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Hitchcock’s Adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds

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There are multiple similarities and differences between “The Birds” short story by Daphne du Maurier and its film adaptation. The story was published in 1952 as part of a collection of short stories by du Maurier called “The Apple Tree” while the movie was released a little over a decade later in 1963 and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Despite the overall stories being rather similar, the characters and setting are different in each. The short story focuses on an aged man and his family in a rural part of England, while the movie introduces the audience to a young, somewhat conceited women who meets a likewise young lawyer, and later his mother and younger sister in California. Hitchcock decided to move the setting from its original one in England to California, which has been known to be a sunny place that is also characterized by glamour. This can be contrasted to England, which is usually distinguished as a more gloomy location. While we still see the stories discuss the same idea, it is clear to readers how different the styles are between the two areas. I believe it makes more sense to have the movie version be located in a more scenic place, as it appeals to the audience who are watching the story instead of reading it. It also allows for the moments when the birds attack to be considered more frightening and tragic, as they are occurring in a more glamorous location.

Hitchcock’s adaptation begins in a bird shop where Melanie and Mitch meet and begin gaining interest for each other. There is some foreshadowing in that scene, but not an obvious amount. A clear moment of foreshadowing occurs when Melanie is randomly attacked by a seagull while she is returning to the shore in a small boat. Du Maurier decided to have a slower introduction in the original story, as she focused on just the main male character and his personality for some time. However, there is still foreshadowing present, such as mentioning that winter arrived quickly or the feeling Hocken gets when he notices the birds are acting stranger than usual.

There are some differences in secondary characters between each version. In the Hitchcock film, we meet Mitch’s overbearing mother and his young sister, who he visits on the weekends when his work slows down. In the original story, we are introduced to Hocken’s family, consisting of two children and his timid wife, as well as the Trigg family. The Triggs are the characters who allow the readers to spot the difference between Hocken’s attitude towards the problem as opposed to the rest of the town’s nonchalant approach towards the birds. The townspeople thought it was less of a problem that it soon turned out to be, which eventually led to the demise of the ignorant Trigg family.

The main format and structure are the same between the story and the film. In both, the birds strike without any warning, and the multiple deaths in each version show how consistent and efficient the birds are at attacking the people. While both endings were different from one another, they both still leave the audience questioning what will happen to the characters who managed to stay alive until the end. Both versions of “The Birds” are good examples of what comes into play when people are put into a position of life versus death. Panicking too much, being ignorant to what is actually happening, and stirring controversy about it are good examples of these elements. At the end of the movie, when the remaining characters are driving off to an unknown location with the large group of birds watching them, and as Hocken watches the cigarette box burn at the end of the short story, the audience has a feeling of wonder and sympathy for each in both adaptations.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s movie version of “The Birds,” some of the most intense scenes occur at the home of Mitch’s mother as well as a nearby farm; similar to the settings that were in the short story. I thought it was a good choice for the action scenes to be restricted to the house, as it gives a claustrophobic mood to the situation the characters were in, since that was the place they thought they would be safe from the birds, but in reality, they were just attacked there as well. This successfully raised the feeling of suspense in the movie even more. Du Maurier set the tone by saying “The boards were strong against the windows, and on the chimneys too” (du Maurier pg 72).The purpose of this was to make the reader feel threatened by the birds as well, and to give off the tragic notion of no one being safe. In Hitchcock’s version, the setting is more open, which was done so when the birds did eventually attack there was a looming feeling of fright, since in an open setting there isn’t anywhere to hide from the birds. This was evident during the scene where the class of schoolchildren were running outside from them, but were still attacked since they could not outrun the birds or hide. However, Hitchcock’s choice of location at the end of the movie also interestingly gives off a feeling of hope, as Mitch drove off on an empty road with the large flock of birds behind them. This raised the possibility that they might make it to the hospital safely and in time to treat Melanie’s injuries.

Hitchcock is popularly viewed as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. He is referred to as “the master of suspense,” and has directed over 50 feature films in a career that lasted around sixty years. By 1960 Hitchcock had directed four films that are often ranked among the greatest of all time. These include Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). Hitchcock was known for his “Hitchcockian” style of filming that is characterized by the use of camera movement to mimic a person’s point of view, as well as framing certain shots to amplify the audience’s uneasiness and fright. This style was seen in “The Birds” when Melanie was slowly walking up the stairs in Mitch’s house, after she heard a sound coming from the floor above them. The camera angle shifted to her point of view, so it felt like the audience watching the movie was in her shoes, as if we were the ones who were walking up the stairs to find out what made the noise. It is a very slow-moving and suspenseful scene, paired with very eerie music to make the entire situation even more creepy. The anticipation of when the birds were going to pop out of nowhere and attack was very well done on Hitchcock’s part, because I felt as if I was going to be attacked instead of Melanie, due to how long the camera angle was positioned in the first-person viewpoint.

Hitchcock also decided to add more events to the film, such as the fire at the gas station and the argument at the restaurant, where Melanie was accused by some Bodega Bay inhabitants that she was the cause of the attacks. I thought these were good additions on Hitchcock’s part, since it showed both the severity and how serious the attacks were. The fire was very destructive and caused many people to panic and start finding their own ways of justifying what caused the catastrophic events to their reserved town. Also, the film allowed the viewers to visualize the attacks better, such as the scene with the school children, as well as the gruesome remains of the farmer Mitch’s mom went to visit to ask about her chickens. With the short story, the readers are left with the family in the house, fearing for their lives while depicting Hocken accepting his fate by smoking the last cigarette. However, the characters in the film were able to escape the house when the bird’s attacks died down, and drive away to safety; or at least away from Bodega Bay.

It is important to note that the film version of “The Birds” has never been claimed to be more than “loosely” based on Daphne du Maurier’s story, which accounts for the amount of changes made by Hitchcock. The film adaptation is a good example of a director conserving the idea of a good short story, but also changing it enough so it is more well-suited to be on screen. Print and film are very different mediums of entertainment, and not everything that is written can be converted into a movie successfully. When basing a movie off a short story, there is a lot of space to add new elements to the narrative, which is the case with Hitchcock and “The Birds.” The story has a clear ending for the remaining characters, which some readers may like, but others may also enjoy how things were left in a more open way in the film. Despite their differences however, du Maurier’s story and Hitchcock’s film are each full of anxiety, fear, and most importantly, are both well-crafted.

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