?" Again, a row of neatly-broken teacups dangling from hooks under the kitchen cabinet catch her shocked attention.
[ATTACK # 5] As she walks down the empty, deathly silent, narrow and tunneling corridor to a bedroom, she discovers a dead seagull impaled in a broken window and an upturned, bric-a-brac plastic bird sculpture. From another angle, there are more signs of chaotic damage in the room - bird feathers, two more dead birds, and a disordered bed. On the floor are two bloodied, bare feet sticking out from a pair of shredded pajama pants. In three jump shots that zoom forward to his face, Lydia witnesses Dan Fawcett's lifeless body propped in the corner of the room. Both of his bloody, darkened eye sockets are empty - plucked out during the bird attack. [Her reaction to the mutilation of his eyes - coupled with the film's theme of seeing - is beautifully realized.] She turns and flees down the hallway with her hands in the air and her mouth gaping open - wide-eyed and gasping for air, she is unable to verbalize the unspeakable horror to the bewildered farm hand. [She resembles the distorted, terrorized figure in the famous, haunting Edvard Munch painting The Scream.] Her truck backfires - 'screaming' in its own way - and its path churns up dust as she roars back at top speed to the Brenner home.
In a point-of-view shot from inside the truck, she is destructively aimed at Mitch and Melanie, who are standing together in the driveway. Veering away from them at the last moment, the distraught and despairing woman clambers out of the truck, violently pushes both of them to either side, and runs into the house. Melanie prepares tea (!) in the kitchen for Lydia, while Mitch asks her permission to join the sheriff at the Fawcett place. He kisses her lightly on the back of the neck and they both caution each other to be careful:
Melanie: Oh, be careful, please. (They embrace.)
Mitch: And you be careful. (She nods, and they tenderly kiss as he leaves.)
After their first intimate kiss, Melanie smiles contentedly to herself about the promising development of their relationship. Melanie carries a tea tray into Lydia's yellow-painted bedroom (pictures of her children are lined up on the mantle), where the suspicious, nervous woman asks for Mitch. With a tea-cup in her hand, she worries about Cathy's well-being at school where the big windows are vulnerable to further bird assaults - [windows are like eyes - openings into the world]:
Lydia: Do you think Cathy's alright at the school?...Do I sound very foolish to you?
Melanie: Oh no.
Lydia: I keep seeing Dan's face. And they have such big windows at school. All the windows are broken in Dan's bedroom. All the windows!
Melanie: Try not to think about that.
She also seeks reassurance from recent, unresolved torments she has experienced, including the loss of her husband, and her dependence upon his life. She expresses her affection for him, but dreads a life of powerlessness and loneliness, without meaning or purpose, after abandonment by her children following his death. Further, she reveals her ambivalent feelings about Melanie's intrusion:
I wish I were a stronger person. I lost my husband four years ago, you know. It's terrible how you, you depend on someone else for strength and then suddenly all the strength is gone and you're alone. (She closes her eyes and her head tilts back) I'd love to be able to relax sometime. I'd love to be able to sleep...I'm not like this, you know, not usually. I don't fuss and fret about my children. When Frank died, you see, he understood the children, he really understood them. He had the knack of entering into their world and becoming part of them. That's a very rare talent...Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I could be like that. I miss him! Sometimes even now, I wake up in the morning and I think: 'I must get Frank's breakfast.' And I get up, and there's a very good reason for getting out of bed until, of course, I remember. I miss talking to him. Cathy's a child, of course, and Mitch, well, Mitch has his own life. I'm glad he stayed here today. I-I feel safer with him here...Don't go. I feel as if I don't understand you at all and I-I want so much to understand...because my son seems to be very fond of you and I don't know quite how I feel about it. I don't even know if I like you or not...Mitch is important to me. I want to like whatever girl he chooses...Mitch has always done exactly what he wanted to do. But, (she loses control of herself) you see, I don't want to be left alone. I don't think I could bear to be left alone. (Upset, she covers her eyes with her hands.) Oh, forgive me...This business with the birds has upset me. I don't know what I'd do if Mitch weren't here...I wish I was stronger.
After Melanie comforts her, Lydia is grateful and calmed when Melanie suggests going to check on Cathy at school - and she calls Melanie by her name for the first time: "I'd feel so much better...Melanie - thanks for the tea."
Lydia's fear of losing her children is not without some merit, as the next scene, one of Hitchcock's most brilliant, believably frightening, hallucinatory and memorable, demonstrates. As Melanie drives up in front of BODEGA BAY SCHOOL, she hears the children singing a sad, roundelay-type sing-song tune:
She combed her hair but once a year
Ristle-te, rostle-te, now, now, now
With every stroke she shed a tear...
He walked her home by the light of the moon... She swept up her floor but once a year
Ristle-te, rostle-te, now, now, now
Inside the schoolroom, Annie (positioned significantly in front of various symbols of cultural learning: a blackboard covered with math problems, the flag, a world map, and a painting of 'father of our country' George Washington) leads the children in the nonsense-song that sounds like it may end - but doesn't [the song is a warning!]. After signaling to Annie inside the classroom, Melanie walks out of the imposing school doors and waits on a bench in front of a white fence next to the school. A chilling wind blows in the scene. In a cutaway shot, a single blackbird flutters and settles on the children's playground jungle-jim behind her. After a change of perspective and a shot of an unawares Melanie lighting her cigarette, four blackbirds are perched on the apparatus. A fifth bird lands, and she looks over her left shoulder - in the wrong direction, but sees nothing. Afterwards, the birds seem to steadily multiply like storm clouds, as Melanie looks twice more to her left without spotting them. Then, her eyes notice a single bird flying across the sky - her gaze follows it toward the jungle gym, now covered by hundreds of birds, with dozens of others perched on a fence and structure behind.
