Like Psycho, it's a movie that I can find virtually no faults with and I think is among Hitchcock's best (it's my number two, with Psycho being number one), as well as perhaps his most genuinely terrifying and unsettling. And yet, I also see it as one of the more underappreciated of his classics. Even though this film did really well when it was released back in 1963 and has enjoyed more than its fair share of acclaim over the ensuing decades, I still get the feeling that it's kind of looked down upon in the critical community and is not thought of as being as effective or as well-made as stuff like Rear Window, Vertigo, and North By Northwest. I don't know if that notion is a result of its being the closest he would ever get to making a typical horror film or from the fact that his golden era was approaching its end at this point but I still see some people writing this film off as silly and stupid rather than suspenseful and terrifying. The fact that it didn't become part of the National Film Registry until 2016, while many of his other films have long since enjoyed that type of special recognition, only furthers my feelings on the matter. In the end, while I don't think it necessarily needs defending, mark my words, this review will consist a lot of me sticking up for this film and trying to make the case that it's just as much of a masterpiece as any of Hitchcock's other films.
A lot of the film's main characters turn out to not be the type of people they appear to be at first glance and that includes Tippi Hedren's role of Melanie Daniels. At the beginning of the movie, she comes across as a very beautiful but rather vain and spoiled socialite, one whom you learn has had run-ins with the law, including a prank that led to a plate glass window getting smashed, which landed her in court, and you later learn that she supposedly once jumped into a fountain in Rome, completely naked. When she first meets Mitch Brenner and he decides to have a little fun at her expense by pretending to mistake her for someone who works at this San Francisco bird-shop, she becomes infuriated when she later learns of the joke, despite her own prank-pulling ways and the fact that she went along with his supposed confusion, making her come across like she can dish it out but can't take it. After he leaves, she uses her connections to find out who Mitch is and where he lives, making the long drive up to Bodega Bay to bring him the lovebirds he was shopping for, and while she ostensibly did it as a way to pay him back for the prank, there's no mistaking that she also has an attraction towards him, although she herself denies it, saying that she came up to Bodega Bay to visit with the town's schoolteacher, Annie Hayworth, whom she claims is an old friend of hers. In spite of her denial, she tears up the insulting letter she was going to leave with the birds and accepts Mitch's invitation to join him and his family for dinner that night. While the evening ends on a bit of a sour note, as Mitch grills her a little too harshly about the incident in Rome and her lying about knowing Annie, the ever-growing attraction between the two of them is still impossible to miss, and despite her insistence on needing to get back to San Francisco on Monday, as well as Lydia Brenner's cold and distant attitude towards her, she decides to go to little Cathy Brenner's birthday party the next day to see him again. During the party, Melanie and Mitch have a private talk and she opens up to him about the various jobs and college courses she has during the week, as well as her wild past, explaining, "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." In short, she knows that she's made mistakes in the past and is trying to make up for them, which was why she was so defensive towards Mitch the previous night, having told him when he mentioned that it might be fun to see her again, "Well, it might have been good enough in Rome, but it's not good enough now." That said, though, she can't resist sending her prim Aunt Tessa a mynah bird that she's taught some of the "words" she's learned at Berkeley.
It's also during this scene that you learn a big reason for Melanie's past antics is because of her feeling of abandonment from her mother leaving both her and her father when she was just eleven, which still hurts her very deeply when Mitch inadvertently brings it up by joking, "You need a mother's care, my child." She quickly turns away, saying, "Not my mother's!", tells him of her abandoning her and her father, and when he asks if she ever sees her, Melanie, her voice starting to crack, says, "I don't know where she is." You also get a sense that she feels very out of place in the small town of Bodega Bay, with the townspeople all paying a lot of attention to her mere presence, to the point where she tells Cathy at dinner that she's not sure if she likes the place yet and flat-out telling Annie that she hates it, although that could mainly be due to her little argument with Mitch right before and her less than warm reception from Lydia. Even Annie, who does become something of a friend to her, is a little bit standoffish and jealous towards her, due to her own past with Mitch. But, as the movie goes on, her relationship with those around her start to change for the better, as she and Mitch become true lovers, Lydia's icy demeanor toward her thaws as the two of them get to know each other better, culminating in a moment between them at the end where she's clearly now something of a surrogate mother to her, and she becomes like a protective big sister for Cathy. Of course, she and the others end up having to contend with the sudden, unexplainable bird attacks that terrorize the town, which also end up trapping her with the Brenners. And while it only comes up in one scene, she also becomes the one who the townspeople, especially this one hysterical woman, blame for what's going on, reinforcing her feeling of alienation. In the end, she's nearly killed when the birds trap her in the upstairs bedroom and relentlessly attack her, reducing her to a badly cut, terrified, and near catatonic condition when Mitch manages to rescue her. Like everyone else, her ultimate fate is unknown, as it's never made clear if they made it to San Francisco or if the birds attacked again when they managed to finally escape from the house.
Mitch's own personal situation is with his mother, Lydia, who's been rather clingy and possessive towards him ever since her husband died some time before, not wanting him to become too close to any woman and leave her alone. We hear that the two of them had quite a conflict right after it his father died and, not wanting to go through it again, has been willing to sacrifice other relationships, namely the one he had with Annie Hayworth, for her and comes to Bodega Bay every weekend to be with her. Indeed, their relationship is more akin to that of a husband and wife rather than a mother and son, especially when they're cleaning up after dinner and washing dishes in one scene, with Mitch often calling her, "Dear," and Cathy, despite being his sister, being young enough to be his daughter. However, there are signs that Melanie may be the one who Mitch decides to stand up to Lydia for, as he tells her that he thinks he can handle her and that he knows exactly what he wants. As the film goes on and things become more intense and dangerous, Mitch and Melanie's relationship blossoms into a full-on romance and Lydia, despite losing her nerve at one point and yelling at him about his inability to deal with the situation as his father would have, warms up to Melanie and accepts their relationship. Like Melanie, Mitch has enough sense to know that there's something unusual and threatening going on and tries to warn others, first the deputy sheriff and the townspeople at large, of it, although they're dismissed until it's too late. With seemingly no way to escape and unable to reach outside the town, they can do nothing but barricade themselves inside the Brenner farmhouse and stave off the ensuing attacks, with Mitch just barely managing to keep the birds from getting inside, receiving a number of bloody cuts and injuries as a result. After Melanie is nearly killed up in the bedroom, Mitch decides that they need to try to escape and get her to a hospital and with that, despite hearing that Bodega Bay has been cordoned off with roadblocks, they very cautiously manage to get away, with the birds just watching them drive off.
