Tippi Hedren sits smoking on a bench outside the school as a ton of killer birds began to gradually appear on the playground apparatus behind her. It is an iconic cinematic moment and rightfully so given that it holds up very strongly in regards to both its technical accomplishment and dramatic power.
The pacing of the scene is immaculate as it begins as a soothing moment of light relief as we sit with the protagonist listening to the calming sound of the school choir. Then typical of the subtle Hitchcock approach one bird appears in the background. Not enough to truly scare but certainly enough to create a gradual feeling of unease. Then another appears. And then more – the tension rising with each new addition and the suspense reaching a breaking point as we are forced to merely watch on with a protagonist who is still at this point of time completely oblivious to what is going on around her. Eventually she realises but by this point the horror is ready and waiting in anticipation of the ringing of the school bell.
Technically the huge gathering of birds was a very complicated shot which had to optically combine over two dozen separate elements but what really stands out is how this impressive visual is incorporated into the narrative in order to establish terror through dramatic irony, a well timed transition from calm to panic and the wonderful juxtaposition that occurs between the peaceful singing of the innocent schoolchildren and the murderous intent of the savage birds.
The master of suspense will appear for the third and final time on this list and I’m pretty sure you’re all well aware of which classic scene this will end up being.
This article was first posted on October 17, 2010