By Lars Trodson
Ed. Note: This is another in our occasional series examining short stories that have been adapted into feature films.
“The Birds” is Alfred Hitchcock’s most schizophrenic movie. It's certainly effective and memorable, but it features some of the worst acting in any film considered to be one of the director’s major efforts. It also has lapses in logic that would be inexcusable in other Hitchcock efforts. The special effects are terrific, but there are some scenes so obviously shot on a sound stage that they break the narrative spell. It could be that Hitchcock simply wasn’t interested in the human story; the primary challenge seemed to be in making sure the audience believed that flocks of birds could orchestrate a deliberate attack on human beings and kill us all.
But it's also true that Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), didn’t have much to start with. Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story on which the film is based (also called “The Birds”) focuses almost exclusively on the Hocken family— father Nat, his unnamed wife, and their two children, Jill and Johnny. Both story and film offer no explanation as to why the birds attack, but du Maurier presents the reader with some awkward Cold War symbolism as a way to give her little story more heft than it deserves, a touch that Hitchcock wisely discarded. His birds aren't Communists, they've just gone around the bend.