At first glance, Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) seems like another in a long list of bad Hitchcock mothers, as she's instantly cold and distant towards Melanie Daniels and her relationship with Mitch, reluctantly allowing her to join them for dinner but making it clear to Mitch that she doesn't really approve of her, talking about her sordid past with him as they wash the dishes afterward. The next day, at Cathy's birthday party, Lydia keeps a watchful, anxious eye on the two of them as they have their talk atop the hill, and when Melanie stays for dinner that night, she's anxious to get her out of the house and back to San Francisco as quickly as possible, being clearly crestfallen when she decides to spend the night. However, a conversation between Melanie and Mitch's old flame, Annie Hayworth, earlier shed some light on Lydia's state of mind: rather than being a truly jealous, possessive, overbearing mother, she's simply scared of being abandoned and left alone if Mitch ever does find someone he really likes. She's been like this ever since she lost her husband some years before, which put a strain on her relationship with Mitch, and she drove him and Annie apart when he brought her up one time. It's because of her that Mitch makes the long drive up to Bodega Bay every weekend, even though his job is in San Francisco and he, for all intents and purposes, does have his own life for the most part. You do get to hear Lydia's side when Melanie brings her some tea and they have their first real conversation. She tells Melanie of how her husband's death really affected her, putting her constantly on edge and making her very anxious, how she misses him, and that she wishes she could be as strong as he was and relate to the children as he could. She also tells Melanie that she wants to know her, admitting that she doesn't know how she feels about Mitch's attraction to her or if she even likes her, and says that she wants to like whomever Mitch chooses, which she appears to know will happen eventually. But, she can't overcome her fear of being left alone, which is now compounded by the bird attacks, and breaks down in tears about it.
That's another thing: the sudden and increasingly violent attacks have shattered her nerves and pushed her to the point of hysteria. She's one of the first to know that something strange is going on when her chickens refuse to eat the feed she gives them, something that she hears isn't an isolated incident, and her fear increases when the attacks on the birthday party and the invasion of the house occur, and it culminates when she makes the grisly discovery of her friend's, Dan Fawcett, eyeless corpse in the bedroom of his house. Coming close to a nervous breakdown, Lydia continuously worries about whether or not Cathy is alright at the school, prompting Melanie to go check on her, and when they're barricading themselves in the house that night, Lydia becomes so frantic about the impending attack that she starts screaming at Mitch, at one point yelling, "If only your father were here!" She stops when she sees how she's upsetting Cathy and apologizes to Mitch, never acting overbearing towards him for the remainder of the film. However, she's so frightened by the situation that she absolutely refuses to allow Cathy to bring the lovebirds into the living room, despite the fact that they haven't acted aggressively, and she reaches near hysteria when the massive attack on the house occurs. Lydia is initially too frightened to even think about leaving when Mitch says that they need to in order to get Melanie some help after she's nearly killed upstairs but, now feeling very maternal towards her, she allows him to talk her into it and, with their last interaction in the car before they drive off, it's clear that she has accepted Melanie as the woman Mitch loves.
One character who's rather mysterious from her first scene is Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), the local schoolteacher whose house Melanie visits upon arriving in town in order to learn Cathy Brenner's name. She's nice enough to her, telling her Cathy's name, and later allowing her to stay at her house for the night, she comes across as suspicious about Melanie and what she's doing in town, asking her if she wants to see Cathy for something or if she's a friend of Mitch's, and then deducing that she's going to leave right after she meets Cathy. Although Melanie denies being a friend to Mitch, she does admit to having met him in San Francisco, prompting Annie to comment, "I guess that's where everyone meets Mitch," and when Melanie tells her that the birds she has in the cage are lovebirds, she knowingly says, "I see. Good luck, Ms. Daniels." And then, there's the look on her face as Melanie drives off. Later, when Melanie shows back up and asks if she can stay the night, saying that she hadn't planned on it originally, Annie asks her, "I see. Did something unexpected come up?" in another knowing tone. When Melanie returns after her dinner at the Brenner household, she and Annie have a talk where she reveals that she knows all about Lydia, that she herself is originally from San Francisco, and that she was once involved with Mitch but Lydia broke them apart, which is when she explains Lydia's troubled mindset. But, in spite of the breakup, she moved to Bodega Bay in order to be near Mitch, not wanting to lose him as a friend, and that now, because she's no longer a threat, she and Lydia are on better terms. While Annie is never mean or cruel to Melanie, and goes as far as to push her into going to Cathy's party and not worrying about Lydia, there is a detectable bit of jealousy towards her and her evolving relationship with Mitch, as seen by her mannerisms when Melanie is talking to Mitch on the phone behind her and the way she, like Lydia, watches them during the birthday party. Like the other main characters, Annie gets an early hint of what's going on when a seagull kills itself by crashing into her front door, despite there having been enough light from the full moon for him to see, and she gets caught up in the attack on the party, struggling to get the kids safely into the house. The following day, she and Melanie have to think fast to keep a gathering flock of crows from attacking the children in the school and afterward, Cathy goes home with her. After the massive attack on the town, Melanie and Mitch find Annie dead in her front yard, having sacrificed herself to get Cathy to safety when the attack happened.
Among the supporting cast of the townspeople of Bodega Bay, many of whom make their most notable appearances during the scene in the town diner where they debate the validity of the situation, one of the most memorable is Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies), an elderly woman who turns out to be an expert in ornithology. She debates with Melanie about her claims of the bird attacks, writing them off as nonsense by explaining that they're simply not intelligent enough to mount such massive attacks and that such varied species don't flock together. However, she's soon forced to eat her words big time when a very destructive attack on the entire town happens and, after it's passed, she's last seen cowering in the corner, absolutely terrified (I've heard some people say that they were disappointed that her being wrong was never rubbed in her face, which they feel she deserved; I don't think the situation called for it, though, as her frightened state afterward was more than enough). Another memorable person is this woman (Doreen Lang) who's eating in the diner with her two kids and who, during the conversation, implores them to stop talking about since they're frightening the kids. However, it's obvious she's more scared than they are, as she wants nothing more than to get out of town, frantically asking a man who's going to show her the way to finish his drink so they can leave, and asks them why they all so staunchly refuse to believe Melanie's claims (in fact, she's the one who begins scaring her kids with her rising hysteria). Following the attack on the town, she says what everyone else in the diner is thinking: that Melanie is somehow the cause of what's going on, as she's been told it started when she arrived in town, and screams in her face that she's evil, prompting Melanie to slap her and bring her back to her senses. You also have a drunk guy (Karl Swenson) who acts like a prophet, continually proclaiming it to be the end of the world and quoting Bible verses to back his claims up, although everyone writes him off as being plastered. The aforementioned man who offered to guide the mother to the highway (Joe Mantell) comes off as very cynical and shows a major disdain for birds in general, saying that they should be all wiped out, and chimes in to the debate with a story about a similar incident that occurred several years before when a flock of seagulls caused a lot of damage when they flew straight into a town. I think he's the man who ends up blowing himself to smithereens when he lights a cigar next to his car at the beginning of the town attack, unaware of the trail of gasoline running towards him. Sebastian Sholes (Charles McGraw), a gruff-talking fisherman, chimes in about having had problems lately with seagulls chasing after his boats, although he doesn't really believe in a full-on war against mankind by birds; regardless, he's the one who Mitch goes to for help in organizing a defense against them. He's not seen again afterward, so I don't know if he was killed or not. And Deke Carter (Lonny Chapman), the owner of the diner, who Melanie met earlier when Mitch took her to his diner to clean out the cut the one seagull left on her forehead, and was afraid Melanie would find a way to sue him for it, is one person who takes the story seriously and becomes visibly frightened at the possibility. He survives the attack but he now knows for sure that it's a real thing.
