Escape — The Birds

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English born Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) wrote “The Birds” in 1952. It was published in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree (Gollancz, UK) and in the U.S. by Doubleday under the title of another of the collection’s stories, Kiss Me Again, Stranger. It contained a short novel and five novelettes or novellas (depending on how length designations were judged at the time). The stories were all of a supernatural or horror bent, witness “Monte Verita,” wherein members of a strange cult imagine themselves to be immortal, or “The Apple Tree,” where a man suspects his dead wife’s spirit to inhabit an apple tree. When he can’t bring himself to cut down the tree, he finds he has made a big mistake.

(Photo at left:  Daphne du Maurier circa 1930, age 23)

Du Maurier’s imagination was drawn to the supernatural, horror, and psychological thriller tale, with other of her stories in this vein being “Not After Midnight,” which was the title of another collection of her darker stories, said collection also containing an out-and-out science fiction story, “The Breakthrough,” which deals with a scientist attempting to capture the soul’s energy at the moment of death. Indeed, while many thought of Du Maurier as a “romantic novelist” and an author of the “romantic novel,” she deplored the term, noting that while many called her most famous work, Rebecca, a romantic novel, she thought of it as “a study in jealousy.” According to Du Maurier, the only romantic novel she wrote was Frenchman’s Creek (1941).

Of the several movies filmed from her work (including The Birds), she liked only Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973, a psychological terror/thriller starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie).

Having read “The Birds” many years ago, listened to this radio adaptation but recently, and having seen the film version twice (again many years ago and not sharing the enthusiasm for it others have), I find I prefer the original story and this radio dramatization over the film. The sense of time and place is crucial to the mood in the original story and radio play (Cornwall, on the English coast, post-World War II), and isn’t captured at all in the film version, which has switched the setting to a contemporary America, and Bodega Bay, California (near San Francisco). While there is never any clear indication as to why the birds have gone mad and attack en masse day after day, it has been theorized that Du Maurier (remember that the story was written in the early-50s) was drawing a parallel with the evils of communism and the then Soviet Union coming from the East to overwhelm the West, as the winds that drive the birds come from the east. Thus, the theory goes, sometimes there is no explanation for evil, it just is what it is. An interesting theory as theories go, and knowing that Du Maurier held certain political beliefs over the years it may hold a certain amount of validity, though it cannot be proven this is what the author intended.

So enjoy now this excellent adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic tale of terror, which aired on Escape on July 10, 1954, fifty-six years ago (almost to the day) of our showcase here.

Play Time: 29:16