The climactic sequence of The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock takes place in the attic of a Bodega Bay house, where Tippi Hedren takes the full brunt of thousands of wild birds as they begin a terrifying attack. The scene has proved immensely influential in the horror genre and led directly to the premise of Night of the Living Dead which is filmed some years later.
Tippi Hedren was Hitchcock’s discovery, one in a long line of celestial blondes he liked to use and abuse on-screen. She plays the shallow socialite Melanie Daniels who encounters a young lawyer, Mitch Brenner, in a San Francisco pet shop. Stung by his sarcastic remarks she tracks him down to Bodega Bay where she gives him some caged lovebirds from the shop and stays the night with local schoolteacher Annie Hayworth. Soon after, massed seagulls and other birds starts to attack human beings. At the Brenner family farm, windows are boarded up as the birds gather outside.. But Hedren, upstairs in an attic bedroom, undergoes a savage assault as they find a way in.
Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be Tippi Hedren in the attic, the schoolteacher played by Suzanne Pleshette was the intended victim of the beaked attack in those first drafts. There were no trick shots used in the scene, despite the film being absolutely packed with them – 371 in all, yet it took a week to film. Hedren had to endure live seagulls being thrown at her and times to her arms and legs with elastic bands and threads: a drawn-out and dangerous ordeal.
Original scriptwriter Evan Hunter had not designed it to play as a major scene, but the script was amended by Hitchcock himself. Much of the effectiveness lies not just in the obvious distress of Tippi Hedren, but in Hitchcock’s clever use of the slicing sound of the birds’ wings.
When Tippi Hedren finally retired it was to run an animal sanctuary in California, dedicated to the natural enemies of birds which is cats.