How to End The Birds

Final scene of The Birds, 1963

Following the final attack of the birds, the Brenners escape the house—a key scene with the principals that remained to be shot. Hitchcock was still pondering the film’s ending. Should the birds keep up their attack? Why were the birds attacking? Why? The moron millions would want some answer, and he hated tidy answers.

It was during the last days of principal photography that Hitchcock decided to scrap [screenwriter] Evan Hunter’s ending and excise several pages of dialogue and storyboarded visuals in favor of a single lengthy shot that would show Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and the Brenners slowly driving away in their sports car, crossing a bird-infested landscape as dawn breaks overhead. No final pursuit by the birds; no implication the attacks have spread—or have ended.

The future was left ambiguous. To Hunter, Hitchcock’s ending was a betrayal, yet its message was faithful to Daphne du Maurier’s novella. More important, it was true to Hitchcock—the kind of open ending the director had always preferred, salvaging his characters without offering any false reassurance that evil had been entirely vanquished.

“Emotionally speaking,” Hitchcock later said in defense of the controversial ending, “the movie was already over for the audience. The additional scenes would have been playing while everyone was leaving their seats and walking up the aisles.”

The ending was also a technical accomplishment, weaving the actors together seamlessly with a horde of live, dummy, and optical-illusion birds, against a background which is one of Albert Whitlock’s finest matte paintings. Thirty-two different exposures were required for the film’s final image, which remains stunning—“the most difficult single shot I’ve ever done,” said Hitchcock.

—excerpted from Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness & Light by Patrick McGilligan

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  1. Bill Brandt
    Posted January 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to you Robert I bought a Blu-ray edition of the birds. Lots of interesting stuff in the special features section. Tippi was saying that that scene by the rooftop the birds which were alive were going crazy and really pecking her.

    Wasn’t the feeling Hitchcock wanted to present it that it was all caused by Tippi Hedren’s character?

    I’ll have to watch the ending again but that’s the feeling I got.

    By the way I was just inbut Bodega Bay. Tides restaurant hasn’t changed all that much since the filming. Probably thanks to the California coastal commission 😉

    For those who don’t know the area some of the filming was done in the town of bodega about 3 to 4 miles inland.

    Other scenes were in but Bodega Bay, on the coast of course.

    And some were down in Hollywood 🙂

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      In fact, one of the minor characters accuses the Hedrin character of causing the bird attacks. This is viewed in the film as a hysterical reaction, much like an accusation of witchcraft. Hitchcock sees the bird attacks as a mysterious force of nature or perhaps a punishment from God.

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      • sennacherib
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        As already noted before, atonement in Texas is easily attainable with a model 1100 Remington 12 ga. and #7 shot express loads. Sack cloth, ashes, gnashing of teeth are all optional (eating of dirt was and still is discouraged near feed lots).

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  2. sennacherib
    Posted January 5, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    A little known fact, the bird’s reign of terror continued until dove season in Texas when it came to an abrupt halt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. kgbudge
    Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “The moron millions”

    Was Hitchcock really that contemptuous of his audience, or did McGilligan project that onto him?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Like most Hollywood people Hitchcock was split regarding the public. If audiences made one of his films a hit, they were brilliant. If they hated a film and it flopped (The Birds, Vertigo, Marnie) then the audience were stupid peasants.

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      • Barry
        Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        The peasants wee insightful. Thumbs up to them.

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