Jaws (1975)   6 comments

jawsposter

A series of bizarre deaths plagues a small community. Local officials, unable to deal with an emergency of this magnitude call in the pros from Dover.

pros
Not these guys.

The imported scientist, sensible law enforcement professional, and smart-ass guy with horse sense team up to thwart the evil ant/spider/squid/gerbil/shark’s plans for world domination or chowing down the locals. People die. At least one person does something massively heroic. Stuff blows up. In one last ditch effort to save the world from the mutant lemming/reindeer/gnat, our plucky hero takes a wild stab and saves the day. The End. I’ve just described the plots to Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Thing From Another Planet, a bunch of less professionally made B-movies from the 1950s/60s, and Jaws. I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Jaws is a drama or an action/buddy picture, but it’s not horror. To that I say, “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” Wait. Of course Jaws is horror. It’s also a drama with comedic moments, a buddy picture, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Jaws ticks a lot of boxes.

badhat
Harry

Director Steven Spielberg took the biggest novel of the day and its author, Peter Benchley, his actors, crew, and a barely functioning mechanical shark to Martha’s Vineyard to make one of the best movies of the last 40 years. The film opens with the violent death of a young girl in the ocean off fictitious Amity Island. Told by the coroner the cause of death is shark attack, chief of police Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces him to keep them open saying “We need summer dollars.” Meanwhile, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to consult with Brody as to whether or not they have a shark problem.

catpeople
Did you see a shark?

They do. The public deaths of two more people force Vaughn to close the beaches and hire Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to catch them a porker. Bonding ensues. There’s also chumming and knot-tying and drunken story-telling and death.
If the story sounds simple, that’s because it is. The simplicity of the story allows Benchley and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who also plays the local newspaperman, to fill it up with complex characters and great dialogue. When Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) meets Hooper she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.” When Mayor Vaughn stubbornly refuses to listen to Hooper and Brody and says the beaches will stay open Hooper says, ”I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” Great stuff.

amity
“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
-Mayor Larry ‘Hot Lunch’ Vaughn

The characters have some depth too. Through their anecdotes and conversations we learn more about Brody, Hooper, and Quint than cop, scientist, and crusty sea-dog. The men indulge in some macho one-upsmanship including a funny scene in which Quint chugs a can of beer (Narragansett, or ‘Gansett in the local parlance) and crushes the can. Hooper drains his drink and crushes a Styrofoam cup. Then there’s THE scene. Brody dumps chum over the side of the boat. He turns to make a smart ass comment to Quint, then turns back just in time to see a huge shark come up beside him. He backs up slowly to Quint in the cabin and says the famous, ad-libbed line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

biggerboat
Surprise!

After a day of shark hunting, the boys toss back a few and the exchange that follows has become one the most famous scenes in modern cinema. According to Steven Spielberg, he first asked Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but they both turned it down. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw. I like both Marvin and Hayden, but I can’t think of anyone other than Shaw in the role of Quint. His speech and spot-on delivery about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is a gorgeous example of story-telling. Writer Howard Sackler (Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire) had the idea for the speech. John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now) gets most of the credit, but Robert Shaw, also a writer, polished and delivered it over two nights. Editor Verna Fields pieced together the two readings to make the speech as we know it. She also blended real shark footage with that of Bruce, the mechanical wonder and made it look real…and scary. The rest of the film is a rollicking good time that is better seen than described. Since we’ve gotten to know these three men, we care when we see them in danger. They care too. You see it in their faces.

story

Great writing and acting make Jaws a wonderful film. What elevates it to top ten list status is the music. Spielberg chose to work with John Williams in Sugarland Express the year before after hearing Williams’ score for The Reivers. He asked Williams to score Jaws and that choice made the film. The soundtrack moves from ominous and suspenseful to joyous and light-hearted seamlessly and Spielberg uses the music to punctuate his scenes. Spielberg knows a good thing when he hears it. Williams has scored all but two of his films.
The writing, cast, and acting combine with the beautiful location to make Jaws a terrific film, but it’s the little things that make it one of my favorites. I love when Brody knocks over the paintbrushes in the hardware store and grimaces. When he tells his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer to make Beach Closed signs he says, “Let Polly do the printing.” Then there’s that great dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach.

great shot
Perfect.

Later Quint sees Hooper’s high-tech equipment and says, “Jesus H. Christ, what are you some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Perfect. I grew up in Massachusetts and have spent time on the Cape and islands all my life. The phrases and cadence in Jaws are pretty darn good. My dad says Jesus H. Christ on occasion. The accents even pass for the most part. One of the town council sounds more like Maine than the Vineyard, but we’ll let that go. Even Quint’s brogue of sorts fits.
I love Jaws. My top ten changes around as I see new films and re-watch old favorites, but Jaws is always there…looming in the depths.

quint

I wrote this piece for the Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled http://kelleepratt.blogspot.com/ on twitter @IrishJayhawk66

Michael It Rains…You Get Wet http://le0pard13.com/ on twitter @le0pard13

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen http://aurorasginjoint.com/ on twitter @CitizenScreen

Thank you!!

smile
Smile!

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6 responses to “Jaws (1975)

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  1. Robert Shaw has been missed in movies every day since 1978. Nice work on the post and the point of view or voice you express is entertaining because you got the movie right.

  2. Robert Shaw was a force of nature and his monologue in Jaws is one of my favourite scenes ever. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

    “Mr Hooper that is The U.S.S. Indianapolis”

  3. This remains one of my all-time best and most memorable movies I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Bar none. Wonderful blogathon contribution, Kerry. Many thanks.

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