The right words are supremely important. One wrong word can derail all the logic of an otherwise truthful sentence - or paragraph - or book. Case in point: on page 149 of the book under review, in describing the aftermath of shooting the sequence of Tippi Hedren in the phone booth during a bird attack wherein the impact of a dummy seagull shattered the glass causing it to spray all over the actress' skin, it states: "The makeup people spent the rest of the afternoon picking out tiny bits of glass from Tippi's face." A reader is lead, thusly, to visualize bits of glass as having penetrated the skin, since they had to be picked out. Yet we learn that the film's opening sequence in the bird shop was filmed the very next day! The thing is, if Ms. Hedren had glass that truly needed picking out from her face, wouldn't there have been some residual marks thereby preventing the next's days filming - which is replete with closeups of Tippi's face? Might it be more accurate that the makeup people merely brushed bits of the candy glass off of the actress' face? Of course, "picking" bits out sounds more dramatic! But...here is a case where a single word descriptive may impact the reader's or listener's mental reconstruction of an event that they were not privy to. As with the constant use of the word "thrown" or "hurled" as the manner in which the the birds were handled in certain sequences where Tippi's character is under attack. If the birds were actually "thrown" and "hurled" at the actress, how then did the Humane Association declare that there had been no "harm or mistreatment of the birds used in this film." The ASPCA was also onset during the attic attack sequence - and I suspect that seeing birds hurled and thrown at the actress would not have been countenanced, either for the birds' sake or the actress'. However, when recounting a tale, the words 'thrown' and 'hurled' have much more dramatic punch to them than using the word "sail" as in bird-trainer Ray Berwick's description of how the sequence was filmed: "We'd have to hold the birds at a distance of maybe eight or ten feet and just sail them right at her." "Sail" is so innocuous compared to "hurl." Of course, these issues of word choice are not faults of the author of this book. I am sure he was simply describing what he had learned via his research. Anyway, as an aside, in watching the recreation of this sequence - and actually watching the entire twisted movie of THE GIRL (the horrific HBO/BBC production of Tippi's times with Hitch) I wanted to puke! Ms. Hedren has also said that the man who gave her her career and fame was "Evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous." Thankfully, the author of the book under discussion, Tony Lee Moral, offers a much more balanced approach to this aspect of the Hitch/Hedren relationship in his THE MAKING OF HITCHCOCK'S THE BIRDS. Kudos to the author for also informing his readers of the savehitchcock.com website, a fine site which admirably does what its URL says it intends to do.
As to the book itself, questions remain. Contrary to the blurb on the beautifully designed cover, this is NOT "The definitive production history of THE BIRDS." Some things are left hanging and others are erroneous. Erroneous is Chuck Connors misspelled name, always minus the 's' whenever the surname is written. This is a simple fact that someone should have caught. And in no way do we hear the voice of JFK on the radio broadcast prior to the final bird attack on the Brenner house, though Mr. Moral claims we do. In one part of the book the radio words are described as a "Kennedy-style" speech written by scriptwriter Evan Hunter. But later on they are said to be JFK's actual voice and words. Another unexplained discrepancy of fact is on page 111 wherein we are told that the man pumping gas is attacked by a real trained gull, yet a sentence later Evan Hunter is quoted as saying it was a fake bird on a wire that was used. Well, which was it? Having just watched the movie again, I'd opt for the former account - but this discrepancy isn't actually addressed in this book. And on pages 112 we are told that the the assistant director handled the attack on the school children - yet on the very next page Hitch is said to have told someone that "he had let himself become distracted by the presence of the press during the filming of the crow sequence." How Hitch allowed himself to become 'distracted' is not made clear - nor the depth of his involvement in the actual shooting of that location scene. Did Hitch let the AD handle the shoot because he was distracted by the press? This possibility is not explored. Also on page 116 in recounting the filming of the bird attack on the birthday party, we are told the sequence was filmed on location but also that "Hitchcock would recreate the entire scene in the studio." Why the Maestro would have done this is not detailed. The sequence as shown in the film seems to be entirely shot on location with none of the phony studio recreated settings apparent - such as the studio-bound sand dune sequence.
Some of the unanswered and unaddressed questions in the book are was Tippi's character's name of Melanie used because the actress' daughter was so named - or was it pure coincidence that Evan Hunter used this relatively unusual name? (I googled this question and still don't know!) We are told that one of French poet/playwright Jean Cocteau's dying wishes was to see the just released THE BIRDS - and that he did so just before he died in 1963. Yet we learn nothing of what he thought of it, if anything at all. We are told of one Frank Baker threatening a lawsuit against Hitch for plagiarizing his book THE BIRDS which detailed 'the destruction of the human race by vast hordes of savage birds, who descended in malefic force upon London, and tore it to chaos." The book was written in 1936 and author of the short story upon which Hitch's film was based, Daphne du Maurier, sympathized with Baker in his quest for justice. In Mr. Moral's book we are told that the lawsuit failed to materialize and Baker and his lawyers were "unable to file a suit for any claims of plagiarism." We are not told anything more - even though questions about this most-intriguing side-note remain.
Sadly for this book, most all of the information told herein is told wonderfully well by the real men and women who were behind THE BIRDS on the DVD's exceptional documentary ALL ABOUT THE BIRDS. The additional extras on the disc also cover much the same ground covered in the book - but have the added benefit of showing the real people in interview and easy-to-understand visuals dealing with the special effects and the making and marketing of the film. There isn't a heck of a lot that is new to the book, unfortunately.
However, if you love THE BIRDS or Hitch or movies or books or even birds themselves or all of the above, this is a handsome, engaging, interesting, mostly very well told story. The book is also extremely handsomely designed and would grace the shelf of any library.