Speechless and frantic (paralleling Lydia's reaction), Melanie swiftly returns to the interior of the schoolhouse and warns Annie to close the side door just opened for recess. They 'look' out of one of the large school windows at the threat: "We've got to get the children out of here." Annie instructs the complaining children to prepare for an orderly fire drill evacuation: "We're going out of school now...And I want those of you who live nearby to go directly home...I want the rest of you to go down the hill all the way to the hotel...I want you to go as quietly as possible. Do not make a sound until I tell you to run. Then run as quickly as you can." The children quietly file outside, where the semi-agitated birds are packed tightly together on the playground equipment.
[ATTACK # 6] Hearing the sound of the children's feet frantically running on the pavement down the hill, the flock of birds fly after them - filling the sky by rising up behind the school. The whooshing, flapping sound of the crows intensifies the awe and terror, as they descend on the screaming, fleeing children and peck at their heads. One red-sweatered schoolgirl (Morgan Brittany) falls, shatters her eyeglasses (shown in close-up), and desperately calls out for Cathy to help her. Melanie, Cathy and her friend seek shelter in a nearby parked car. After honking the horn and waiting a minute, the birds dissipate.
After a dissolve, Melanie speaks to her father on the restaurant's phone, as other patrons listen to her intriguing conversation: "Oh Daddy, there were hundreds of them...Just now, not fifteen minutes ago...at the school...the birds didn't attack until the children were outside the school...crows, I think...Oh, I don't know, Daddy, is there a difference between crows and blackbirds?...I think these were crows, hundreds of them...Yes, they attacked the children. Attacked them!" A beret-wearing, tweed-suited, cigarette-smoking, self-acknowledged ornithologist expert Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies) defends the birds, explaining how they never unite to attack:
There is very definitely a difference, Miss...They're both fetching birds, of course, but quite different species...I would hardly think that either species would have sufficient intelligence to launch a massed attack. Their brain pans are not big enough...Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty into the world. It is mankind, rather...
Significantly, a waitress disrupts Mrs. Bundy's lecture with a loud food order to the cook - for cooked bird: "Sam, three Southern fried chicken. Baked potato on all of 'em." When Mrs. Bundy continues, she castigates humans instead of birds:
Mrs. Bundy: It is mankind, rather, who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist on this planet. Now if it were not for birds...
Mr. Deke Carter (the bartender): Mrs. Bundy, you don't seem to understand. This young lady said there was an attack on the school.
Mrs. Bundy: Impossible!
Melanie: (on the phone to Mitch) Mitch? Oh I'm glad I caught you. Something terrible...
A drunk (Karl Swenson) at the end of the bar presents an opposing view, exclaiming: "It's the end of the world!" The waitress interjects a timely drink order: "Two Bloody Marys, Deke." The persistent drunk quotes the Biblical reference for his simplistic, dire apocalyptic warning:
Drunk: 'It's the end of the world.' Thus sayeth the Lord God unto the mountains and the hills, and the rivers and the valleys. Behold I, even I shall bring a sword upon ya. And I will devastate your high places. Ezekiel, chapter six.
Waitress: Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink.
Drunk: Isaiah, chapter five. It's the end of the world.
Mrs. Bundy: I hardly think a few birds are going to bring about the end of the world.
Melanie: These weren't a few birds.
Deke Carter: I didn't know there were many crows in Bodega Bay this time of year.
Mrs. Bundy: The crow is a permanent resident throughout his range. In fact, during our Christmas count, we recorded...
Boat owner Sebastian Sholes (Charles McGraw) in a corner booth has had gulls attacking his fishing boats: "How many gulls did you count, Mrs. Bundy?...The ones that have been playing devil with my fishing boats....Oh, a flock of gulls nearly capsized one of my boats. Practically tore the skipper's arm off." Mrs. Bundy rationalizes the attacks: "The gulls went after your fish, Mr. Sholes. Really - let's be logical about this." A mother (Doreen Lang) having lunch (the Southern fried chicken orders) with her two small children is increasingly becoming alarmed. Melanie tells Mrs. Bundy the purpose of the birds' attack on the schoolchildren: "I think they were after the children...to kill them," but the old lady argues, in an academic tone that denies Melanie's evidence, that birds couldn't possibly start "a war":
Birds have been on this planet, Miss Daniels, since Archaeopteryx, a hundred and forty million years ago. Doesn't it seem odd that they'd wait all that time to start a, a war against humanity.
An angry, business-suited salesman (Joe Mantell) orders a strong drink: "Scotch, light on the water" and interjects himself into the discussion with an extreme solution - "kill 'em all":
Salesman: Your captain should have shot at them...Gulls are scavengers anyway. Most birds are. Get yourselves guns and wipe them off the face of the earth.
Mrs. Bundy: That would hardly be possible...Because there are eight thousand, six hundred and fifty species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that five billion, seven hundred and fifty million birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world...
Salesman: Kill 'em all. Get rid of them. Messy animals.
Mrs. Bundy: ...probably contain more than a hundred billion birds.
Drunk: It's the end of the world.
Sholes: Those gulls must have been after the fish.
Mrs. Bundy: Of course.
The mother attempts to shield her children, as her young boy wonders: "Are the birds gonna eat us, Mommy?" Mrs. Bundy explains that birds of different species never flock together: "The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't have a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?" Now hysterical, the mother accuses them of frightening her children "half out of their wits." She anticipates further attacks with the ornithologist's prediction, and scares her own daughter: "What do you want 'em to do next? Crash into that window? Why don't you all go home? Lock your doors and windows." The salesman offers to lead the concerned family to the freeway on their way to San Francisco.