Al Malone (Malcolm Atterbury), Bodega Bay's deputy sheriff, comes across as somebody who doesn't quite grasp the situation, making dumb excuses for the birds invading the Brenner house and why they attacked the kids at the birthday party, never really listening to what the others are telling him. He also doesn't believe that the birds had anything to do with Dan Fawcett's death, going along with the Santa Rosa police's belief that it was the result of a burglary gone bad and that the dead birds inside his house got in after he was killed. However, like a lot of the townspeople, he soon gets all the proof he needs when the big attack happens. Another local who isn't quite up to speed with things is this polite postal clerk (John McGovern) who Melanie meets when she first arrives in town and who shows her where the Brenner household is, as well as orders a boat for her so she can surprise them by making her way across the bay rather than taking the road. The reason why I said he isn't up to speed is that Melanie asks him what Cathy Brenner's name is and he thinks it's Alice, while a person working in the back insists that it's Lois. Not being positive, he directs Melanie to Annie Hayworth's house so she can find out for sure and, when she tells her of the confusion, Annie says that it's an example of way nobody in town gets the right mail. While he only appears in one scene early on, I have to mention the man who lives next door to Mitch in San Francisco, and who tells Melanie that he's gone to Bodega Bay for the weekend, because he's played by Richard Deacon, a familiar character actor and bit player from that time. He's probably best known for his roles on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Leave it to Beaver but he also appeared in a number of sci-fi and horror movies, like This Island Earth, Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And finally, you have Hitchcock himself making one of his more well-known cameos, walking two of his own beloved dogs past Melanie when she first walks into the bird-shop at the very beginning.
After making the well-shot and constructed but still clearly low budget, pseudo drive-in movie that was Psycho, Hitchcock decide to go back to the large-scale, Technicolor flicks he did so well with The Birds and it paid off really well. The movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, being very well-shot by cinematographer Robert Burks and, like a lot of studio movies made around that time, has a rich color palette to it that accentuates both the sets and the clothes everyone's wearing, particularly Melanie's fancy dresses, and a glossy feel that's indicative of its large budget. There's also a good mixture of real location shots, like the opening one in San Francisco and the exterior, picturesque shots of the real town of Bodega Bay (the schoolhouse looks particularly nice), big, wide matte shots of the countryside and town provided by Albert Whitlock, which often look so good that you'd swear you were looking at the real thing, and studio scenes. Hitchcock was not at all keen on shooting on location, as he liked being in complete control and hated being a slave to the elements, so whenever he could, he'd try to shoot in a studio, a habit he kept up for the remainder of his career, for better or worse. Here, there are some moments where it's quite seamless, like the opening where you see Tippi Hedren cross a real street in San Francisco and then, when she passes behind a sign, there's an edit and we're now in a studio. There are some that are more obvious, such as the conversation Melanie and Mitch have on the hill overlooking the countryside during the birthday party, which you can tell is really them in a studio with either a matte painting or a backdrop behind them, and the shot of them walking in town after Melanie's been hit by the seagull and it's obvious they're walking in front of a blue screen, but the acting in those scenes is so good that you probably wouldn't notice the first time around. The most badly dated ones, though, are the close-ups of Melanie driving in her car, the scenes where she's in the motorboat in the middle of the bay, and the attack scene on the kids at the school, which was done with them running on a treadmill in front of a process screen (although, in the case of the latter, the intensity makes up for it).
Hitchcock also made use of some interesting editing and lighting tricks in certain parts of the movie. The most notable one is during the town attack when Melanie watches the fire follow the trail of gasoline back to the gas station and it keeps cutting back and forth between it and shots of her reactions, which are so frozen and seen so quickly that it looks like a series of still images. Another one is when Lydia finds Dan Fawcett's brutalized corpse in his bedroom and there's a wide-shot of it, followed by two quick, push-in cuts towards his eye-less head, which is akin to the reveal of the monster in the original Frankenstein. And there's a moment near the end of the movie that a lot of people miss because it's so subtle and simple: when they're getting ready leave, there's a shot of Mitch and Lydia helping the injured Melanie out the door, with Mitch opening it to reveal the sight outside of the yard completely covered in birds. Here's the trick: there's no door there. Rod Taylor is simply reaching off-camera and miming opening a door, with the crew spreading light across them to further give the feeling of it being opened. Hitchcock had done something similar before, like in The Wrong Man where there are a couple of moments of the camera following Henry Fonda as he walks through his front door and closes it behind him, but this is one of the most skilled, magical instances of it that I can think of.
In developing the story, Hitchcock and screenwriter Evan Hunter decided to have it start off in a vein akin to a screwball comedy, where you have the opening scene and the playful interaction between Melanie and Mitch, where he makes her look like a complete fool when he's asking her questions that she doesn't know anything about and she often fumbles around when trying to answer them. This culminates with Melanie accidentally letting a canary out of its cage and its flying like crazy around the shop, with Mitch being the one who finally catches it and puts it back, commenting, "Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels." Everything that follows this, such as Melanie and Mitch's argument afterward, the scene of her riding the elevator with the overly severe-looking man who turns out to be Mitch's next door neighbor, the shots of the lovebirds leaning with her car as she drives along the highway, and the comedy with the mail clerk being way off in regards to Cathy Brenner's name, falls into that realm as well but, starting with the moment where a seagull randomly dives down at her while she's in the boat, the movie slowly but surely starts to become something else. There are still moments of humor, like the darkly funny bit where Mitch talks about a client of his who shot his wife in the head six times simply because she changed the TV channel on him, Deputy Malone being less than perceptive about what's going on, and the drunk guy in the diner melodramatically quoting the Bible and proclaiming the situation to be the end of the world, but as it goes on, it becomes darker and darker, until you get to the climax in the Brenner house. By that point, there's no humor whatsoever and the movie has fully become an intense, frightening horror film, with a foreboding sense of doom as they can do nothing but sit around and wait for the birds to come. The film's trailer foreshadows this by doing the same thing, only much more abrupt. Akin to his tour of the set in the Psycho trailer, it features Hitchcock talking about a forthcoming lecture he's planning about the birds and their relationship with mankind and, as was the case with his intros and outros for his TV show, it's very silly, full of ironic, dark humor about man's "kinship" with the birds, as he uses the worst examples imaginable. But then, at the end, the little bird Hitchcock has in the cage suddenly bites his finger and he hears the sound of approaching, squawking birds, followed by Tippi Hedren bursting in and yelling, "They're coming! They're coming!" The cartoony music that's been playing drops out and the only sound is the screeching of the birds and their flapping wings, as you see a frantic montage of crows flying crazily across the screen, ending with a quote from Hitchcock, describing it as possibly the scariest film he's ever made.
