How I Got Hitched

Margaret Moser finally says sorry to Stephen for 'The Birds'

The Birds
The Birds

My fascination with Rebecca began in the mid-90s, thanks to an unhealthy addiction to TCM and a newly purchased condo. Immediately, Rebecca and Casablanca both climbed right into the vague and shifting list in my head of my 10 favorite films. Both firmly remain, Rebecca most indelibly because I read the book, too.

They were different looks at the same beast, Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 book and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film. Both exquisitely preserved the allure of the oft-alluded to but never seen title character, for Rebecca herself could hardly be called a heroine. For a while, the pleasure in watching Rebecca came in falling in love with the various side characters – Judith Anderson’s bitter and wicked Mrs. Danvers, dapper George Sanders as the oily cousin Jack Favell, and the fabulous Florence Bates as the two-faced Mrs. Van Hopper – yet I’ve never seen Rebecca on the big screen.

Watching The Birds in the theatre, however, is burned into my childhood memory banks.

The film began innocently enough to entertain the three of us kids in the balcony, unattended by parents who regularly bought themselves three hours of peace and quiet on the weekends by sending us all to the movies. Forget the revisionist thinking and tut-tutting about the inadvisability of sending young children to unvetted films – it was the 60s. I thank heaven my parents weren’t paying close attention to what we saw, or I’d have missed some of the raciest moments of my young life.

I was 9, Scott was 7, and Stephen was 6. No surprise we sniggered as Tippi Hedren snaps, “I want to go through life jumping into fountains naked!” at Rod Taylor before peeling out in a snazzy sportscar. At our tender ages, the very word “naked” ensured giggles and knowing looks. We settled in for the watching, buoyed by the exciting start.

The attack of the birds at the birthday party initially produced guffaws from us, but when one started pecking a schoolgirl, Stephen started to cry and slid onto the theatre floor, spending the next few minutes there until we persuaded him back up, promising the attack was over. It was, and he reappeared in the theatre seat, facing away from the screen with his eyes covered.

The mood changed abruptly when the dour Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) discovers her neighbor with his eyes pecked out. Stephen shrieked, scared witless by the sight, and scrambled over the theatre seats. Half crouching, half-running, he fled up the balcony aisle to the safety of the lobby downstairs, sobbing. Scott and I stayed, laughing at him, for let’s-scare-Stephen was a regular sibling activity. I did go check on him and found him red-eyed in on a bench near the concession stand. Big sister duty done, I returned to watch the rest of The Birds.

Scott and I had a jolly time with The Birds. Even the gas station explosion caused raucous laughter from us. We were hard-hearted little snots and while some of the scenes made me edgy – like seeing Suzanne Pleshette pecked to death in her front steps – I feigned disdain for it. Finally unnerved, I left Scott in the theatre to go find Stephen and sit with him the rest of the movie.

I’ve no memory of our parents picking us up or what happened to the future of our weekends at the movies. When I asked Stephen if he remembered The Birds, it upset him once again, some fifty years later.

And for that, I am truly sorry.

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of Saturday’s premiere of HBO Film The Girl, about Alfred Hitchcock’s fraught relationship with leading lady Tippi Hedren, all week the Chronicle staff will be writing about their own relationships – sometimes tender, sometimes tortured – with the master of suspense.

See Marc Savlov's Monday post about Family Plot and Alfred Hitchcock Presents here.

See Richard Whittaker's Tuesday post about The 39 Steps here.

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More Alfred Hitchcock
From the Vaults: Hitchcock in Rewind
From the Vaults: Hitchcock in Rewind
Seven takes on Alfred Hitchcock in our series, 'How I Got Hitched'

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 7, 2012

How I Got Hitched
How I Got Hitched
Kate X Messer on Hitchcock keeping one eye on her at all times

Kate X Messer, Oct. 20, 2012

More by Margaret Moser
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Alfred Hitchcock, How I Got Hitched, Margaret Moser, Stephen Moser, The Birds, Rebecca, The Girl

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