Scene Is Believing: Jaws

 

The Indianapolis speech

There’s an old truism that goes “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a screenplay arrives at day one, take one, fully formed, immaculate. Many hands seemingly made light work of the Jaws script: novelist Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb (the main man), director Steven Spielberg, Howard Sackler and, in this scene, John Milius.

Salty shark wrangler Quint (Robert Shaw), Oceanographer and shark expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Amity police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) get drunk and compare war wounds after the first unsuccessful day out at sea on The Orca hunting the shark plaguing Amity’s tourist season beaches. Quint doesn’t suffer fools gladly as we’ve seen, but here a new found grudging respect develops between him and Hooper, who he sees as a privileged rich kid with “soft hands, city hands.” After Hooper memorably points to his chest and says “Mary Ellen Moffat. She broke my heart,” they all burst out laughing. Quint is then asked about a mark on his arm. He reveals it was once a tattoo naming the wartime ship he served on, The Indianapolis. Hooper seems to sober up immediately, he gets it, and Quint respects him for it. Brody doesn’t know – yet again he’s the outsider. Quint elaborates in a chilling monologue:

 

Hooper: You were on the Indianapolis?

Brody: What happened?

Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian Delady, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn’t know. `Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh huh. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it’s… kinda like `ol squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’ chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well… he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He’d a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

Robert Shaw first performed the scene when drunk. Spielberg called a halt, Shaw said he’d try again sober. He did so next night. Takes from both versions were intercut – you can tell from close ups whether Shaw is sober or drunk, by whether his eyes are glassy or clear.

The Indianapolis idea originally came from  Howard Sackler. John Milius expanded on the idea, but it was too unwieldy to carry. Shaw, a writer also, took it away and worked on it, cutting it down to a manageable length. He nails it, delivering a gripping, chilling tale that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, elevating what could have been a caricature into a three-dimensional, human being.

Originally posted 2013-02-06 17:38:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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