Alfred Hitchcock was truly a miracle-worker in that he took an idea and concept that should belong in a B-horror or sci-fi flick and managed to make it into a stylish, classy, and ultimately intense and terrifying film. Birds are hardly creatures that inspire fear, except maybe when you leave your car exposed to them, but in this film, they're turned into a frightening, destructive force that not only can't be explained but also feel like they can't be stopped, that they're going to continue attacking until they kill everybody in the area. There are a number of different reasons as to why it's so effectively scary and unsettling. One of which is how the situation starts off kind of strange but not exactly dangerous, only to become so as the story goes on. The most obvious signs of something odd going on are when the one seagull randomly swoops down at Melanie and leaves a bloody scrape on her forehead for no discernable reason, the eerie shot of the birds sitting on the telephone wires, apparently watching Mitch after Melanie has driven off after dinner, and the seagull that kills itself by crashing into Annie's front door, in spite of there being enough light from the full moon for him to have seen where was going, but there are other, more subtle parts to it that make you wonder about the scale of the phenomena and when it actually started. For instance, the film begins with Melanie noticing a number of seagulls heading inland before she walks into the bird-shop, an odd sight that she discusses with the woman who runs the place. Is it already starting or is that simply the result of a storm driving them inland, as the woman suggests? The same can also be applied to a moment when Annie Hayworth sees a bunch of gulls heading inland at Bodega Bay, prompting her to comment, "Don't they ever stop migrating?" In addition, you learn that the Brenners' chickens are refusing to eat their food and when Lydia calls the store she bought the feed from, she's told that Dan Fawcett is having the same problem, even though he bought a different brand. It's not only strange but it's one element that adds to the question of what exactly is going on, if this is some sort of revolt against mankind and their treatment of birds, both wild and domesticated. This notion of building terror continues right into the first attacks, which are isolated incidents during Cathy's birthday party and inside the Brenner house that night, and leading into the latter part of the film, where the attacks are now huge, full-scale assaults on the school and the town at large, culminating in the attack on the Brenner house which is like an all-out war.
The attacks are shocking in both their unexpected nature as well as their vicious and relentless nature. While not a gorefest by any means, this could be Hitchcock's bloodiest film, as there's a surprising amount of it here. The gull that swoops down at Melanie leaves a pretty blood scrape on her forehead; you see a lot of people getting scratched and pecked during the big attack scenes, such as this guy who stumbles outside of the phone booth Melanie takes shelter in during the attack on the town and has bloody cuts all over his face; though you don't see it in detail, Annie Hayworth's corpse is clearly covered in a lot of lacerations; Mitch's hands get badly cut from both broken glass and seagulls' beaks when he's trying to keep them from getting in the house; and Melanie definitely comes out worse for wear after she's nearly killed in the upstairs bedroom. However, the grisliest image in the film is when Lydia finds Dan Fawcett's bloodied corpse, with both of his eyes missing from their bloody sockets (they used opticals to make the sockets look all the more hollowed out). I remember how horrified I was when I saw that during the little bit of the movie I saw on TNT that day and to this day, I'm amazed that they let Hitchcock get away with that back in the early 60's. More affecting than the blood, though, is the sheer hardcore and unrelenting nature of the attacks. They happen in short spurts but, during those spurts, the birds seem completely intent on killing everyone they see, no matter what, be it the crows chasing down the kids when they run from the schoolhouse; the seagulls causing a big explosion in the middle of town and then attacking when it's been plunged into chaos and everybody's trying to put out the fire, going as far as to attack one guy in his car and smashing into the glass of the phone booth to get at Melanie; and the birds crashing through the windows of the Brenner house and pecking through the door and walls, knocking out the electricity, and lying in wait in Lydia's bedroom upstairs after they've come through the roof until Melanie comes in, after which they trap her and nearly peck her to death.
Mrs. Bundy's claim that birds wouldn't be intelligent enough to launch mass attacks is disproved before she even enters the film during the scene at the school. At first, the attacks do seem random, with no rhyme or reason as to when and where they happen, but during the scene were Melanie sits on the bench outside the school, waiting for the kids to finish their lesson, you see that there is a lethal intelligence behind the birds, as the crows slowly gather on the playground behind her (a prime example of Hitchcock's main approach to tension in showing the audience something that the character is unaware of), waiting for them to come outside so they can attack. They completely ignore Melanie, as well, making it clear that the children are their targets or, even eerier, that they don't want to ruin the surprise of their attack by going after her and are waiting for the opportunity to get her along with the children. And once they hear the sound of running footsteps, they take off and attack. In addition, intentional or not, they manage to throw the town into chaos by causing the explosion at the gas station and use that to their advantage when they swoop down at the townspeople, doing the same when they're able to break through the roof into Lydia's bedroom, waiting for an unsuspecting person to wander upstairs. As Mitch later comments, there's also a clear pattern to their attacks: they hit without warning, stop just as suddenly, and, after some time, they begin gathering again nearby. This pattern is the reason why the birds feel unstoppable to me. The attacks never stop because they're driven away but rather because they somehow decide they've done enough damage for the moment and leave in order to regroup to attack again, and it just feels like they're going to continue doing this until everyone's dead.
The Birds is a prime example of a horror film that very effectively plays on one of mankind's greatest fears: the unknown. There are many aspects of the story that are left unexplained, one of which is what the birds' intention is when they're just sitting around, watching the characters. Obviously, when they attack, they simply intend to kill, but you have to wonder what it is they're doing when they're watching Melanie and Mitch cautiously make their way to Annie's house, retrieve the frightened Cathy from inside, and head back to the Brenner house with her, and especially the ending when they've gathered outside the farmhouse. Why do they let Mitch go get Melanie's car and drive it up to the front porch without any trouble, save for a couple of birds biting him when he gets too close for their liking? Why do they allow them to pile in and drive off? Are they going to let them get up the road and then attack? Or are they really letting them go? Given the film doesn't actually end but rather just stops, without even a THE END title card, you don't know if this trend of bird attacks kept going or if it did eventually subside. What's more, the exact scope of the situation is never made clear. You don't know if this is an isolated incident, confined to Bodega Bay and a couple of other nearby communities, such as the city of Santa Rosa (there are radio reports that tell of attacks there too), or if it's about to spread all over the country and possibly the entire world, getting into what I meant when I called this Hitchcock's most apocalyptic film. There are hints of the latter, such as the aforementioned times Melanie and others see birds heading inland, including a moment during the third act where she and Mitch see a similar sight after they're finished barricading the house, as well as a news report where it's said that there have been discussions about whether the military should be brought in to handle the situation, which speaks volumes of its severity. Hitchcock did originally intend to end the movie with a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds, which would've made the scope all the more clear, but I think it's best he decided to keep it ambiguous, as it only added to the sense of uneasiness.
