Archive for the ‘Jaws’ Tag

5 Desert Island Movies #NationalClassicMovieDay   12 comments

swa
Some questions are hard.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my favorite films are.  My favorite films?  Do you mean my favorite films with large, radioactive insects?  My favorite films about the mob?  My favorite westerns?  War movies?  Heist films?  Films where the main character paints with his girlfriend’s blood?  That’s the thing.  I like a lot of films and quite honestly, my favorites change from day to day.  Anyway, I saw Jay from thirtyhertzrumble.com posting his top 5 and I thought I’d give it a shot.  The author of the Classic Film and TV Café, a blog about classic film and TV (no kidding), came up with the idea for this blogathon, but I found out about it too late so I’m posting my favorites anyway and attempting to give him credit.  Here goes!

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THE WOMEN (1939)

I’m not sure why, but I love fashion shows in movies.  HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE has a fun one too.  Great stuff.  I’m not even a clothes person.  I am not the woman with 200 pairs of shoes or an outfit for every occasion…at all.  It doesn’t matter.  The wacky over-the-top couture fits the ‘I can get my nails done daily because the hardest work I do all week is hail a cab’ lifestyle.

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So practical.

The clever and often overlapping dialogue written by Clare Booth Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin, David Ogden Stewart, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald makes fun of the wealthy consumers in this film while still allowing us to like them.  I’m not sure if it would pass the Bechdel test because these women talk about men a lot.  They also talk about themselves and their hopes for family and love.  Not all ambition hangs out in the boardroom, after all.  The women in THE WOMEN talk about things that still come up today.  I’m your wife and the mother of your children, but I still have to look like a model and greet you every day with a negligee on and a soufflé in the oven.  I also have to be a good sport about it and look the other way when you pinch the cigarette girl.  Welcome to 2016, 1939.  THE WOMEN is a smart film that holds up.

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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

My teenager adores this film and the two of us sit on the couch and laugh like fools throughout the entire movie.  If it’s on in the morning, she will get up.  Let me repeat that.  SHE WILL GET UP.  Remember, she’s 18.  I love this film.  This is another movie with a ton of stuff going on.  The asides and in jokes become clearer after each viewing and the physical humor is some of the best in film.  The Marx brothers work so well together.  The choreography and timing in the scenes in the ship’s stateroom and the hotel in New York are as complex as any dance number Fred Astaire dreamed up and the sarcastic put downs still crack me up.  It’s worth seeing just for “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the orchestra pit.  Major smiles.

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“Peanuts!”

thestrangerposter

THE STRANGER (1946)

I’ve read that Welles didn’t care for this one, but he was wrong.  There, I said it. First of all, it looks fabulous.

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A gym has never looked so good.

Those shadows and chiaroscuro get me all hot and bothered.  Also, Nazis.  I love Nazis in films of the 1940s.  It’s all black and white.  There’s none of this police action/Vietnam/should we really be there crap.  They’re Nazis.  They’re bad.  End of story.  I also love films about the seedy underbellies of otherwise lovely places.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT, BLUE VELVET, even THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ROPE have that ‘Come over for a cup of tea, Aunt Clara.  I’ll move the body out of the spare room.’ feel to them.  Edward G. Robinson has a lot of fun with this one.  Robinson takes his time ruminating over Welles and his possible ties to the death camps and insinuates himself into his life until it all goes pear-shaped for the murderer.  Just terrific.  Orson Welles makes a great bad guy too.  I think Loretta Young is a bit shrill in THE STRANGER, but she unravels nicely.

Jaws-5

JAWS (1975)

While JAWS started the whole summer blockbuster thing, it wasn’t the first creature feature.  Universal had THE WOLF MAN and DRACULA and the 1950s showed us what radiation could do to desert ants and crickets.  In Japan, Godzilla and his cohorts/enemies (depending on which film you’re watching) destroyed and saved Tokyo countless times.  Sometimes, the scientists found a creature in the ice.  THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DEADLY MANTIS defrosted the terrible beings and hurled them at an unsuspecting public.  THEM! gave us the prototype for the modern creature movies and it’s wonderfully done.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Spielberg was a big THEM! fan.  I digress.  I love JAWS.  There’s something about it that makes me so happy.  The soulless leviathan threatens the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Amity Island and Quint, Hooper, and Brody band together to kill the beast and save the day.  Here’s another black and white film.  The shark eats kids and dogs.  He’s bad.  He’s the Nazi of the sea and our heroes are the allied troops tasked with taking him out.  What separates JAWS from many of the other nature vs. man films are the characters and the writing.  We get to know these guys and we’re worried about them.  We want Brody to get home to his wife and kids.  We want Quint to get his Napolean Brandy.  We also want Quint to run him into the shallows so Hooper doesn’t have to get into that damned shark cage.

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I got no spit either.

Writers, Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, and the uncredited John Milius fleshed out these men so we’d give a damn about them.  They even wrote in the island as a character.  There’s so much going on in this film that I see new things each time I watch it.  That newness would come in handy on an island.

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SURPRISE!!!!!

For the last film, I had a hard time deciding between HIS GIRL FRIDAY and HARVEY.  They’re both funny and full of terrific performances, but HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) edged HARVEY out by a whisker.  I love the frenetic, overlapping Hawksian dialogue and the amazing cast of character actors elevate this film above madcap comedy status.  I would argue that HIS GIRL FRIDAY and CASABLANCA use character actors better than any films ever did.  Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey, John Qualen, Billy Gilbert, Porter Hall and Gene Lockhart make this film.

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“Hi, babe.”

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are the stars, but without the reporters and the pols vying for a byline or political brownie points, it wouldn’t be the same.  The comments delivered from the sides of mouths in this film keep the viewer on his toes too.  You can’t sneeze while watching this for fear of missing 14 punchlines.  It’s whip smart and prescient and I’m out of breath at the end of each viewing.   This film is coming with me if I have to smuggle it in my sock.

 

These are my 5 favorites…this week.  Come back next week, and I’ll probably have a different list.

Jason-Sudeikis-devil-SNL

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Jaws (1975)   6 comments

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.


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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