Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!”

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The clever & cheeky Barry of Cinematic Catharsis has summoned this great and powerful idea for a Summer Blogathon! Whether it’s the weather, or giant mutant bugs, blood hungry sharks, large animals run amok, or the elements gone awry–Nature’s Fury can be seen in so many fascinating and awe inspiring feature films and those lovable B movie trends that showcase the natural world in chaos. I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as it is a film that has stayed burned in my mind since I first saw it as a child. Certain scenes will never lose their power to terrify.

And in celebration of this event, I’ve actually written a song and made a film/music mash up to tribute Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with a montage from the film featuring my song Calling Palundra

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“The Birds expresses nature and what it can do, and the dangers of nature. Because there’s no doubt that if the birds did decide, you know, with the millions that they are, to go for everybody’s eyes, then we’d have H.G.Wells Kingdom of the Blind on our hands.”-Alfred Hitchcock

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“Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are You? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this… I think you’re evil EVIL!” Actress Doreen Lang playing the hysterical mother in the diner!

This tribute video features my special song written just for this blogathon…. Here’s Melanie Daniels & the birds– with my piano vocal accompaniment, ‘Calling Palundra’

The children’s song “Risseldy Rosseldy” heard at the school when the crows began to unite as a gang is the Americanization of an old Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife”

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Image courtesy of: Jürgen Müller’s colorful Movies of the ’60s

On it’s face The Birds can be taken literally as a cautionary tale about the natural world fighting back against the insensitivity & downright barbaric treatment of nature’s children and the environment at the hands of humankind. Is it a tale of simple unmitigated revenge against the town for the killing of a pigeon? Or is there something more nefarious & psycho-sexual at work? Once you peel back the top layer of the visual narrative there are multi metaphors at work.

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From Dark Romance: SEXUALITY IN THE HORROR FILM by David J. Hogan- “Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is probably the ultimate expression of this sort of nameless dread. It is a film that cheerfully defies description: it is horror, it is science fiction, it is black comedy, it is a scathing look at our mores and manners. It is a highly sexual film, but in a perversely negativistic way.”

Before the release of The Birds in 1963, Tippi Hedren made the cover of Look Magazine with the heading “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly”.

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Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964) What Grace Kelly had in pristine beauty and sophistication, Hedren possesses an undertow of sensuality that pulls you into that gorgeous mystique.

As with Hitchcock’s other, worldly beautiful blonde subject — the strong willed socialite Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window (1954) The Birds features the stunning Tippi Hedren as the coy, confident and a bit manipulative Melanie Daniels a San Fransisco socialite who descends upon Bodega Bay with a similar uncompromising will. Stiff, stolid and cocky Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets Melanie in a pet shop where the two share shallow, faintly romantic barbs and repartee. Mitch is shopping for a pair of love birds for his sister Cathy’s eleventh birthday and Mitch pretends in a condescending manner to mistake her for the clerk.  Melanie goes along with the mistaken identity as a way to flirt until his slightly mean-spirited joke backfires when she accidentally let’s a canary loose and while it lands in an ashtray Mitch throws his hat on it and places it back in it’s cage smugly saying “Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels.” revealing that he not only knew who she was from the very beginning and has quite a snotty preconceived notion about this socialite whom he appears to judge as running with a ‘wild’ crowd and is amoral. He manages to make a bit of a fool out of Melanie. The contrast between the flirty glib and calculating Melanie Daniels and the less interesting, judgemental and arrogant Mitch Brenner kicks off a chemistry that really isn’t as vital to the story as what the two personalities represent. 

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As Melanie is about to enter Davidson’s Pet Shop, she hears and sees a tremendous gathering of Seagulls in the sky. It is a foreboding moment of things to come…
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From the opening of The Birds, devoid of any musical lead-in or further soundtrack, all natural noise of bird sounds are what underscore the films visual story. The Seagulls in San Fransisco are many and loud this afternoon as Melanie takes notice…
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Melanie enters the shop as Alfred Hitchcock exits, giving the customary cameo walking two dogs that happen to be his own white terriers Geoffrey and Stanley!
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Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s new beautiful blonde to supplant the other object of his affections/fixation… Grace Kelly.
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Melanie (Tippi Hedren) has come to pick up the Mynah bird that she has ordered, but the shipment is late. She remarks to pet shop owner Mrs. MacGruder (the lovable Ruth McDevitt) “Hello Mrs. MacGruder have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you suppose it is?” Mrs. MacGruder supposes, “Well There must be a storm at sea that drives them inland you know.”

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Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) enters the pet shop and approaches Melanie asking for help in purchasing lovebirds for his kid sister
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Melanie is attracted to this handsome yet smug and polished smart ass in a suit, so she plays along pretending to be the clerk and continues to help him, giving completely ridiculous answers to his snide questions as he grills her about ornithology. The louse!
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Mitch –“I wonder if you could help me?” Melanie –“what?” Mitch –“I said I wonder if you could help me” Melanie “Just what is it you’re looking for sir?” Mitch “Lovebirds…” Melanie “Lovebirds Sir?” Mitch “Well I understand there’s different varieties is that true?” Melanie “Oh Yes there are” Mitch “Well uh these are for my sister for her birthday, and see uh as she’s only gonna be eleven, I wouldn’t want a pair of birds that were… too demonstrative.” Melanie “I understand completely” Mitch “At the same time, I wouldn’t want them to be too aloof either.” Melanie “No of course not” Mitch “Do you happen to have a pair of birds that are… just friendly?…aren’t those love birds? Melanie “no those are red birds” Mitch “Aren’t they called strawberry finches?” Melanie “oh we call them that too…Oh now here we are love birds” Mitch “those are canaries…Doesn’t this make you feel awful?’ Melanie “Doesn’t what make me feel..?” Mitch “Having all these poor little innocent creatures caged up like that” Melanie “Well we can’t just let them fly around the shop you know” Mitch “No I guess not, is there an ornithological reason for keeping them in separate cages?” Melanie “Well certainly it’s to protect the species” Mitch “Yes I expect that’s important especially during the molting season” Melanie “Hhm that’s a particularly dangerous time” Mitch “are they molting now?” Melanie “some of them are.” Mitch “how can you tell?” Melanie “well they give a sort of tang dog expression” Mitch “yes I see well what about the love birds?” Melanie “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to see a canary? We have some very nice canaries this week” Mitch “Alright, alright may I see it please? (he holds out his hand)”
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An ornithology lesson. These are strawberry finches not ‘red birds’

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Melanie tries to hold a canary to show Mitch, but the little yellow bird flies out of her grip and starts fluttering all around the shop.

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Mitch utters this insult at Melanie… “Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels!” The louse!!!
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Melanie feels a sting… realizing that she has been made a fool of by this cocky fella she doesn’t even know but she wants to know him…
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Melanie “What did you say?” Mitch “I was merely drawing a parallel Miss Daniels” Melanie “How did you know my name?” Mitch “A little birdy told me” Melanie “Hey wait a minute, I don’t know you” Mitch “Ah, but I know you” Melanie “how?” Mitch “We met in court” Melanie “We never met in court or any place else” Mitch “Oh that’s true let me rephrase, it I saw you in court” Melanie “When?” Mitch “Don’t you remember one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate glass window” Melanie  “I didn’t break that window” Mitch “Yes but your little prank did–Judge should have put you behind bars!” Melanie “What are you a policeman?” Mitch “I may know a little about the law and I’m not too keen on practical jokes” Melanie “Well what do you call your Lovebird story if not a practical joke?” Mitch “Oh I really wanted the Lovebirds” Melanie “Well you knew I didn’t work here, you deliberately…” Mitch interrupts “Right! I recognized you when I came in I just thought you’d like to know what it’s like to be on the other end of a gag, what do you think of that?” Melanie  “I think you’re a louse.” Mitch  “I am, good day Miss Daniels” Melanie “I’m glad you didn’t get your Lovebirds” Mitch “Oh I’ll find something else… see you in court”

Melanie runs after Mitch and catches sight of his license plate number, getting his information from her father’s contacts at the newspaper. She decides to follow him 60 miles up the coast with a pair of Lovebirds to see him at his mother’s home in Bodega Bay where he spends his weekends.

