It is one of the great movie scenes of all time, an iconic shot in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful 1963 movie, “The Birds.” There is an old school building and school yard on a steep hill in the northern California hamlet of Bodega near the old Russian port at Bodega Bay. Children inside the school are singing an old nursery rhyme, “She combs her hair but once a year….Nickety-nackety now, now, now.” Outside, large ugly crows alight one by one on the jungle gym in the play yard outside the school. Actress Tippi Hendren, alluring in her matching green skirt and jacket, looks at the crows and senses their growing animus. The birds are clearly agitated and seem ready to attack her en masse. Hendren runs into the school and alerts the teacher, played by actress Suzanne Pleshette, to the danger. Pleshette organizes a quiet exodus from the school, but once the children are outside, the birds take notice and swarm down on the kids.
The quiet orderly departure turns into sheer panic. The boys and girls start running down the hill towards the road below. The birds swarm over them, harshly pecking their cheeks, necks arms, and hair. Blood is spattered everywhere. One girl loses her glasses which are quickly trampled by rushing kids behind her. She is rescued, but the attack took its toll.
“The Birds” was perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s last great film. It is truly an apocalyptic story of a northern California town that is filled with hundreds or thousands of angry birds who in a burst of hysteria begin attacking area residents, often severely injuring if not killing them. These are not birds of prey, but quite ordinary birds, crows, seagulls, who attack anybody they can find.
The spectacular scene of the children was definitely not a piece of studio fakery. The characters in the movie state clearly that they are in Bodega and many of the scenes including the one of the children running down the hill from the school were actually filmed there. The key buildings in this scene were there then and remain there today.
The 150 year old Potter School five miles south of Bodega Bay in the hamlet had been abandoned and stood vacant when Hitchcock and his film crew arrived there in 1961. Hitchcock’s crew repaired the exterior of the building before filming began. Today the old Potter School is a private residence, but its exterior remains clean and fresh just as it did in “the Birds.” Next to the school is a stunning 19th century Catholic church, Saint Teresa of Avila. The church was already famous before the film because it was the subject of a photograph by Ansel Adams. The church with its beautiful interior is still in fine shape with a sparkling white interior.
The site still draws a lot of interest, especially among older tourists like myself who cherish their memories of the film. I have come here on several occasions, trudging my tired old body up the hill to the school and to the church. The school today is a private residence and a small sign invites tourists to enjoy the façade but to respect the privacy of the residents. An old antique store across the street, clearly an old abandoned shack in the movie, has an impressive array of inexpensive but high quality goods. The church next door welcomes tourists who want to explore its interior. I highly recommend a few minutes inside. There is a big and obviously ancient old apple tree next to the store with red plump fruit just ready for the picking.
I have now visited Bodega on two occasions and both times I have reenacted running down the hill just as the children did in the movie. This was fine except that the only birds in the area, a couple of seagulls flying lazily above me probably thought that I was too crazy or too ugly to bother about. But I had fun anyway.
There are other attractions in Bodega. The hamlet houses several shops selling crafts by local artists as well as a functioning old general store. Bodega Bay and nearby Dillon Beach offer some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in the area. Anyone venturing north of San Francisco should take a few hours to explore the Bodega Bay Region.
Copyright © 2017 Daniel Metraux