Alfred Hitchcock and birds

So, I bought the 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray of PSYCHO, and I was listening to the commentary track by Stephen Rebello. It’s an excellent commentary track; I consider myself something of a Hitchcock expert/affectionado, and I learned some things from it that I hadn’t noticed in the film.

However… he made the (obvious) comments about how Norman Bates is compared to the birds of prey, and to their victims, etc. He said that Hitchcock uses bird-imagery in his other films, where the birds signify disaster or danger or disruption. That’s certainly true of THE BIRDS, but I can’t think of another Hitchcock film where birds appear at all, let alone signify disruption of the normal order.

There is the taxidermist shop in the second MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, I don’t recollect if there are actually birds there, though.

Anyone have any other examples of birds in Hitchcock’s films?

I’ve been an ardent Hitchcockian for many years but I too hadn’t heard of this. The Hitchcock wiki does have a page on bird themes in Hitchcock though, listing some examples.

Thanks, aldiboronti… There’s also one of the dinners served in FRENZY, invovling squabs and large grapes, IIRC. The examples from 39 STEPS and VERTIGO seem pretty mild, not to say silly. I would guess that, with serious searching, one could find fish or horses or whatever as “recurring” themes. Sigh. Academics are starting to stretch beyond credibility, seems to me.

There are other bird references in PSYCHO – Norman Bates eats candy corn and deliberately does bird-like motions, the movie starts in Phoenix (both mentioned by Rebello). I guess we could update Wiki if we cared.

When I studied Psycho in college, the professor pointed out that in the 1960s, “bird” was British slang for “girl”–so just after the shower scene, when Norman brushes past the framed bird picture and it falls to the floor, Hitchcock is making a pun about having just “knocked off a bird.”

An interesting joke, and the sort of thing that is consistent with Hitch, but would he have been up on 1960s Brit-slang?

PSYCHO abounds with jokes and black humor. My favorite is after the murder of the detective Arbogast, in the hardware store (just before Vera Miles enters), there’s an old lady customer asking about bug poisons, insisting she wants one that’s painless.

“Mother’s not, what’s the term, not herself today.”

And, when Arbogast shows Norman the picture of Marion to identify, and says, “Don’t you want to look at it more carefully before you commit yourself?” and Norman does a double-take and says, “Commit myself?” Priceless.

The OED gives cites from as far back as Shakespeare, but it faded out and came back – with one cite from 1915, when Hitchcock would have been a teen. So it’s quite possible.

But forget the birds: Hitchcock loved shooting scenes on staircases, something few critics seem to notice (except Truffaut, who asked him about it; Hitchcock said, “stairs are very photogenic”). Some instances are:

Number Seventeen – the first portion of the film is shot on a stairway.
The 39 Steps – not the title, but Pamela discovers that Richard Hannay is telling the truth when she stands at the top of a stairway and overhears the crooks.
Suspicion – Johnny carries the sinister glass of milk up a stairway
Shadow of a Doubt – Uncle Charlie tries to kill Charlie by sawing through a step. Charlie later comes down the stairs wearing the incriminating ring, causing Charlie to decide to leave.
Notorious – final scene.
Strangers on the Train – Guy going up the stairway to kill Bruno’s father.
Vertigo – the bell tower is a stairway
Psycho – Arbogast’s murder.
Frenzy – the long tracking shot as the murder is being committed, finally reaching the street where the sound drowns out any screams.
Family Plot – final scene

There are probably others I’m forgetting.

Dial M For Murder – Latchkey under the staircase rug.