And one of the popular theories is that it’s her driving impulse to seduce Mitch that has sparked the inexplicable terror that takes siege upon the residents of the sleepy little seaside community.

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Once at Bodega Bay, she asks a storekeeper where to find Mitch’s little sister and is given Annie Hayworth’s address, where Melanie proceeds to drive to.

Now it’s time for two thirds of the triad of grasping women to meet each other. The confident socialite stylish and stunning in pursuit of Mitch, and the brooding beautiful woman he left behind who’s sullenness is as palpable as the surrounding sea. Though Annie winds up being a very good person, loves her students, and though she’s in pain and sees Mitch moving into a dynamic relationship with a outre sophisticated blonde, she winds up being a true friend, to the point of ultimately sacrificing her own life.

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Annie in an ironic tone “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch.”

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Annie meets Melanie at car
Annie “Did you drive up from San Fransisco by the coast road?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “Nice drive” Melanie “It’s very beautiful” Annie “Is that where you met Mitch?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch” Melanie “Now you sound a bit mysterious Miss Hayworth” Annie “Do I, actually I’m an open book I’m afraid , or actually a closed one” She looks down at the cage of Lovebirds Annie “pretty, what are they?” Melanie “Lovebirds” Annie with a pain that stretches deep across her face “I see… good luck Miss Daniels.”

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Melanie rents a boat from Doodles Weaver credited as the boat rental guy.

She starts up the motor and begins to head across the bay just to bring Mitch a ‘practical joke’ present in kind, what else but… a pair of Lovebirds. She has written him a letter which she winds up tearing up, instead placing a card for his sister Cathy presenting the Lovebirds as the originally intended birthday gift for her.

Melanie moves across the bay toward the object of her desire adorned in Edith Head’s glamorous boating attire, a luxurious mink, that stunning green suit and high heels, (yes! it’s a very understated chic outfit for the occasion of man hunting) Tippi’s gorgeous green suit she is seen wearing throughout the film was referred to by multi Academy Award winning fashion designer Edith Head, as “Eau de Nil” or Nile water!

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Tippi-Hedren-Edith Head and the boat ride 1

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Melanie gets out of the motor boat, surrounded by beauty and serenity, the mood, peaceful, the quiet before the storm… she proceeds to sneak into the Brenner farmhouse to leave the Lovebirds for Mitch, or well eh Cathy, yeah Cathy.
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Melanie waits until Mitch is in the barn, sneaks into the house and leaves the cage of Lovebirds in the den, ripping up her original letter to Mitch and instead just placing a birthday card for his little sister Cathy. How cagey.. oops sorry for the pun guys!

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the tranquility and romantic game-play is about to shift, from this moment on…

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Melanie is attacked by a crazed sea gull who swoops down from the cloudy blue sky to put a nice gash in her beautiful head, messing up that very coiffed blonde hair with the faint trickle of blood dripping down her face and a spot on her glove.

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Mitch helps Melanie taking her into the diner to get her wound cleaned up, “That’s the damnedest thing I ever saw, it seemed to swoop down at you deliberately.”

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Mitch brings Melanie into The Tides Restaurant (which is basically a diner) run by Lonnie Chapman as Deke Carter and his wife Helen played by terrific character actress Elizabeth Wilson. The patrons all stare as the two enter. Deke wonders is Melanie got urt on his premises is worried he’ll get sued again, that’s when Melanie finds out he’s a lawyer. 
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Melanie “What kind of law do you practice?” Mitch “Criminal” Melanie “Is that why you want to see everyone behind bars?” Mitch calmly answers “Oh not everyone Miss Daniel’s. Only violators and practical jokers.”
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Mitch has put peroxide and dabbed cotton on Melanie’s gash and tells her to hold the cotton on her wound. She continues to talk with him while her arm is in a crane. It appears almost bird like and mocking and adds a very humorous bit to the coming dread that will take hold of the story.
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Mitch asks if she came all the way up just to see him and bring the Lovebirds but Melanie corrects him and insists they are for his sister. Then she lies and tells him that she was coming up anyway to visit an old school friend Annie Hayworth. He looks at her dubiously and tells her it’s a small world. “So you came up to see Annie?” Melanie  “yes why?” Mitch “I think you came up here to see me” Melanie “Now why would I come up here to see you of all people” Mitch “I don’t know but you must have gone to a lot of trouble to find out who I was and where I lived” Melanie “It was no trouble at all I simply called my father’s newspaper, besides I was coming up anyway, I already told you that” Mitch “You really like me eh?” Melanie “I loathe you, you have no manners you’re arrogant and conceded and I wrote you a letter about it in fact but I tore it up.” Mitch “what does it say?” Melanie “None of your business, I can’t say I like your seagulls much either. I come all the way up here” Mitch “I thought you were coming up here anyway remember…”
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Enter Mrs. Lydia Brenner… Mitch’s mother, the third part of the psychoanalytic -drama triad of grasping, jealous and devouring women… And Melanie thinks the seagulls are rough in this town!

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He invites Melanie to dinner. Lydia looks thoroughly pickled in her tweed coat and scornful. Mitch tells his mother that Melanie went to the trouble of bringing the Lovebirds. Lydia, “You did say birds?” Mitch answers, “Yes Lovebirds” which of course is not a very orthodox gift to bring a man unless you’re planning on bedding him! And since this point is not missed by his mother, Lydia replies “Oh I see…” Mitch insists on Melanie coming to 7 O’Clock dinner… the usual Brenner time. Mother Lydia is furious. Melanie agrees to to the invitation and tells him she’s staying with Annie.

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Once Melanie arrives she finds that Mitch is tied to his neurotic and soured mother Lydia’s (Jessica Tandy) apron strings at the cozy little Oedipal homestead, and like a good son, he visits her every weekend at the Brenner Farmhouse.

Melanie arrives at Annie’s house with the sign on the window ‘Room for Rent’ and asks if she can just stay the night, that she doesn’t plan on staying. Melanie got a brown paper bag filled with her over night things, one dowdy looking Bodega Bay nightgown.

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Don't they ever stop migrating? -Annie

Annie says “Yes, I know… did something unexpected come up?” Melanie asks to use her phone, “Yes, may I use your phone I’d like to call home” Annie invites Melanie in, there’s coffee on the stove. The sky fills with a cacophony of seagulls they look up at the sky and Annie comments “Don’t they ever stop migrating?”

Dinner at the Brenner’s!

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“No Fred they don’t seem sick at all, they just won’t eat.”

Cathy automatically takes to Melanie, runs up and hugs her for the gift of the Lovebirds. She asks if one is a man and one is a woman? Interesting hetero-normative gendered question kid… Lydia is still seething and as tightly coiled as an steel spring. And, Lydia’s also upset amidst all the bird problems, now the chicken’s won’t eat.

Lydia calls the small general store owner Fred Brinkmeir who sold her the feed, she believes it’s no good. What Dan Fawcett’s chickens won’t eat either? Lydia decides to go over and see Dan the next day… big mistake… “No Fred they don’t seem sick at all, they just won’t eat.” She’s worried there might be something going around… boy is there ever…. collective angst and anger among the world’s bird population. Cathy agrees that it’s just the feed, but then Lydia says that he sold Mr. Fawcett a different brand. Something fowl is afoot… sorry for that bad pun.

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“I still don’t understand how you knew I wanted Lovebirds.”