That leads us into this film's biggest unanswered question: why is this happening? Why have all the birds suddenly snapped and are now out to apparently destroy mankind? Is there something supernatural going on? Is there some kind of unseen force driving them and, if so, why aren't the lovebirds affected? (In fact, there are moments where it's as if they're trying to warn the others of an oncoming attack.) Is it a sudden revolt against mankind and the sketchy way they're treated birds, as was suggested by the trailer? Or does it have something to do with Melanie and her lovebirds, as things didn't get bad until she showed up in Bodega Bay? I originally thought it was something to do with the lovebirds, that the wild birds didn't like seeing them in a cage, playing into the idea of a revolt against man, but like everything else, it's nothing more than a possibility rather than a definitive answer. That was what struck me when I saw the movie, as it was among the first movies I'd seen that offered no resolution or explanation, and maybe that's the terrifying but simple truth: there is no reason. Hitchcock himself once said that it was a story about the dangers of complacency, that you never know when something as innocuous as birds, which you see every day, can suddenly turn on you and become a major threat. This is just something that's started up, it's here, and all they can do is face it. It's nothing more than an example of nature's fury and, like a bad storm, you can't do anything but prepare for it and try to survive.
Alfred Hitchcock used bird symbolism a lot in his films, be it through the use of actual bird images, characters' names being those of birds, and so forth, and his previous movie, Psycho, was loaded to the gills with it, so it was only a matter of time before he made a film that completely centered around them (there continues to be symbolism with them even here, like how the angle of Melanie's arm when she's holding a cotton-ball to a cut on her forehead in one scene is rather birdlike and how a dead sparrow falls off of a picture of Mitch's dead father in a scene after the sparrow invasion in the house). However, doing so called for him to use more special effects and trick photography than he'd ever employed in a single film. As you might expect, many of the scenes used a combination of real birds and fake ones in there with the actors, and while the real ones are always good and frighteningly believable in their "attacks," the quality of the fake ones vary. Sometimes, they're quite effective, particularly in the scenes where Hitchcock put some that were simply meant to just stand there with no movement amidst a number of real ones to create the sense of a mass of them standing around, during some of the close-ups of them trying to get at the children as they chase them, and the shots of them pecking through the walls of the Brenner house, which was actually done through the use of hammers with fake beaks attached to them; but, other times, you can tell that they're fake, like the one that pops a balloon during the birthday party attack clearly being a stuffed bird someone threw from off-camera and some other shots during the school attack where it's clear that somebody's shoving the bird puppets into the kids' faces. Going back to the real ones, they're absolutely solid and it's amazing some of the stuff the bird trainers got them to do, considering that some of them, particularly seagulls, can't really be trained (Rod Taylor claimed that they got the seagulls drunk with a mixture of wheat and whiskey in order to get them to stand around the way they did). Speaking of the seagulls, Hitchcock later claimed that they were the most aggressive of all the birds, which probably means that they caused some injuries to the actors during filming (like that girl with the one on her back, pecking her, that you see here). In that regard, no one suffered more than poor Tippi Hedren during the final attack scene in the upstairs bedroom, which took a week to film and involved her having the birds tied to her clothes with long threads. By the time it was over, Hedren was so badly beat up and exhausted that she's always maintained that she has no memory of that following weekend whatsoever. That story is harrowing, both for what happened to her and for the bad light that it casts on Hitchcock himself. It's never been a secret that he wasn't exactly the easiest director to work with, particularly given his pretty dismissive attitude towards actors in general, but this is a level of sadism you'd expect from someone like the notoriously cruel Italian filmmaker, Lucio Fulci. But, then again, when you also hear the stories about his unhealthy obsession with Hedren, which came to a head during the filming of Marnie the following year, it is apparent that Hitchcock, like a lot of directors, was brilliant but kind of fucked up as well. The scene may have come out very effective but the methods used to make it so remain questionable, to say the least.
The most ambitious effects in the movie are the big, wide attack scenes, which couldn't be done with blue screen because of the havoc the real birds' flapping wings would play with the effect. Instead, they made use of the "sodium vapor process," which created very precise matte shots and the shots were actually created at Walt Disney Studios by Ub Iwerks (who helped create Mickey Mouse along with Walt Disney). Iwerks would receive an Oscar nomination for his work and, while the shots are unavoidably dated by today's standards, for the time they look really good, with some of the most impressive being the shots of the sparrows filling up the Brenner living room, with the characters having to fight them off and eventually run for it, the big, wide shots of the crows chasing after Melanie and the schoolchildren, and, most ambitious of all, the large-scale attack on the town near the end of the second act. That latter sequence is amazing for the high up shot of the town as the seagulls descend on it, which combined composited birds with both real footage and Albert Whitlock's matte paintings, and for the numerous shots of birds flying amongst the town and people, which was done through a combination of those composited, real actors and sets, and fake and real birds. When those seagulls are dive-bombing at the townspeople and smashing into the glass of the phone booth Melanie's trapped in, it's very effective and quite realistic, too. Since no other attacks afterward were on that scale, there was no use for any more composited shots of birds flying and swooping, save for some of the birds flying right at the camera during the attack on Melanie at the end, but those last shots of the movie itself, where you see the entire front yard of the Brenner house covered from top to bottom in birds, were the most complicated to create. As Hitchcock himself told Peter Bogdonavich, "That's 32 pieces of film." Yeah, those iconic images required the compositing of 32 separate elements, from the birds on the porch, on the telephone wires, on the ground, etc., which must've taken forever but, in the end, was worth it, as it's one of the movie's most iconic images.
The first major attack happens during Cathy's birthday party. Melanie and Mitch are walking down the hill after their talk, both being watched by Annie and Lydia, when one of the kids yells, "Look!" A seagull swoops down at Cathy, who's blindfolded for a game she and the other kids are playing, and tags her on the head. Thinking it's some of the kids cheating, she yells, "Hey! No touching allowed!", when the gull heads back up and swoops down at a little boy, passing right over. Seeing this, Annie runs to help, and Melanie and Mitch arrive in time to see more gulls come in and swoop down at the children. The kids run for it, while Annie helps the still blind-folded Cathy, and the other parents and Lydia realize that something serious is happening as well. One gulls pops one of the balloons hanging up and swoops by Lydia's face, while two more come down at a woman and two girls. Annie is trying to help Cathy up from the ground and Melanie and Mitch run over to assist, as more birds attack, another balloon bursts, one kid runs underneath the table for protection, a gull skirting inches above it, Cathy runs to Lydia, and another gull chases after a boy until he falls into the dunes. Annie tells Melanie and Mitch to help her get the kids inside and they disperse, Mitch running after a girl who has a gull on her back, pulling the bird off and tossing it into the air, before picking the girl up and carrying her to the house, while Melanie sees that another girl has fallen to the ground and is being pecked repeatedly in the back of the head. Melanie uses her coat to shoo the gull away and helps the girl to her feet and into the house, Annie doing the same with the remaining children, as everyone runs inside and the gulls continue swooping down at them until they fly off just as suddenly as they came. Mitch tells Lydia that they've gone, while the parents see if any of the kids are hurt. Annie comments to Melanie, "That makes three times," with the latter then talking to Mitch about what's going on, telling him about the dead gull at Annie's house the night before. Feeling uneasy about whatever's going on, Mitch asks Melanie to stay for dinner before starting back for San Francisco.
