The insane truth about Alfred Hitchcock’s filming technique on ‘The Birds’
After the huge success of his 1960 film Psycho, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s next two films The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) ensured that audiences acknowledged the accomplished filmmaker as the ‘Master of Suspense’.
Out of the aforementioned two, The Birds is certainly more notable entry in Hitchcock’s filmography. It is one of his most enigmatic films, and that’s saying a lot. The picture has immensely influenced the horror-thriller genre and is full of Hitchcock’s technical mastery over the cinematic medium.
Those two films also helped launch American actress Tippi Hedren’s career, who had never acted in a film until Hitchcock spotted her in a television commercial and offered her a contract. However, things took a turn for the worse soon after. According to Hedren, the renowned filmmaker developed an almost “crazed obsession” with her and often subjected her to his crude and sexual comments.
“I had to get out of there,” she recalled. “I was dealing with one of the most powerful men in motion pictures and it was difficult, embarrassing and insulting. He said, ‘If you leave, I’ll ruin your career.’ And he did.”
One of her worst weeks working with Hitchcock was on the set of The Birds, most notably the final filming sequences. As was planned, Hedren was supposed to go into an attic where she would be attacked by birds. She was assured that the birds would be mechanical, like the ones that were used in every other scene. However, in a change in the plan that she wasn’t informed about, the actress was forced to endure a week of having real birds flung at her and she ended up requiring medical attention.
“When I got to the set I found out there had never been any intention to use mechanical birds because a cage had been built around the door where I was supposed to come in, and there were boxes of ravens, gulls and pigeons that bird trainers wearing gauntlets up to their shoulders hurled at me, one after the other, for a week,” she later explained.
“Hitchcock said, ‘She can’t rest for a week, we have nobody else to film,’” she recalls. “And the doctor said, ‘What are you trying to do? Kill her?’”
Hitchcock successfully sabotaged Hedren’s career by forcing her to remain under contract without offering her any big projects. After Marnie hit theatres in 1964, it was three years before Hedren was cast in another major film — a supporting role in Charlie Chaplin’s A Countess From Hong Kong but her future roles were never as good as the ones in Hitchcock’s two films. She ended up focusing on animal rights, founding an 80-acre wildlife habitat, the Shambala Preserve, in California, to care for endangered big cats.
“I got over Hitchcock a long time ago because I wasn’t going to allow my life to be ruined because of it,” she said. “It was like I was in a mental prison, but now it has no effect on me. I did what I had to do to deal with it.”