The table is getting set for 7 O’Clock dinner. Melanie is playing classical piano as Cathy talks to her. “I still don’t understand how you knew I wanted Lovebirds.” Melanie tells her, “Your brother told me” at that point Lydia looks over. “Then you knew Mitch in San Fransisco? Is that right?” Melanie “No, not exactly” Cathy “Mitch knows a lot of people in San Fransisco of course they’re mostly hoods.” Lydia reprimands Cathy for that statement. “Well mom he’s the first to admit it. He spends most of his time in the detention center at the Halls of Justice.”  Lydia goes on with her democracy spiel… and Cathy begs her mom to stop the speeches already, she doesn’t want to hear about that Democracy jazz “They’re still hoods.”

Cathy “He has a client now, shot his wife in the head six times. Six! times. Can you imagine it. I mean even twice would be over doing it. Don’t you think?” she asks Melanie.

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This kind of hints at the fact that people don’t need birds to attack, they can quite do a lovely job of killing each other without the help of nature interceding

Melanie asks Mitch why he shot her. “He was watching a ballgame on television. His wife changed the channel.” He laughs. And I wonder why he feels that Melanie belongs in jail because she caused a window to break, but he can laugh about his wife-murdering client… it begs the question of ‘Male Animosity’ in this film….

Cathy wants Melanie to stay for her party tomorrow. “Don’t you like us?” Melanie tells her, “Oh darling of course I do” Cathy follows up with, “Don’t you like Bodega Bay” Melanie says “I don’t know yet” Cathy tells her, “Mitch likes it very much He comes up every weekend you know. Even though he has his own apartment in the city. He says San Fransisco is like an anthill at the foot of a bridge.” Cathy pleads with Melanie to come to her surprise party, with tears in her eyes. But Melanie says she doesn’t think so…

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Lydia reads the society gossip columns too -She tells Mitch that Melanie was naked when she jumped into that fountain!
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Mitch tells his mother that he can handle Melanie Daniels all by himself…She says,“Well as long as you know what you want Mitch.”

Meanwhile back in the kitchen while washing the dishes Lydia says, “She’s a charming girl Mitch” “Yes” “Certainly pretty, how long have you know her?” “Now I told you dear we met yesterday?” In a bird shop” “in a bird shop?” “She was selling birds” “Oh no no I just led her into believing that I believed she was and then… well it’s all very complicated” “Well she did buy the Lovebirds and then drove all the way out here” “Mother, where did you go to law school?” she laughs “Forgive me” “I suppose I’m just naturally curious about a girl like that… she’s very rich isn’t she?” “Yeah I suppose so her father is part owner of one of the big newspapers in San Fransisco” “You’d think he could manage to keep her name out of print… she’s always mentioned in the columns Mitch” “Yes I know” “She is the one who jumped into a fountain in Rome last summer isn’t she?” “Yes” he frowns “I suppose I’m old fashioned. I know it was supposed to be very warm there but actually the newspapers said she was naked.” “yes I know dear” “Cause it’s none of my business, but when you bring a girl like that…” “Darling I think I can handle Melanie Daniels by myself.” “Well as long as you know what you want Mitch” he kisses her. “ I know exactly what I want”

Mitch walks Melanie to the car…

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Mitch “Maybe we could go swimming or something. Mother tells me you like to swim.”
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Melanie “How does mother know what I like to do?” Mitch, “Like jumping into a fountain in Rome?” Melanie, “I told you what happened!” Mitch “You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?” Melanie, “Oh, I don’t give a damn what you believe!” Mitch, “I’d still like to see you.” Melanie “Why?” Mitch “It might be fun” Melanie, “Well it might have been good enough in Rome, but it’s not good enough now.” Mitch “It is for me” Melanie, “Well not for me!” Mitch “What do you want?” Melanie “I thought you knew! I want to go through life jumping into fountains naked!, good night!”

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Mitch insists on Melanie coming to Cathy’s birthday party, she asks Annie’s opinion, “Do you think I should go?”
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Annie tries very hard to just be a friend, “Well, that’s up to you.” Melanie reveals her angst about Mitch’s mother,  “No it’s really up to Lydia isn’t it” Annie reassures her, “Never mind Lydia. Do you want to go” “Yes” Annie is cooler than merely the jealous tossed aside lover to be able to say- “Then go.” Melanie answers her new friend,“Thank you Annie.”
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The two women hear a knock at the door. Once they open it up they find that a seagull has crashed into the door, lying dead at their feet. It’s an eerie moment.

Annie says, ” Probably lost it’s way in the dark” But Melanie points out, “But it isn’t dark Annie, it’s a full moon.”

The day of Cathy’s birthday party…

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Mitch and Melanie take a walk on the beach while the party is going on. Here we find out that Melanie has an absent mother which is a very  emotional issue for her,  “My mother don’t waste your time. She ditched us when I was eleven and ran off with some Hotel man in the East.  You know what a mother’s love is” Mitch tells her in a strained voice, “Yes I do” Melanie asks him, “You mean it’s better to be ditched?” He answers, “No I think it’s better to be loved, don’t you ever see her?” crying she turns away, “I don’t know where she is… well maybe I ought to go join the other children” A very telling remark… about Melanie Daniels and her own mother issues.

As the couple walk down from the dunes, both Annie who shoots a saddened look at the romantic couple and Lydia who comes out holding a pink birthday cake gives a similar worried but more disapproving look.

There definitely seems to be that uncanny connection to Melanie’s arrival and the behavior of the local birds who are beginning to act more than just curious but dangerously aggressive.

We saw a hint of it right before Melanie enters the pet shop in San Fransisco. Then while rowing across Bodega Bay Melanie is dive bombed by a seagull who puts a gash in her head. But now it’s Cathy’s birthday party and the light festivities turn into frightening mayhem when more seagulls attack the children.

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After the traumatic attack at Cathy’s birthday party, Mitch, Melanie, Cathy and Lydia try to compose themselves. Melanie wants to get home, but Cathy and Mitch want her to say. Lydia however would like her to leave as soon as humanly possible. While they are sitting down to eat in the living room having tea and a bit to eat, Cathy remarks that the Lovebirds sound so agitated. Suddenly Melanie notices a little finch by the fireplace. A flood of birds rush down the chimney before Melanie can get the word’s “Mitch” out of her mouth!

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Mitch yells, “Cover your faces, cover your eyes!”

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Deputy Al Malone shows up to assess the damage. He’s still skeptical that there is anything uncanny going on in Bodega Bay with the birds. Deputy Malone “That’s a sparrow alright” Malone is played by character actor Malcolm Atterbury if you’re a fan of The Andy Griffith Show as I am you’ll recognize him as Luke from The Cow Thief episode. Yes… “Shoes on a cow?”

The use of the bird sounds and electronically enhanced flutter of winds is so deafening that it creates a powerful effect during this unexpected attack inside the safety of home…

We all love the extraordinarily macabre and menacing sightings of the birds congregating like a collective war counsel on the monkey bars outside the schoolhouse. It’s an iconic scene where our anti-heroine is sitting on the bench slowly dragging on her cigarette while the birds assemble one by one, as the camera pans back and forth between Melanie’s changing expressions and each bird that flies above then ultimately lands behind her creating a pyramid of angry wings and piercing dark eyes that take will eventually take flight and swarm. Once she recognizes the full import of their presence she walks carefully into the schoolhouse where Annie and the children are.

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Melanie,  Annie and children are set upon by a sky filled with fluttering menace and sharpened beaks ready to draw blood.

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A farmer Dan Fawcett, is savaged in his home, and lay posed for the camera as if half eaten by zombies.

Mitch’s mother Lydia finds her neighbor, said farmer, dead, (there’s a lot of eye pecking in this film!) viciously attacked, enucleated and Dan and his pajamas pecked to pieces.

