You know what’s a fun task? Trying to convince anyone that Steven Spielberg’s 1975 “Jaws” is not an American classic and a nearly flawless film. It’s kind of impossible, and if you were to somehow take this position, you would either be painfully foolhardy, Rex Reed, or both.
The film is regarded as the first bonafide summer blockbuster, one that, along with subsequent seasonal smashes like “Star Wars,” were part of the death of the 1970s silver-age era of indie American filmmaking. Its enormous box-office success made irrevocable changes to the the studio business model that has turned the months between April and September into a frenzy of special effects and explosions. But “Jaws” shouldn’t be demonized for that, because unlike most of today’s blockbusters, it was and is much more than a spectacle-driven piece meant to lure audiences to the theaters.
In fact, for much of the maligned production of “Jaws,” Universal, and at times even Steven Spielberg, thought they might have a “great white turd” on their hands — one of the director’s favorite nicknames for the now-legendary malfunctioning mechanical shark that caused him all kinds of suffering on the set of the film.
Yes, the trammeled mechanical shark forced Spielberg to be more “Hitchock-ian,” but the script and guts of the story were already there. This is a film full of suspense, emotion, drama, humor, wit and terror that evoked a fear almost never seen in audiences before. It’s also a terrific picture all around, and any modern day auteur will tell you it’s a master class in film unto itself.
“As I was younger I was more courageous. Or I was more stupid. So when I think of Jaws I think of courage and stupidity and both of those things existing underwater,” Spielberg said self-deprecatingly in the 1995 video extra, “The Making Of Jaws.” Either way, both traits produced a gift to filmgoers that won’t soon be forgotten. Universal Studios Home Entertainment announced yesterday that Spielberg’s summer-blockbuster template “Jaws” arrives on Blu-ray August 14, 2012, and so in honor of the film, here are five fun “Jaws” facts you might not have known.
1. