Daphne du Maurier Week- The Birds by Daphne du Maurier versus The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock – A Post a Day in May

Today begins Heavenali’s Daphne du Maurier week. I knew I wanted to participate but wasn’t sure how to fit it into my A Post a Day in May project. But then I had an idea that appealed to me a lot. Why not reread one of her most famous stories, The Birds, and compare it to the Hitchcock movie. And that’s what I did a couple of days ago.

April and May have been very hot here in Switzerland, sunny and with temperatures around 27°C. Not so two days ago when I finally reread and rewatched The Birds. That day was cool and rainy. Perfect weather for this creepy tale.

The short story The Birds is set in the country, near the sea. Nat is a farmhand. On the day the story begins, he notices the birds’ unusual behaviour. It is the beginning of December and the weather has changed abruptly overnight. From a mellow autumn, it is has turned into an icy winter. Could this have something to do with the birds? Is this why they flock together and thousands of seagulls cover the sea like a giant wave? And then they start to attack. Nat and his family have to barricade themselves in their house as the birds get more and more aggressive, trying to enter the house through the windows, the chimney.

I enjoyed this story so much. It’s rich in descriptive details and atmosphere. Creepy, eerie, like a good ghost story, even though that’s not what this is.

One element resonated with me a lot. While they are locked into their house, Nat and his family try to find out what’s going on, whether the government will send help, what they say is happening, and what they should do. A bit like now, and Nat and his wife get very annoyed when they realize the government is clueless. Just like now, they are absolutely no help and offer no guidance in a massive crisis.

After finishing the short story, I then watched the movie. I know I watched it many years ago and must say, the movie I rewatched had absolutely nothing to do with what I remembered of it.

Unlike the story, the movie is set in a small town. I didn’t remember how much story Hitchcock added to du Maurier’s story. Hers is very pared down and atmospheric. But Hitchcock’s film starts like a screw ball comedy. A young rich woman meets a lawyer in a bird shop in San Francisco. She then decides to bring him the love birds he wanted for his sister to his house on Bodega Bay, outside of San Francisco. Like in any screw ball comedy, they try to pretend they are mutually not interested. They tease each other and what follows is a humorous back and forth. But then a seagull attacks the woman and the story changes.

I must say, I was disappointed in the movie. It lacked atmosphere, almost felt like two films in one. Of course, for its time it’s a great movie but I liked the short story so much better, found it so much more effective. Not for one second did I find the movie eerie. If I had watched this a few weeks after reading the story or without even rereading the story, my reaction would have been different, I’m sure. It’s obvious that Hitchcock only used the story as an inspiration. I read once that he always started with an image and this is possibly the case here too. He was fascinated by the idea of all those birds gathering. And for its time, those attack scenes are well done. That he added a love story and complex characters, is an interesting choice. I like that he chose to go deeper, introduce us to complex characters with backstory, but I’m not sure why he chose to start with some type of screw ball comedy. Maybe he hoped the contrast would intensify the horror that follows? I am probably not doing it justice. Someone who doesn’t know the story, might find the movie terrifying.

It was certainly an interesting experience to compare the two and made me realize that I want to read more of her, and definitely rewatch many of his movies and discover those I don’t know yet. Luckily, I have two Hitchcock collections here. Over twenty movies in total. And I also own Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock, which I should finally read.

Which is your favourite du Maurier book? And which is your favourite Hitchcock movie?

24 thoughts on “Daphne du Maurier Week- The Birds by Daphne du Maurier versus The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock – A Post a Day in May

  1. It is not just romance or a screwball comedy in Hitchcock’s film – it is all very meaningful and deeply symbolic too. Melanie in the film stands for “nature” and as she realises her femininity so the attacks intensify – the pet shop in the film stands for the image of humans “enslaving” the birds, nature, and now birds have decided to take “revenge”. The love-birds bought by Melanie are seen in a cage, subdued and taken under control by humans too – to be contrasted with wild bird-beasts (black ravens). All birds in the film may be linked to the women: Lydia, Annie and Kathy – who try to regain “control” over Mitch by attacking Melanie. Sexual tension between the leads and the birds are linked in a mysterious and symbolic way.

    • Thank you very much for this interesting comment. It did strike me when the elderly woman says that birds never do harm but that humans harm nature. It was clear that was meaningful.
      That’s the trouble when you watch a movie and compare it so closely with the story it is based on. Du Maurier’s story is very atmospheric and I missed that. But, of course, Hitchcock composed his movies and nothing is unintentional. I did wonder why the love birds stayed so tame. What you say makes perfect sense.

  2. I like the movie, although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but now I really want to read the story! I read the Don’t Look Now collection last year and loved them all.

    • I have read that collection too and liked it very much. The Birds is terrific. It has so much atmosphere. I hope you will enjoy it. The movie was so different.

  3. Unfortunately I was much too young when I saw the film! It scarred me for life emotionally to the extent that I still am very iffy about getting anywhere near a bird… So much as I might like to give an opinion on book or film I daren’t! My favourite du Maurier is The House on the Strand and my favourite Hitchcock possibly North by Northwest.

    • That’s such bad luck. I think I also saw it as a kid and remembered it to be terrifying. And now I know why I thought it was black and white. I must have seen it on a black and white TV and that worked better than this technicolor version. I love The House on the Strand but still haven’t seen North by Northwest. Unfortunately, it’s not in my collection.

  4. Pingback: Daphne du Maurier Week- The Birds by Daphne du Maurier versus The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock – A Post a Day in May — Beauty is a Sleeping Cat | Los Angeles feedback film festival

  5. This is fascinating, I have just read this collection as you know, and thought the title story brilliant. I haven’t watched the film though. I hadn’t realised how different they are. The story is so wonderfully atmospheric.

    • It’s such a brilliant story.
      Looking at Diana’s comment above, I didn’t do the movie justice because I expected it to be much more like the story.
      Now that you know, you might like it better than I did.

  6. Diana’s comment above is insightful – why the caged birds don’t sing…It’s far from being my favourite Hitch film – this is probably Vertigo. Another D du M story adaptation is also good: Don’t Look Now. Not Hitch, but less cheesy. But that final image of the black birds on the wire is haunting.

  7. Yes, her comment is very insightful. I watched it through the story’s lens and missed much.
    I also like Don’t Look Now. Vertigo is one of my favorites too.

  8. Just skimming this for now as I have a copy of the book in my TBR and would not know too much more before reading it. That said, it’s great to hear that you enjoyed the titular story so much. It sounds brilliantly unnerving.

  9. I’m with Kaggsy, The Birds traumatized me at an early age. (The movie, I mean. I have not read the story but I think I would get on better with it.) My favorite Hitchcock movies are Rear Window and North by Northwest.

  10. Loved your comparison of the story and the movie, Caroline! It is interesting what you said – that Hitchcock took the core story and added more characters and their stories to it. I remember watching ‘Psycho’ and wondering halfway through the movie, “Where is the bad guy? Where is the horror? This is just about a woman having an affair.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • My pleasure, Vishy. He only took a few elements of the story; most of it, is entirely his. I haven’t watched Psycho in a ,one time but seem to remember it being more organic than this. And not as light hearted. The beginning of the birds is so fluffy. No sense of dread whatsoever. Psycho is creepier.

  11. Pingback: Looking Back on A Post a Day in May | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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