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Lydia has completely had a shock after finding Dan so horribly mutilated. She is resting in bed, which give she and Melanie a chance to talk a bit. Lydia opens up about missing her husband Frank, how he understood the children better, and mostly she revealed the great fear she experiences about being left alone.

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Melanie asks if she’d like to rest now. “No no don’t go. I feel as if I don’t understand you at all. And I want so much to understand.” Melanie asks “Why Mrs Brenner?” Lydia tells her, “Because my son seems to be very fond of you. And I don’t know how I quite feel about it” I don’t even know if I like you or not” Melanie comes right out with it, “Is that so important you liking me?”
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“Well yes I think so. Mitch is important to me. I want to like what ever girl he chooses” Melanie says, “And perhaps if you don’t?” Lydia answers, “Well then I don’t think it will matter to anyone much except me.” Melanie tells Lydia, “Oh I think it would also matter to Mitch.”

Lydia, “Mitch has always don’t exactly what he’s wanted to do… But you see I don’t want to be left alone…I don’t think I could bare to be left alone. Oh forgive me”

The chaos builds as the entire town of Bodega Bay is besieged by this winged menace, with explosions, while all of The Tides Restaurant (Deke’s diner) looks out the window gazing, a gull swoops down on a gas station attendant who drops the spilling pump. An unknowing smoker drops his lit match into the puddle of gasoline and sets the place ablaze.

THE DOOMSAYER, BIRD-LADY AND HYSTERICAL MOTHER….

Melanie is talking to her father relating the horror story him on the pone. who first thinks she’s hysterical. The entire diner is listening to her phone call. Especially the hysterical mother.

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“No the birds didn’t attack until they were outside the school… crows I think… well I don’t know daddy is there a difference between crows and blackbirds?”

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With that Mrs. Bundy the ornithologist turns and looks at Melanie.

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Mrs Bundy “There is very definitely a difference.”

Melanie continues to talk to her father on the phone. “I think they were crows, hundreds of them, yes… they attacked the children, attacked them!”

Mrs. Bundy continues to share her knowledge, “They’re both perching birds of course but quite different species, the crow is called (s0mething that sounds like) ‘sprackerincoss’ and the black bird is (something that sounds like) ‘sirphradasiraphrecadas.’

Deke (Lonnie Chapman) tells Mrs. Bundy “ I don’t see that it makes much difference Mrs. Bundy crows or blackbirds, the school was attacked that’s pretty serious.”  She lights her cigarette at looks at him.

“I hardly think either species would have sufficient intelligence to launch a mass attack. Their brain pans aren’t big enough.”

Melanie “I just came from the school madame, I don’t know anything about their brain pans but…”

“Well I do, I do know ornithology happens to be my avocation. Birds are not aggressive creatures Miss, they bring beauty into the world. It is mankind who…”

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Mrs. Bundy is interrupted by Helen calling to Sam the cook for an order of three plates of Southern Fried Chicken. Mrs. Bundy shoots a disgusted look
“It is mankind rather who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist upon this planet.”

Deke asserts, “Mrs. Bundy, you don’t seem to understand this young lady says there was an attack on the school.”

She answers “Impossible.”

Just as Melanie gets Mitch on the phone and starts to say “Something terrible has happened” the doomsday drunk (Karl Swenson) lifts up his arm in with a damning affirmation!

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“It’s the end of the world!”

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Helen just goes about her business and orders two cocktails, “Two Bloody Marys Deke!”

The people at the counter look down at the drunken religious zealot.

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The doomsday drunk repeats himself once more, “It’s the end of the world, thus said the lord god unto the mountains and the hills and the rivers and the valleys. Behold I, even I shall bring a sword upon you. And I will devastate your high places.. Ezekiel Chapter 6”

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Helen comes back at him, “Woe unto them who rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink” he answers listlessly, “Isaiah Chapter 5, it’s the end of the world” and he picks up his shot of whisky.

Helen and Mrs. Bundy look completely unphased by his apocalyptic vision which further goes to the idea that the film is telling us that ‘we’ are not listening or paying attention, nor do we care even if it is the gospel truth. We are too busy, or uninterested in what doesn’t concern us at the moment. Or we find it just plain crazy… take your pick. Even the drunk goes back to his vice, drinking his whiskey…

Famous last words… Mrs. Bundy tells them, “I hardly think a few birds are going to bring about the end of the world.”

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Sam comes out of the kitchen “What’s a matter something wrong out here?”
Mrs. Bundy tells him, “We’re fighting a war Sam” Sam asks, “War against who?” Fisherman Sebastian Sholes (cameo by Charles McGraw) says “Against birds!”

Sebastian Soles, “Hell, maybe we’re all getting carried away with this. Admittedly a few birds did act strange, but that’s no reason to…”

Melanie argues, “I keep Tell you, this isn’t a few birds! These are gulls, crows swifts…!

Mrs. Bundy, “I have never known different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t stand a change! How could we possibly hope to fight them?”

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Hysterical mother chimes in “You’re all sitting around here debating. What do you want them to do next crash into that window…” She tells everyone to all go home and lock their doors and windows and asks how to get to freeway and the fastest way to San Fransisco…

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Now Mitch and the sheriff Al Malone come in and tell everyone that Dan Fawcett has been killed by birds the night before. The sheriff is still skeptical because he doesn’t know that for a fact. They think it’s a felony murder “They think a burglar broke in, killed him” Mitch says “How’d he explain the dead birds all over the floor?”

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Doomsday man says “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap. Yet your heavenly father feeds them.”

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The hysterical mother is waiting for the salesman to finish his drink so he can give her a ride to San Fransisco. She urges him to finish his drink already. She clutches at her kids closely. He starts telling everyone that something like this happened in Santa Cruz last year, the place was covered with seagulls.

Mrs. Bundy “That’s right Sir I recall it, a large flock of seagulls got lost in the fog and headed into the town where all the light were.”

Mrs. Bundy “The point is no one seemed to be upset about it, they had all gone the next morning just as though nothing at all had happened poor things.”

Traveling Salesman (Joe Mantell) “They made some mess too smashing into buildings and everything…{…} Gulls are scavengers, anyway. Most birds are. Get yourselves guns and wipe them off the face of the earth!… Kill ’em all. Get rid of the messy animals.

The hysterical mother starts to leave the diner.

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Mitch tells Sebastian Soles who is also the head of the cannery that he thinks they’re in real trouble. “I don’t know where it started or why but we’d be crazy to ignore it. “

Mrs. Bundy “To ignore what, the bird war?”

Mitch “Yes, the bird war, the bird attack, call it what you like they amassing out there someplace and they’ll be back you can count on that!”

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While Mitch and Sebastian are hashing it out, Melanie hears a seagull and looks toward the window.

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Suddenly they see the gas station attendant across the street getting knocked down by a gull, dropping the pump spilling gasoline.
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Hitchcock and Herrmann’s decision not to use a musical score is a stroke of calculated genius, in particular at this moment when we ourselves are looking down upon Bodega Bay from a birds eye view, as the fire is spreading in complete and utter silence. This conveys such a powerfully contemplative sequence because we are not distracted by a dramatic musical score to describe the terror that is spreading.

A cast of exciting unknowns flee trying to get away from the carnage as Melanie is trapped in a glass cage of her own, a phone booth that isn’t going to withstand the dive bombing birds for long, the glass begins to crack. And then there’s the other kind of terror, the growing strain of paranoia that pits the hysterical mother’s influence on the townsfolk against the lovely and cultured Melanie who they eventually stare at her as if they too perceived her as an agent of evil, and the catalyst for the attacks as ‘the hysterical mother’ The people in Deke’s diner stare in judgement, gazing at Melanie as if she were a ‘monster.’

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THE FACE OF ACCUSATION: MELANIE WHO IS A SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER AND ANTI-HEROINE IS AN AGENT OF THE DEVIL?

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Finally Melanie and Mitch’s mother Lydia and young sister Cathy take refuge and are trapped in their farmhouse as the birds descend upon them determined to get in!

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With no obvious motivation behind it, we are witness to an avian apocalypse leaving open so many questions up for grabs. One intriguing trope arises– that once Melanie flocked upon, besieged, bloodied and pecked into submission in the upstairs bedroom –she is rendered potently catatonic now… She is no longer a ‘threat’… and the attacks mysteriously cease. Out of sexual desire and deception arises a leveling force of nature that exposes it all and all is punished.

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Do The Birds tell us to wake up before the impending Armageddon comes because of our own thoughtlessness?

If taken as a cautionary tale, what Hitchcock then poses for us, is whether the bird’s ‘rebellion; is an awaking… a warning about social trivialities and triflings that are exemplified by not only Melanie and Mitch’s fiddling amusements, but all the players of Bodega Bay. The petty jealousies, the incestuous overtones of Mitch and his mother’s relationship as she holds an iron grip on her dutiful son.

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Where she doesn’t try to hide her bitter and nervous resentment toward Melanie for intruding on her perfect world. The sheer narcissism and stubborn provincialism as with the mannish ornithologist who refuses to believe that birds would attack. To the drunken doomsayer (Karl Swensen) whose nihilistic rant doesn’t help the fevered pitch of fear that is growing. Everyone seems to exhibit a self-serving style, except for the children who are innocent bystanders, mere sacrificial lambs to the slaughter getting in the way of the true targets.

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The film is rife with a queasy lack of civility between all three women– who all want a piece of Mitch… the cunning Melanie, his possessive mother Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) and his brooding ex-girlfriend schoolteacher Annie Hayworth played pitch perfect by the wonderful Suzanne Pleshette.

In Jürgen Müller’s colorful Movies of the ’60s- “Melanie’s arrival in Bodega Bay, hamlet to the Brenner family seems to disrupt the natural order of things. Or maybe there’s just something in the air… For something has certainly agitated the birds that inhabit the area and caused- as Hitchcock refers to them in a promotional trailer-‘our fine feathered friends’ to turn into bloodthirsty beasts. Like a bolt from the blue, the air strikes leave the town’s community paralyzed. Is some kind of environmental catastrophe to blame for their strange behavior, or have the world’s birds launched a counterattack against man’s subjugation of nature?”

As Jürgen Müller’s points out in his fabulous book on some of 60s cinema most iconic films–Hitchcock created ‘a degree of precision’ in terms of special effects… “Hitchcock and his team created the perfect illusion of massive flock of birds descending upon the fishing community. The picture’s cataclysmic finale is a tremendous compilation of 32 individual photographed shots, painted images and ‘montage techniques’.

While appearing on tv’s superb The Dick Cavett Show, which was a terrific interview, Hitchcock said that he used 3,200 trained birds for the film, going on to say that the ravens were the more intelligent and the sea gulls were actually vicious. -IMBd

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The scene where the children are running away from the schoolhouse utilized extra footage shot at the Universal sound stages to make the scenes more intense and terrifying. A few of the children were brought back and put in front of the process screen on a treadmill. They would then run in front of the screen while fake crows were attacking them. There were three rows of children and the treadmill would be regulated to ramp up the speed at a very fast rate to simulate running. A few times the children in the front row would fall, causing the children in the back to fall. It took some time to get this effect right, using trained birds, mechanical birds and hand puppets. So when you see those kids falling to the ground, you can now think to yourself, wow Hitchcock wound up getting the realism he wanted by torturing Tippi Hedren, children and birds alike!

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Hitch on the set of The Birds

The Birds (1963) is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most perplexing, stunning and mystifying films because it carries with it an inexplicable plot that does not resolve itself in the end. I couldn’t help but think of that one iconic moment in The Birds (1963), now emblazoned in my mind, as the sleek and sexy Melanie (Tippi Hedren) lighting up her cigarette on the park bench realizes that she is not alone, one by one with each glance back, the great black winged Greek chorus of crows are now lining up on the monkey bars behind her in the school yard. Watching Melanie, waiting for their impending onslaught that is to follow. The way I experience it, the film plays like a dark fairy-tale, not just a cautionary tale about ornithological monsters seeking revenge on humankind, but a down right metaphor about the fear of strong sexually independent women and the dangers they threaten to unleash upon the world.

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The great standout in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is actress Tippi Hedren as the beautiful Melanie Daniels. Hedren a former model, now an animal rights activist with her large cat sanctuary named The Shambala Preserve, a place I’d love to visit for a few days or weeks even, doing small cats– feral and stray cat rescue myself I am blessed every day to be surrounded by such amazing little souls.

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Actress Melanie Griffith with Neil the lion — at mom Tippi Hedren’s big cat sanctuary. Can I please do what she’s doing too! The Shambala Preserve in California is my dream destination…

Although leaving off from The Birds a bit frazzled, pecked to bits and traumatized by her amorous director’s fixation that even continued to plague her while she was starring in Hitchcock’s Marnie 1964. I’ve never been thrilled with the positioning of the character  Marnie nor the submissive role that Hedren was molded in by director Hitchcock.

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Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) Getty Images

Tippi Hedren is still forging a lasting legacy not only for her contribution to film history and her extraordinary beauty, it’s her intrepid advocacy for the plight of earth’s sacred large cats. The cinematic attacks she endured were by real birds not the mechanical ones she was told they would be, causing her to need a week of rest from the set. Even having her doctor yell at director Hitchcock asking, “What are you trying to do kill her!” That brutal scene in the end where she is barraged and ravaged by birds took 7 days to shoot. This is unbelievable to me, but some of the birds were actually tied to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away. I think not only Hedren was traumatized by this ordeal but I imagine those poor birds were too!

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Hedren said, “It was the worst week of my life.” Because it was such a physical and psychological drain on the actress, the production did shut down for a week.

It seems pretty poetic that the exquisite Hedren would emerge an animal lover who turned a calculated and horrifying bird attack into a mission of mercy for those beloved large cats. You are my hero Tippi Hedren!

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“All you can say about The Birds is: Nature can be awful rough on you if you play around with it.”-Alfred Hitchcock
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About to walk upstairs, right before filming the final attack scene in the upstairs bedroom Tippi Hedren asked Hitchcock “Hitchy, why would I do this?” he answered “Because I tell you to”–“On the last day, one of them got way too close to my eye,” she recalled. “I got him off of me. I sat down and started crying, and then somehow I drove myself home.”- Tippi Hedren
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It is said that Hitchcock set real birds upon Tippi Hedren in the upstairs bedroom scene in order to capture the realism he was looking for…The morning shooting was to begin, an assistant director approached her— “he couldn’t look me in the eye” told me- “the mechanical birds don’t work. So we have to use real ones.”  So real birds — with very sharp beaks & real claws —were thrown at her for a full week of shooting while the cameras rolled and she became a bloody pulp in Edith Head’s beautifully designed fashions. But as I said earlier this ordeal did not stop Hedren from going on to become a huge animal rights advocate in particular large cats, lions and tigers at her amazing Shambala Preserve.

From Wikipedia –Her strong commitment to animal rescue began in 1969 while she was shooting two films in Africa and was introduced to the plight of African lions. In an attempt to raise awareness for wildlife, she spent nearly eleven years bringing Roar (1981) to the screen. She started her own non-profit organization in 1983, the Roar Foundation, to support The Shambala Preserve, an 80-acre (32 ha) wildlife habitat which enables her to continue her work in the care and preservation of lions and tigers.

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The screenplay for The Birds was written by Evan Hunter   The Blackboard Jungle 1965) based on one of my favorite writers Daphne Du Mauriers (Rebecca 1940, My Cousin Rachel 1952, Don’t Look Now 1973) book. Du Maurier is a master at concentrating on an intricate central theme of mystery that unwinds itself until what is exposed is a highly intense and obliterating reveal as in Rebecca (1940) My Cousin Rachel (1952), and the visually mesmerizing Don’t Look Now (1973).

