Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ movie starred Tippi Hedren & some feathered fiends (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' movie (1963)

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In 1960s ads for his famous movie “The Birds,” director Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying, “It could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made!” And for many thousands of people, it was the stuff of nightmares — and certainly didn’t do crows (or ravens) any favors. 

Here, find some insight into the process of making the natural thriller/horror movie, and take a look at several photos from the film, which was set and filmed in Bodega, California — a small town in Sonoma County near the Pacific coast.

We went to Bodega, and took photos of some of the buildings shown in the film that still exist today — including Saint Teresa of Avila Church and the Potter School (which was originally built in 1873).

YouTube video

The Birds vintage movie lobby card - Kids running toward Bodega Bay (1960s)

Feathered Fiends: Alfred Hitchcock gives us ‘The Birds’

By Erskine Johnson, Hollywood, in the Park City Daily (Bowling Green, Kentucky) May 22, 1962

It was like some hideous nightmare. The birds, hundreds of them, were attacking the girl as if they were dive bombers. Her screams rose above the din of their thrashing wings and their shrill screeches.

Their beaks and their claws slashed at her face, arms and hands, turning them bloody. The swirling shadows of the birds on the walls of the bare attic room became enormous in the dim light of a swinging electric bulb. The girl slumped to the floor.

The Birds vintage movie lobby card - Cars on fire in Bodega California

Director Alfred Hitchcock said “Cut,” and then an assistant announced, “One hour for lunch.” In his portable office on the sound stage, Hitch sat down to a steak the size of a silver dollar and a cup of black coffee.

With a wry look at the plate he explained, “It seems as though I’m always on a diet.”

The Birds vintage movie lobby card - Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor

The same wry look came to the round Hitchcock face, supported by its terrace of chins, even when he chuckles, “I can’t make an ordinary movie, you know. People would stand up and demand to know, ‘Where is the body?'”

“The Birds,” his latest, is no ordinary movie and that is for sure. It begins when a seagull swoops down out of the sky over San Francisco, and slashes a girl’s forehead with its beak. But it is no freak accident, as even the girl at first believes.

In a few days, a farmer is found dead in his living room. His eyes are just hollow, bloody holes. A young schoolteacher suffers the same fate.

Remodeled farmhouse on Gaffney Ranch, Bodega Bay (1962)
Remodeled farmhouse on Gaffney Ranch, Bodega Bay – Setting for Alfred Hitchcock movie production of The Birds – From the Press-Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) Feb 25, 1962

Two hundred ravens sit and wait on the swings, parallel bars and the fence outside a country schoolhouse. As the children leave for home, the ravens attack, landing on the backs of the children as they run screaming down a lonely country road.

There is an answer now. The birds of the world have declared war on all humans.

The Birds vintage movie lobby card - School kids

It isn’t science fiction. It is just “Hitchcock” — Alfred Hitchcock, Hollywood’s merchant of menace, building suspense and leading up to a climax in “The Birds,” which he predicts will be as hair-raising as his final scene in “Psycho.”

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Roy Taylor, his new blonde discovery “Tippi” Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy are the humans in his cast, but he says, “The birds are the stars of this picture” (based on a British novel).

Tippi Hedren with a crow - for The Birds movie
Tippi Hedren with a black bird

Most of the birds are real, trained for particular scenes. Others are mechanical, sailed into scenes (like small boys sail paper airplanes) by people out of camera range.

The “How?” of it all is ingenious and time-consuming. The attack on the girl (Tippi Hedren) in the attic room is typical of Hitchcock working with film.

“The scene will last only 50 seconds on the screen,” he explains, “but it will take me a week to film. What you will see on the screen will be a mosaic of little pieces of film — some of them less than an inch long.”

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Tippi Hedren behind the scenes in The Birds (1962)

Like all Hitchcock heroines, Tippi is blonde, discovered by him in a TV commercial,and signed for the film after a $20,000 screen test. He prefers blondes. “Not the obviously sexy kind,” he says. “I prefer the type with sex appeal audiences like to discover for themselves.”

Especially when Hitchcock puts his heroine out on a limb (this time overrun with birds) and then methodically and diabolically takes out his saw and goes to work.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds movie (1962)

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Bodega’s Potter School in “The Birds”

the birds scene

The Potter School 50 years later, in 2012

The Birds - Bodega Bay - The Potter School 50 years later, in 2012

Hitchcock & Hedren by the school

See a modern photo of the church in the background below!

Hitchcock The Birds set

Saint Teresa Church, Bodega, in 2012

Saint Teresa Church, Bodega, in 2012

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