Another fairly small-scale attack happens that night at dinner. Everyone's in the living room, eating, with Lydia trying to hurry things along so Melanie can get gone as quick as possible, while Mitch and Cathy argue that she should stay the night, when Cathy comments on the lovebirds' constant chirping. Looking down at the foot of the fireplace, Melanie notices a loan sparrow on the floor, looking back up the chimney. She no sooner tries to tell Mitch, when a huge mass of sparrows pours down the chimney and fill up the entire room within an instant, everybody recoiling from it as quickly as possible. Mitch tells them to cover their faces and eyes, as he then opens up a window nearby and tries to shoo them out, only for them to continue coming down the chimney. Melanie and Cathy take cover on the couch, while Lydia ends up in a corner, getting some of the birds in her hair, while Mitch swipes at them in the air with a towel and props the coffee table up against the fireplace to prevent more from coming down. He continues swiping at them but they're intent upon staying in the room rather than flying out the window, as the others continue recoiling from the onslaught. Spying a set of double-doors nearby, Melanie helps Cathy and Lydia get out of the house, and upon seeing this, Mitch ducks out the open window, leaving the house to the birds, which have now completely filled it. In the next scene, with dead birds all over the place, they've called Deputy Al Malone to the scene but his blasé attitude about it really irritates Mitch and Lydia, who try to make him understand that what happened both that evening and at the birthday party, as well as with Melanie the day before, were attacks rather than simple accidents and misunderstandings. Regardless, Malone doesn't know what he can do and leaves, commenting on how peculiar the situation is, while Melanie decides to stay the night.
The next morning, Lydia drives out to the farm belonging to Dan Fawcett, the man who's also been having trouble with his chickens with her. Arriving there, she's told by one of his hands that he hasn't seen Fawcett yet but that he should be in the house. Lydia walks through the front door, into the kitchen, calling for Fawcett but getting no answer. Walking on through the kitchen, she notices some teacups that are hanging from the underside of a cabinet are all broken, a sight that, along with the eerie silence, prompts her to move slower and more cautiously. Stepping into the living room, she turns to the right and walks down a hallway towards his bedroom, finding the door open. Stepping into the doorway, she sees that the room is in complete shambles: a picture on the wall is hanging sideways, chunks have been taken out of a chair, a plastic plant on a small table across from the bed has been knocked over, as has a lamp on the nightstand, there are feathers all over the bed, along with a dead crow, and there are two dead seagulls in the room, one of which is splattered against one of the windows, while the other window is completely shattered. Looking around the room, Lydia then notices a pair of scratched up feet and torn pajama pants sticking out from around the corner of the door. Peeking around, she makes the horrific discovery of Fawcett's body in the corner, his eyes pecked out, his forehead scratched up, and his pajamas full of holes that reveal the bloody cuts on his body. Lydia quickly ducks out of the room and runs down the hall, dropping her purse on the floor, and stumbles outside, stopping next to the farmhand in an apparent attempt to tell him but she's in too much shock to say anything. She climbs into her truck, races back to her house, and when she pulls up, falls to the ground when she opens the door and cries, which Melanie and Mitch both see. They run to her to find out what happened but Lydia, still unable to talk, simply runs inside the house, followed by the couple.
With Lydia being so frightened by what she saw that she's now worried out of her mind about Cathy at the school, Melanie agrees to drive over there to check on her. She arrives and walks in on them as Annie is giving them a singing lesson and motions for her to wait a few minutes. Melanie walks back outside and takes a seat in front of the playground, deciding to have a cigarette and taking one out of her purse. Unbeknownst to her, a crow comes in and lands on a jungle gym behind her, and after we watch her light the cigarette, we see that it's been joined by three more. She just sits there casually, smoking, as the camera cuts back to show another crow join its comrades, and as the kids continue singing inside the school (the only sound during this sequence), two more fly in. Then, Hitchcock holds the camera on a close-up of Melanie, who continues to smoke and listen to the children, for thirty seconds, not cutting back to the birds until she just happens to look up and sees a crow flying through the sky. Following it with her head, she watches as it lands on the jungle gym which, along with the entire playground, is now covered in crows. Horrified at this sight, Melanie gets to her feet and glances at the school, realizing what they're waiting for, and hurries over to the front door, as the kids finish singing and Annie announces that they're going to go out for recess as soon as everyone's ready. Heading inside, she walks into the classroom just as Annie opens the back door leading into the playground. Rushing over to her, Melanie tells her, as quietly as she can, to close the door and when she does, she shows her what's going on out the window, telling her, "We've got to get the children out of here." Coming up with an idea, Annie gets the kids to quiet down and tells them that Melanie would like to see how well they conduct themselves during a fire drill, further telling them that they're going out of school early (I like how shocked they are at leaving school; if that was me, I'd be happy to get out of school earlier than usual). She instructs the kids who live nearby to go straight home, while everyone else is to go down the hill to the hotel. As they prepare to head out the front door, Annie further instructs them to move as quietly as they can until she tells them to run. Once they're all clear on what to do, they move outside as silently as possible, with one kid leading the way.
The crows continue sitting on the jungle gym, waiting with eerie patience, when the silence is broken by the sound of running footsteps on the road. Hearing this, they all take to the air and shoot out from behind the schoolhouse, descending down on the kids. They chase them down the road for a few feet and begin swooping down towards them, with Melanie and Annie helping them to run. Two girls and a boy each get a crow that lands on their back and begins pecking at them from behind, although they're able to get them off as they continue running. More kids get the same treatment, with one girl getting attacked from the front, having to push a biting crow off of her, and the attack continues without relent as they head down the hill towards the town. The crows land on and bite more kids, with getting a peck to his right cheek and another ducking behind a telephone pole, struggling with one on his back. A girl with glasses gets knocked to the ground, her glasses getting knocked off and smashed in the process. Frantically, she calls for Cathy who, along with Melanie, turns around and comes to her aid, getting rid of the crows that have covered her back and are pecking at her. Helping her to her feet, Melanie sees a car parked on the side of the street and leads the two girls to it, as everyone else heads on down the road. Opening the door, Melanie gets both of them and sits down in the driver's seat, closing the door and rolling up the window. But, that's when she sees that there's no key in the ignition. Seeing that the crows are scrambling all over the car, trying to get at them, Melanie honks the horn, managing to drive them away and then, the attack abates altogether, with the crows slowly but surely departing. The scene ends with an exhausted and disheveled Melanie laying her head down on her hands on the wheel.