Du Maurier’s story was originally obtained for use on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic suspense television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents in (1955).

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Directed by Nicolas Roeg Du Maurier’s supernatural thriller Don’t Look Now, is a beautifully surreal journey starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. A film I will be featuring in the not so distant future here at The Last Drive In, as it is one of my favorite horror/suspense films of the 70s with a climax that is sublime.

The Birds is seen by many as a horror/sci-fi hybrid, what makes it a suspense thriller is how it’s basic thrust transcends the obvious category of ‘nature attacks’ and reflects more upon the violent effect that Melanie Daniels as sexual subject and her obvious female primacy has on the repressed and stuck people who live by the seascape of Bodega Bay.

There is of course the natural strain of dark & ironic humor in all of Hitchcock’s works which is highlighted with the cynicism of the bird watchers group meeting in the diner ordering fried chicken, it is what Barbara Creed calls “ironic sign of a brutish, insensitive phallic culture.”

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Tippi Hedren is such an incredible synthesis of the archetypal woman Du Maurier’s story needed to stir up the complacency in the quiet fishing community of Bodega Bay.

The birds being a metaphor for Melanie bringing the wrath down on the repressed town, she is the figure who is the catalyst for the birds as ‘Furies’ to rise up.

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The film also benefits by the presence of  Suzanne Pleshette as schoolteacher Annie Hayworth the jilted yet painfully longing ex-girlfriend of Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor).

Originally Pleshette wanted to play the lead as Melanie Daniels, but was happy to take the role of Annie Hayworth, as she wanted the chance to work with Alfred Hitchcock. The role of the schoolteacher was intended for an older woman, so Hitchcock revised the part to be a younger woman and added the back story that she had once been in a relationship with Mitch and was now the jilted jealous ex-girlfriend.

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Pleshette does an incredible job of personifying the eternally hungering lover, the unrequited woman who will yearn for her love but remains solemnly beaten down and lonely. “A tragic vision of a lingering and unsettled former love.” –Müller

Mitch Brenner is played by Rod Taylor (Raintree Country 1957, Separate Tables 1958, The Time Machine 1960, Fate is the Hunter 1964),  who is now dealing with winged avengers and not dreadful subterranean Morlocks in The Time Machine 1960

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Rod Taylor in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine (1960)

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Jessica Tandy incredible actress of stage and screen plays Mitch’s over-fixated mother Lydia Brenner and there are great appearances by Veronica Cartwright as Mitch’s young sister Cathy, Ethel Griffies as the ornithologist Mrs. Bundy, Charles McGraw as fisherman Sebastian Sholes, character actress Doreen Lang as the hysterical mother in the diner. The marvelous Ruth McDevitt as Mrs. Macgruder who owns the local pet store. Wonderfully cast of character actors, Joe Mantell, Malcolm Atterbury, Karl Swenson, Elizabeth Wilson, Lonnie Chapman as Deke Carter who owns the diner and his wife Helen played by another great character actor Elizabeth Wilson  plus quirky and tragic Doodles Weaver! (Weaver is Sigourney Weaver’s uncle, who also happened to work with Veronica Cartwright in Alien (1979). and ironically Tippi’s actress daughter Melanie Griffith appeared with Sigourney Weaver in 80s women kicking ass film Working Girl (1988).

Alfred Hitchcock actually screen-tested the pop culture cutie Sandra Dee for the role of Melanie Daniels. Dee was not a stranger to doing suspense/horror in the 70s appearing in The Dunwich Horror (1970) and Rod Serling’s television anthology tales of horror Night Gallery (1971-1972)

Hitchcock took a different approach to the film’s score, which didn’t feature any musical accompaniment, yet he kept his reliable composer Bernard Herrmann on as a consultant who created eerie bird sounds along with Lawrence A. Hampton combining real and fake birds to enhance the effect, using natural sounds. Instead the emphasis is on the use of ‘white noise and fluttering feathers’ which helps heighten the anxiety of the film without relying on an overpowering musical theme. Norman Lloyd claims that it was actually Herrmann’s idea not to use any music at all.

The sound department is key in creating a nihilistic atmosphere using electronic sound production and composition by Remi Gassmann, William Russell, Oskar Sala, Waldon O. Watson, and James V. Swartz.

Hitchcock has been very clear in several interviews about his use of multiple metaphors, as a vision of doom, fearing the end of things, the apocalyptic anxiety. As a condemnation against complacency and human’s relationship to the natural world.

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Jürgen Müller also points to Hitchcock’s recognition of his film as a “parable of fidelity -as represented by the ‘love birds’ Melanie brings with her to Bodega Bay. But these, in turn just as much as symbol of all things intangible and unpredictable. “

Hitchcock once again utilizes the work of cinematographer Robert Burks (Tomorrow is Another Day 1951 with Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, House of Wax 1953, Dial M For Murder 1954, Rear Window 1954, The Wrong Man 1956, Vertigo 1958, North by Northwest 1959)

Burk’s use of the visual landscape paints a feeling of impending catastrophe which is beautifully orchestrated to transfix an ordinary space, a quaint and beautiful place into a panorama of nightmarish horror. There’s wonderful use of odd angles that make us feel part of the disorienting chaos that ensues as the birds swoop and dive down upon their victims to annihilate them with stabbing beaks that penetrate our skin and gash and rip at our flesh. There’s an added essence of our deep seated primal fears of being eaten, of cannibalism of being devoured, not just by our over-powering mothers, but by these flying symbols of multi directed rage!

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The great metaphor that I have taken away from watching Hitchcock’s vision of Du Maurier’s story is the fear of women’s sexual primacy. Melanie is the quintessential catalyst for the birds descending upon and devouring an old and moralistic institution of decaying provincialism and repression. Mitch is slowly being devoured by his own mother. Melanie ushers in the winged troops to annihilate pietism, and too becomes potentially devoured by the same force that ultimately also examines her sexual ascendancy.

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Lisa (Grace Kelly) in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) is the prime example of a female threat who knows what she wants and goes after it regardless of risk!

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Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels, begins as a sort of Lovebird herself confined within her privileged upbringing, invisible at first glance, she is captive in her own gilded cage, as Mitch pokes at her, put there by her father and absent mother, she is the wealthy daughter of a powerful man who runs a successful newspaper in San Fransisco. Flitting about until a mysterious call draws her and the flutter of angry birds into the suffocating world of Bodega Bay. Although it can be said that she came in to town as the archetypal ‘monstrous feminine’ or the Lacanian ‘castrator’ that men fear and ultimately she goes out as the ‘castrated’.

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I can always can rely on theorist/writer Barbara Creed when it comes to talking about the monstrous- feminine. In films like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie and of course The Birds… in these films the mothers refusal to give over their powerful grip on their child, she is creating a barrier between what is rational, acceptable and normal and what is deviant. As Creed writes, “Partly consumed by the desire to remain locked in a blissful relationship with the mother and partly terrified of separation, the child finds it easy to succumb the comforting pleasure of the dyadic relationship.”

“Mitch has always don’t exactly what he’s wanted to do… But you see I don’t want to be left alone…I don’t think I could bare to be left alone. Oh forgive me.”

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Freud describes castration fear that woman experience, which emerges as an imaginary scenario–the woman believing that she will lose the object of her love, not just significant for her sexual lover, but extends to her child as well. She sees her child evolving  into adulthood, and that they will eventually leave her. So she begins to control the situation by disavowing any potential or inevitable separation. Thus the child becomes an object that is fetishised. She becomes over-possessive, infantilizes them in order to keep them close.

