Recently I was asked what’s the most influential film I’ve ever seen. I didn’t need a second to think before I answered Jaws. The influence of Jaws can been seen in several subtle and not so subtle ways in my debut feature Warhouse (starring Joseph Morgan from The Vampire Diaries).
Jaws has just been released for the first time on Blu-ray (packed to the brim with all types of bonus features and new behind the scenes footage). This is great news to me because hopefully a Blu-ray will stand up to my obsessive watching of the film. So far in my lifetime I’ve worn out two VHS and two DVD copies through repeat viewings.
I should quickly point out if you haven’t seen Jaws before (though I have no idea how this is possible) there are going to be a lot of spoilers ahead. So if you are one of the few who hasn’t seen Jaws, stop reading, watch one of the greatest movies ever made, then give this article a read.
So we are roughly 1 hour 26 minutes and 28 seconds into the movie and our three heroes are out at sea on the fishing vessel, the Orca, which has just had its closest encounter with the great white shark in the form of the “One barrel chase” scene. The two would-be shark killers, Brody and Hooper (Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss) and one actual shark killer, Quint (Robert Shaw), now know exactly what they’re up against. A giant twenty five foot man-eating shark. This leads to Scheider as Brody ad-libbing one of the most famous lines in movie history, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”.
Now the best 9 minutes of any movie begins… Spielberg plays with the tempo here; Like in all great action-adventure and war story genre films we have “the calm before the storm”. This is very much the beginning of the end. The three men have just had dinner and are drunk from the apricot brandy. Quint and Hooper are jokingly comparing scars. Brody has nothing to contribute apart from an old appendix scar so he stays quiet. This part of the scene is iconic in itself being referenced later in such films as Lethal Weapon 2 and Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. This section was the brain child of Howard Sackler, a writer friend of Speilberg’s who was also a sailor and diver.
Just as everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Brody asks about a scar on Quint’s arm. Quint pauses then tells them it’s from the Indianapolis. Hooper reacts. A deathly silence fills the air before Robert Shaw, as Quint, proceeds to give one of the most memorable and terrifying speeches ever recorded on cine film. He tells the story of the Indianapolis, a submarine that had just delivered the Hiroshima bomb to the island of Tinian to Leyte before it got two Japanese torpedoes in its side. Within 12 minutes it was sunk leaving eleven hundred men in shark-infested waters. “Eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.”
The story behind the writing and filming of the speech is the stuff of legend. Speilberg says the speech was the idea of Sackler’s and then written by a friend John Millus which was then edited down by Robert Shaw as the original speech was five plus pages. Carl Gottlieb who co-wrote and starred in Jaws with Benchley and also wrote the amazing The Jaws Log, a detailed diary of the making of the movie, which was written and published soon after the film, has a different opinion and due to his evidence and epic note taking during the production I’m inclined to believe him. He points out that the speech is unique to the film and doesn’t mention Benchley in the writing of this speech. Other friends of Spielberg did work on it, including Millus, but his input was minimal according to Gottlieb. As far as he’s concerned Robert Shaw wrote the speech. Shaw was a great writer in his own right, author of The Hiding Place and the play, The Man In The Glass Booth. He took all of the different drafts and notes and made his own, which is what ended up being filmed.
Like most of the Jaws shoot, filming this scene wasn’t with out its problems. The first day they shot it Shaw was drunk and everything didn’t go to plan. The second day (which ironically was filmed on the same day as my birthday) they tried again with Shaw being sober this time. What we see on screen is a mixture of takes from both days. Gottlieb points out this is Shaw’s genius as an actor of the old school, he could work drunk or sober and still be genius.
I’ve studied this speech like a school kid would for an important exam and, even now, it still it gets me every time. I’m hooked from the first word to last. We’re horrified by what he’s just said but we suddenly have an understanding of why Quint is Quint. It’s a perfect moment and then, just as we settle back into our seats, just as the humour comes back in the form of the song “Show me the way to go home…”, then that’s when the yellow barrel rolls past the screen. We realise the brief calm is over, that the terror is back!
Jaws is now out on Blu-Ray. The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb is now in its 12 edition. Luke Massey’s debut feature ‘Warhouse’ is being shown at the opening night of Marbella International Film Festival this October.