At the end of the scene in the diner where the characters debate the validity of Melanie and Mitch's claims of ongoing bird attacks, the skeptics soon get all of the proof they need. Mitch is talking with Sebastian Sholes about what to do, when Melanie hears the sound of seagulls squawking outside. Looking out the window, she sees a couple of them swooping down at a gas station and calls Mitch and Sebastian over to look. When they do, they see the gulls come in for another pass and knock down an attendant who's filling the car up with gas. Mitch yells, "They're attacking again!" and tells Melanie to stay inside, while he, Deke Carter, Al Malone, and Sebastian run outside to help the attendant. At the same time, the mother and her two children who attempted to leave earlier run back inside, while many others join Melanie in watching the scene through the window. The men run over to help the unconscious attendant, unaware that the gasoline is spewing out of the pump and running down the road, eventually rolling underneath another car parked nearby. The seagulls have suddenly broken off their attack, when Melanie sees a man step out of the parked car and prepare to light a cigar, unaware of the danger he's in. She calls it to everyone else's attention and they quickly open the window, yelling at him not to drop the match he just used. He looks at them, unable to understand what they're saying since they're all talking at once, and then, the match burns fingers. He drops it out of reflex and is engulfed in a fireball, horrifying the onlookers and sending other townspeople outside running, as the cars parked next to it get caught up in the flames as well. They all then watch as the fire follows the gas back up to the station, the others manage to clear it just in time before the gas pump explodes as well. A view from the sky shows the large fire in the middle of the town and people running around frantically to try to find a way to put the blaze out. However, the fire also ends up acting as a signal, as hundreds of seagulls descend in a mass attack.
Everybody in the diner makes the mistake of rushing outside to help and are quickly attacked by the birds. Some of them duck back inside the diner but Melanie is forced to take cover inside a small phone booth. Closing the door behind her, she sees that the town is in absolute chaos, with seagulls flapping around crazily, attacking anything that moves, as the fire continues to burn out of control. A car crashes through a stop sign, one man stumbles through the street, fighting with a gull attached to him, and people futilely try to put out the fire. When the car gets close enough for Melanie to see inside, she sees that the driver has several seagulls in there with him, attacking him, and when he drives he on, he swerves right into the edge of the fire, although he eventually gets out and runs for it, with the gulls still on him. Melanie tries to get out of the booth but the onslaught of attacking gulls force her to duck back inside, as a fire engine pulls up to deal with the blaze, only for the firemen to fall victim to the birds, a huge mass of them skirting around behind them, and lose control of their hose, which douses the phone booth with water and momentarily obscures Melanie's view. As it clears, she sees an out-of-control horse-drawn cart come speeding around the corner, spilling crates of vegetables on the road, and she recoils when a bird head-butts the glass. A man stumbles past the booth, fighting off seagulls that are all over him and have badly scratched up his face, and when he passes, Melanie again tries to get out of the booth but when she opens the door, a gull almost gets inside with her and she's forced to shove it out and close the door again. Another gull then crashes straight into the glass in front of her, leaving a large crack, and another does the same right behind her. Before the birds can smash through the glass and get at her, Mitch comes by, pulls her out of the booth, and the two of them race for the diner, taking cover inside.
Inside, Melanie becomes the target of everyone's suspicions and accusations, with most of them eying her in an accusatory manner, while the distraught frantically asks, "Why are they doing this?! Why are they doing this?!" She then says, "They said when you got here, the whole thing started," and walks up to Melanie, demanding to know, "Who are you? What are you?! Where did you come from?!" Completely losing it, she screams in Melanie's face, "I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil! Evil!" Melanie then slaps her across the face, which is enough to bring her back to her senses, and she slumps away, sobbing, when Deke comes in and says that it looks like the gulls are now leaving. Mitch then tells Melanie that they can now pick up Cathy at Annie's and the two of them head out, while the others watch the gulls depart through the window. Heading up the road to the schoolhouse, they see that both it and the playground are covered in crows again and they very quietly and cautiously walk past them, as they simply sit there, squawking and cawing. Walking on up to Annie's house, they see that there are crows on the roof, and when they come up to the gate, they see her body lying on the step to the porch. Mitch tells Melanie to stay behind, as he runs over to the body, but she runs to the fence anyway and screams when she sees Annie's dead, cut-covered face. As Mitch looks at Annie's face, Melanie then asks where Cathy is. Mitch looks around, frantically, when he hears some rustling in the house and sees his frightened sister looking through the window, crying. He runs to the door, gets Cathy out, and walks her over to Melanie, who comforts her. Looking down at his old flame and then up at the crows on the roof, Mitch's anger almost gets the better of him, as he picks up a rock and nearly throws it at them. Fortunately, Melanie stops him and he drops the stone, instead deciding to cover Annie's body with his jacket and, per Melanie's wishes, rather than leaving her on the ground, picks her up and takes her into the house. Coming back out, he cautiously walks the two of them back down the road, past the crow-covered playground and school, towards Melanie's car, which is still parked out in front. Shushing the crying Cathy to be quiet, they make it to the car and, despite some threatening squawks, the crows allow them to pile in and drive off. During the drive, Cathy tells them of how she and Annie ran outside to see what happened when they heard the explosion and town, only for the birds to attack them. Annie had pushed Cathy back into the house and the girl watched as her teacher was covered and pecked to death right outside.
In the next scene, Mitch is boarding up all of the windows of the Brenner house, with Melanie helping him by handing him planks of wood. Both of them note a huge flock of gathering birds above the bay, which Mitch says has been there for about fifteen minutes. He also notes how, other than the smoke, the town doesn't look much different. Melanie tells him that the phone's dead, although they still have power, and after hearing a short news report on the situation from a San Francisco radio station, as well as a tense moment between Mitch and Lydia when she nearly has a nervous breakdown, Mitch and Melanie head back outside for a bit and notice a large flock of seagulls heading further inland, possibly to Santa Rosa. The scene then transitions to later on in the house, as everyone tensely waits for the inevitable attack, while Mitch finishes barricading them from the outside. After making sure the kitchen is secure, he joins the women in the living room to wait. There's a moment where Cathy becomes frightened and tense that she ends up making herself sick and she runs to the bathroom, followed by Melanie, who helps her. They both soon come back into the living room and sit back down on the couch, when the silence is then broken by the sound of the lovebirds chirping. That's then followed by the distant but quickly approaching sound of a mass of birds descending upon the house outside. Loud screeches and shrieks indicate that the attack has begun and Cathy runs to her mother, who does her best to comfort her, while Mitch throws more wood into the fireplace. All of the girls are finding it hard to keep calm because of the sheer volume of the sound, indicating how large the attack is.