From her article The Construction of the Castrated Woman’ in psychoanalysis and Cinema–Susan Lurie contends that contrary to Freudian theory —where the belief is that men fear women because they appear to be castrated, men are actually relieved with the notion that women aren’t sporting tangible phalluses. Lurie says men are petrified “that she is not castrated despite the fact that she has no penis. … Woman further inspires terror because the male imagines she might castrate him during intercourse. not only does her vagina look like a devouring mouth but his experience of climaxing or release feels like a form of castration.”

It is because woman are not castrated, Lurie argues that unconsciously men set up a framework within the context of cinema where she can be symbolically neutered. as Lurie puts it “positioned as a helpless child, undermined in her role as mother, or punched for speaking her desire, while on the other hand she is literally castrated in those films where she is wounded, mutilated and murdered.” Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshestte gets her eyes plucked out and pecked to death in The Birds.)

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Lurie approached The Birds with this theory of women as castrated rather than castrator  as she saw Melanie Daniels as the castrated ‘other’ in the film’s symbolic narrative, a familiar narrative that was fluent in a period of film making where scripts utilized Lacanian psycho-analysis. It wasn’t until later on in cinema that feminist theory began to recognize and lens women as the castrating ‘other’ particularly in the genres of thriller, horror and science fiction.

“The Birds does not conclude with the Hollywood happy ending. of Mitch spanking the sassy Melanie -Instead forces unleashed from within the patriarchal id now threaten civilizations. The birds are a twentieth century embodiment of the ancient Greek familial avengers The Furies. Attacking the children’s party and answering the unconscious anger of Mrs. Brenner (Jessica Tandy) against Melanie’s presence , they represent a violent evocation of repressed paranoia. which enacts literal and symbolic castration.” -Jacqueline Rose -Paranoia and the Film System.

“Female fetishism is clearly represented within many horror texts—as instances of patriarchal signifying practices—but only in relation to male fears and anxieties about women and the question What do women want? as in The Birds, Cat People 1942, Alien 1979.”- Susan Lurie

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The Birds use of Melanie Daniels as a symbol of powerful sexual womanhood that insinuates itself into a landscape of repression, becoming the catalyst for the birds to attack is a theory that many critics and film fans seem to agree upon. Therefor you could say that it is not the birds who are the ‘monsters’ in the story, but the archetypal women, like Melanie and the devouring mother that is Lydia Brenner. (Jessica Tandy). If you wanted to extend the use of the word monster or monstrous you could also argue that the idea of family, Mitch’s claustrophobic family can be considered another ‘monster’ or thing to be feared, with it’s underlying psychological afflictions.

From The Dread Of Difference edited by Barry Keith Grant—the chapter from the famous article Her Body, Himself… by Barbara Creed

“The double bird images of Hitchcock’s The Birds 1963  function in the same way the love birds signify an ‘acceptable’ fetish, the death birds a fetish of the monstrous woman.”

In Hitchcock’s The Birds 1963 it is the birds’ beaks we see penetrating the door.

In the article’s section called WEAPONS Creed talks about the variety of ways to destroy a woman and her body and the significance of penetration and how it’s perpetrated … drills, swords, arrow spear, of course knives are examples of ‘closeness and tactility.’

“The Birds, not unlike the razor teeth of Jaws, or the vampire’s fangs and werewolf’s claws are personal extensions of the body that bring the attacker and attacked into primitive, animalistic embrace.”

In the article’s section titled THE BODY... Creed talks additionally about the slasher genre, stating that the killer is usually male, possessed of a sexual rage that she terms in ‘both roots and expression.’

His victims are mostly women, often sexually permissive, and tend to be young and beautiful. Creed writes that “cinema hardly invented the pattern of male rage killing beautiful women. Edgar Allan Poe’s famous formulation, the death of a beautiful woman is the ‘most poetic topic in the world.” -from Poe The Philosophy of Composition.

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Hitchcock , during the filming of The Birds said this: “I always believe in following advice of playwright Sardou… He said, ‘Torture the women!’ … The trouble today is that we don’t torture women enough.” -from Spoto’s book The Dark Side of Genius Alfred Hitchcock.

In revisiting the idea that the family structure itself can be seen as ‘monstrous’ here’s a quote From Hearths of Darkness The Family in the American Horror Film by Tony Williams
“But despite gratuitous violent imagery, one thing was certain—the traditional family was finished. The very virulent nature of slasher films reveals an unconscious patriarchal hysteria trying to hold back contradictory tensions, especially those involving gender roles…

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in keeping with this theory we can probably flip it to fit the matriarchal control Mitch’s mother has over his life.. Williams cites Neale who wrote about mystery writer Ambrose Bierce, who felt that there was an ‘interesting relationships between horror films and gender.’ “The monster’s very nature questions the oedipal trajectory’s gender norms.”

“Some feminist critics see significant relationships between monsters and heroines within the genre. Linda Williams notes certain horror films involve parallels between the woman’s look and monsters that query patriarchal gender definitions. Both female and monster potentially threaten a socially defined male order of things, depending on the family as an agent for social reproduction.” —from Linda Williams ‘When the Woman Looks’ in Re-Vision: Essays in Film Criticism.

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Val Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People (1944) Ann Carter and Elizabeth Russell as the tormented Barbara Ferren.

Tony Williams cites Jaqueline Roses’ analysis of The Birds who highlights the role of woman as monster within the traditional family associating the family with paranoia and aggression.

From this patriarchy from above, the idea of a strong matriarch like Jessica Tandy’s mother to Mitch can still be seen as strong and domineering but she is being led by a mythos carried out from the inherited lessons of her place within the patriarchy. Therefor, it is Mitch’s mother who is castrating, and she is following the ordered rules laid down by the absent father figure and the paradigms that exist by the ordered system of the ruling patriarchy. As Lydia, she watches her son like a harpy, she is a female archetype of a devouring mother. Contrary to Lydia is Mitch’s gentle little sister Cathy played by Veronica Cartwright, who symbolizes innocence, and represents a ‘goodness’ that must be protected, especially by Mitch who acts more like a father to her, making the entire Brenner dynamic just a bit more creepy and incestuous. There is an emphasis on Cathy that she be guarded against the intoxicating interloper that is Melanie Daniels.

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Melanie and Mitch run to Annie’s house to check on her and Cathy!

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melanie cathy and Mitch

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There is an obvious relationship between the aggressive winged attack on Melanie Daniels and Mrs. Brenner’s incestuous hold on Mitch that creates a very queasy family structure. Mrs. Brenner has a vast paranoia that she will not only lose control of Mitch she will lose him to a another female yet. Ironically the film transverses this idea and once Melanie’s power has been vanquished by the birds she is no longer a threat.

“At the climax Melanie Melanie becomes Mrs Brenner’s ideal daughter, safely recuperating within the family and no longer a sexual threat to her domain. The birds have reduced Melanie to a state of infantile dependence.”-Tony Williams

They externally symbolize Mrs Brenner’s paranoid-aggressive drives against a figure (Melanie) she regards as a ‘monster’ “The effect is a lesser but nonetheless violent version of Mrs. Bates disciplinary and punitive function in Psycho.

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The dynamic also seems to echo motifs of I Walked With a Zombie.

“And like Psycho, The Birds reveals the horror genre’s characteristic use of spectacularly violent aggression. However these fetishistic formal operations attempt to conceal material origins responsible for their manifestations.” from Jacqueline Rose -Paranoia and the Film System.

As Rose shows there is a psycho-pathological family structure, which is defining the woman as the monster being held in judgement by the patriarchy which works to wield paranoid- aggression.

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Julia Dean as Mrs Julia Ferren and Ann Carter as Amy Reed in Val Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Between Val Lewton and Alfred Hitchcock’s raw symbology with the use of animals as indicators of aggression, Williams points out Lewton’s film The Curse of the Cat People where The “Farren household and it’s Gothic interior expressed the dark consequences behind such social conditioning.”