Mitch then hears the sound of glass shattering nearby and, looking to his right, realizes that the birds have broken through the window. Dropping a big piece of firewood, he runs to the window and grapples with some snapping seagulls that are trying to force their way in. He manages to grab one and shove it back out but, after a cutaway shows birds pecking through the backdoor, and Melanie retreats into a corner from the sound, he continues struggling with them until he manages to push them back enough to reach for the storm shutter. The gulls, however, continuously bite his hands and fingers, bloodying them up and leaving splats of it on the shutter. Wincing from the bites, Mitch continuously smacks the birds away until he finally manages to grab the handle and pull the shutter to. Needing something to tie it shut, he grabs the power-cord to a nearby lamp, shattering it, and is about to make use of it, when a gull uses the opportunity his having to let go of the shutter to come exploding through the glass right above his hand. He grabs and struggles with it and manages to fling it outside before closing the shutter again and tying it tight with the cord around the window latch, while Melanie watches by the fireplace. Having done that, Mitch sees Lydia and Cathy sitting over in the corner of the bookcase, scared out of their minds, and he helps them over to a nearby chair before heading to check on Melanie, having to fight off the frightened Lydia as she clings to his shirt. He struggles with Melanie, who gives him something to wipe off his bloodied hands, and after he gets her to lay down on the catch, he ends into the bathroom to bandage himself up. When he comes back out, he then notices that the birds are trying to peck through the backdoor and quickly picks up a huge vanity mirror and puts it flush against the door, securing it with nails. That done, he heads back into the living room, when the room goes dark, the birds having knocked out the power. He runs into a nearby room and comes back out with a flashlight, rejoining Melanie in the living room. Hearing the sounds of more pecking, they see that the birds are now trying to come through the house's very walls, and Mitch tries to find something to nail against the wall as well. But, as he looks around, he notices that the sound is starting to grow fainter and he realizes that the birds are leaving. They all stand in the dark, listening as the sound dissipates until, once again, the house is filled with nothing but silence.
Later, except for Melanie, who's sitting on the couch, everybody has nodded off to sleep from sheer exhaustion. She then hears what sounds like fluttering wings and tries to wake Mitch up but is unable to do so, when she hears the sound again. Getting up, she takes the flashlight and walks into the kitchen to see if it's the lovebirds, whom she finds sitting there just as innocuously as they've been this whole time. Hearing the sound again, she realizes that it's coming up from upstairs, in Lydia's bedroom, and slowly walks up the stairs to the door, hearing the sound again when she reaches for the knob (Tippi Hedren famously asked Alfred Hitchcock why her character why do this by herself after everything that's happened and his simple, blunt answer was, "Because I tell you to,"). Slowly opening it and walking in, she sees an enormous hole in the ceiling, and when she gasps and walks completely into the room, her flashlight illuminates a mass of birds that have gathered on the bed. They immediately attack in response, flying at her and knocking her against the door, causing her to trap herself in the room. The birds lunge straight at her, flogging and pecking her mercilessly. She gets pecked right below her right eye, scraped and scratched along her arms and legs, and tries to open the door and slip out, but the onslaught of the birds makes it impossible to do so, as they keep knocking her back against it. Futilely trying to fend them off, she gets bit and flogged more and more, the birds continuing to be unrelenting in their attack. For a second time, she tries to open the door and escape but gets knocked against it, closing it. Barely able to speak, she weakly cries for Mitch, slumping down against the door to the floor, sustaining more nasty bites to her hands and everywhere else, and dazedly says, "Get Cathy and Lydia out of here." She passes out and falls to the floor, but by this point, those downstairs have heard the commotion and Mitch calls out for Melanie outside the door. He has a hard time opening the door, as Melanie lying up against it, and when he does open it as much as he can, he has to fend off the birds when they quickly turn their rage on him. It's not easy, as his hands get bit severely when he grabs Melanie's dress to pull her out, but with Lydia's help, who also fends off the birds, he manages to get her out and close the door, trapping all birds inside the room.
Carrying Melanie downstairs, Mitch tells Lydia to get some water, bandages, and antiseptic, while he takes her into the living room and lays her on the couch. He tells Cathy to bring some brandy, which she does, and Mitch prepares to pour some of it into a small glass. As he does, Melanie wakes up and, panicking and in shock, begins swiping at the air, thinking she's still up in the bedroom, but Mitch is eventually able to calm her down and make her realize that she's safe. She settles down into a near catatonic state and Mitch gives her a sip of brandy, as Lydia comes in with the first-aid materials and begins cleaning and dressing her wounds. Seeing how bad her condition is, Mitch says that they've got to get her to a hospital, the best one being in San Francisco. Lydia is reluctant, feeling that they'd never make it, but Mitch insists that they better try, saying that they can take a road that doesn't go through town. Feeling they better start before another bird attack begins, and deciding to take Melanie's car, which will be faster than the truck, Mitch walks to the front door, Lydia telling him to see if he can get anything on the car radio. He opens the door and sees the haunting sight of the front yard, the telephone lines, the house and garage, and everything else covered by birds. Although a crow bites his hand when he puts it on the railing next to the steps, the birds do nothing but sit and watch, with those on the ground moving out of his way like normal. Cautiously, he moves to the garage, with the only trouble he runs into being when a seagull bites his pants leg, and slips inside, looking up to see that there are birds sitting above the skylight as well. Closing the door behind him, and before he opens up the main one to drive the car out, he sits inside of it and turns on the radio, running through various stations before coming to a news broadcast. He hears that the bird attacks have subsided, that there have been attacks on a couple of other towns, including Santa Rosa, and that Bodega Bay has been cordoned off by roadblocks, with discussions being made about whether or not military action should be taken. Turning off the radio, Mitch walks up to the main garage door and slowly lifts it up, exposing the bird-covered yard once again. Getting back in the car, he slowly moves it through the yard, the seagulls on the ground, again, doing nothing more than stepping out of the way, and parks it in front of the door. The birds get a little flustered when he opens the door but, otherwise, they remain calm and continue doing nothing but sitting and watching, as he walks back in the house.
Mitch rejoins Lydia and Cathy, who've gotten Melanie ready, and when Lydia asks him if he heard anything on the radio, he simply says, "It's alright." They get Melanie up and walk her to the front door, opening it to reveal the bird-covered yard and the car, which is surrounded by them. Walking out onto the front porch, the squawking of the seagulls almost causes Melanie to panic, as she backs away while exclaiming, "No! No!", but Mitch and Lydia manage to shush her and they quickly but carefully walk towards the car, the two women getting in the back. Cathy calls to Mitch from the front door and he tells her to stay there while he comes to her. When he tries to help her outside, Cathy asks if she can bring the lovebirds and he reluctantly agrees to let her do so. He carries the covered cage and helps Cathy to the car, putting her into the passenger seat and handing her the cage. In the back, Melanie and Lydia have a nice moment, where Lydia fully accepts her as the woman her son loves and will likely end up with, as Mitch slips into the driver's seat. Turning on the ignition, he pulls away from the house and heads on down the road, as the birds continue to do nothing but sit and watch the car drive off into the distance, although their calls and wing-flapping become louder and louder, culminating in a shriek as the picture fades to black and the film ends.