Suffering from a mysterious traumatic accident… Mrs. Farren continually verbally abuses her daughter Barbara who becomes almost homicidal. In the house he points out the use of the stuffed cat on a branch devouring a bird. in her inner room symbolically expresses tensions within the Farren family. this object he so aptly surmises is an object much like Norma Bates’ stuffed animals and the ‘winged avengers’ as he calls them, in THE BIRDS.

Edith Barrett, Francis Dee 1943 I Walked With a Zombie

Keeping Lewton in mind once again, looking at I Walked With a Zombie Mrs Rand (Edith Barrett -the first Mrs.Vincent Price) personally embodies ideological forces structuring the family. — social class, nationalism and religion. She maintains her family using the surrounding cultural taboos of voodoo as a tool and a weapon to annihilate the threat of her sexually insurgent daughter-in-law Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon). Mrs Rand and Mrs. Brenner of The Birds have similar motivations but use different methods of controlling her family and assuring their obedience to that law.

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Charles Derry proposes a three part structure to horror films of the 60s religious guilt, psychosis and apocalyptic catastrophe. Hitchcock’s cinema illustrates Charles Derry’s view The Horror of Personality, The Horror of Armageddon, and The Horror of the Demonic. The Birds (1963) combines all three motifs.

Whether we understand Tippi Hedren’s characterization of Melanie Daniels as a Norman Bates like lost soul or ultimately a frightened impotent little girl, her presence causes the winged assault on Bodega Bay.

The Hysterical Mother (Doreen Lang) in the diner regards her as an agent of the devil. But Melanie is also the victim. As Raymond Bellower demonstrates, the first attack follows Melanie’s’ dominance under Mitch’s male gaze. But the developing cataclysm rushes toward uncontrollable apocalyptic dimensions.

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Annie Hayworth is attacked and has her eye plucked out, she can no longer see her object of desire, Mitch Brenner. Melanie in the upstairs bedroom becomes catatonic after the birds attack her, she has been disciplined into submission for the family. An ideal daughter now for Mrs Brenner.

Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

This works quite the same way for Mrs Rand in Lewton’s I Walked With A Zombie where Jessica is made a walking lifeless woman whose sexuality has been anesthetized.. She is no longer a threat to the family.

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As writer Tony Williams points out, Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels becomes the difficult devouring mother Lydia Brenner’s (Jessica Tandy) ideal daughter now that she has been reduced to a helpless child.

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As a special tribute to Tippi Hedren, here it is again –I wrote a song ‘Calling Palundra’ for this wonderful Nature’s Fury Blogathon hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis. It’s a tribute to the powerful forces of nature and feminine power which the natural world at times both worships and destroys!

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canary bites Hitch

 Till the next time my ‘fine feathered friends’, this is your Everlovin’ Joey saying be kind and beware and always feel free to feed the birds… it’s a kindness that may pay off in the’end’

 

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!”

  1. Bravo! …Or should I say, “Brava!” Jo, for your detailed, nuanced exploration of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, The Birds. You gave me a lot to chew on, next time I watch it (which will be very soon). As a child, this film was my gateway drug to Hitchcock and his singular vision. After reading Daphne du Maurier’s original story, I admired how Hitchcock managed to retain the source material’s ambiguity.

    I loved the haunting music in your wonderful video, which perfectly matched the tone of the avian mayhem. It’s a thing of beauty in itself.

    I can’t thank you enough for joining the blogathon. You truly went above and beyond. Fantastic job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Barry… your blogathon is a smash! Killer Ants, giant mollusks, bees gone amuck… Ooh stop me I’m like a kid in a candy store… There is so much to take away from Du Maurier’s & Hitch’s masterpiece. She is one of my favorite writers. If I can get my act together I’d love to talk about Don’t Look Now soon. I’m so glad that you let me join in the fun, and that you appreciated the music that I felt compelled to write. And thank you so much for the wonderful words about the music as well. Let the fury and mayhem continue! Cheers Joey

      Like

      1. PS: I loved your hilarious tribute to Irwin Allen’s The Swarm! I’ll bee re-watching it this weekend just to see what happens to Olivia de Havilland! What a great cast too!

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  2. Well, my summer reading got done early. This is magnificent, and that music… it made me think if the film ever got a new remaster, there’s your haunting menu music playing in the background.

    I recall seeing this as a kid and not getting it at all other than CLEARLY noticing two parts stood out: the scene with the poor guy getting blown up at the gas station looked like a series of comic book panels starting with the reaction shots and ending with the bird’s eye view (it figures) of the carnage below.

    Th second moment was that famous playground scene as the birds rack themselves up for the worst game of billiards ever. Or the ORIGINAL Angry Birds. Those poor kids got more than they signed up for!

    Not only a great read, but the stills, GIFs and screen captures are awesome. That GIf of Hitch getting bitten by the bird deserves to go viral because it’s hilarious and multi-use. Also, the still of Rod Taylor giving a fat lip to an already fat lipped Morlock made me laugh a lot just because I’m nuts like that.

    Okay, enough rambling – off to do a bit of work myself. Thanks for the motivation!

    g.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much again for being so kind! I’m thriller that you liked not only the post but my music as well!!!! It was a very fun blogathon to participate in, and working with Hitch’s images and Tippi Hedren and those fluttering stars themselves was just too much… The playground scene is forever etched in my mind, as well as the climax with poor Suzanne lying on the walkway with suggested eyes pecked out. Hitchcock really loved torturing his women. As much as I adore his work, his women in peril really suffered for his art. Hitch was such a sill man too, I’ve been re watching his television series as it tickles me and some of the performances by the BEST characters actors in the biz are just so memorable it blows my mind.. Isn’t that little canary nipping at his finger hilarious… Have you seen The Time Machine recently? Morlocks still give me the heebies. I like that you’re nuts like that. Join the club.

      Hope you got some good work cookin’ talk soon I’m sure! Cheers Joey

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The music you wrote is haunting – perfect for the imagery!

    Good point re: the way Tippi H. holds her arm/hands to her head to stop the bleeding from the seagull attack. I never noticed before how birdlike it is.

    This film makes me uncomfortable in two ways: (1) the birds themselves and (2) the striking physical similarities between Tippi and Jessica T. – same hairstyle, similar wardrobe. Makes me wonder about Rod T.’s character…

    I enjoyed your review very much – lots of food for thought there, as usual! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ruth! There’s so much I picked up on while studying it for Barry’s big Blogathon bash! You know the biggest thing I took away was how critics, theorists, Hitchcock himself suggests from Du Maurier’s story, that Melanie represents the embodiment of possibly ‘evil’ because of her supposed wicked ways. I say BAH!!!! to that. Melanie Daniels is an anti-heroine in every word. So she was born into a rich family. Abandoned by her mother, she isn’t the one who manipulated Rod Taylor’s character, it was his manversizing judgement of her jumping into a damn fountain in Rome, that caused him to play that snotty joke on her in the pet shop claiming she deserved jail time. Meanwhile he’s a defense attorney for a guy who killed his wife for changing the channel while he was watching a football game. Melanie, in actuality is a very kind person, who was yes independent but by no means a hateful trollop like Pandora had the power to summon the natural world to come crashing down in the form of biting beaks and fearsome feathers!!! Ok rant over… I’m glad you enjoyed the music video too. I am such a fan of Tippi Hedren now, it is my dream journey to go to Shambala Preserve and snuggle with a big lovable lion. Of course I only rescue the smaller variety feline, but the big cats are capable of such love, I’m glad she’s a champion for them. Kind of ironic since she was assaulted by pigeons under the direction of Hitchcock! Gotta love that silly man… Cheers.. PS I’ve got a big undertaking for the Classic Film History bash coming up. Hope I can rise to the occasion… Hope you’re smashing too!

      Liked by 1 person

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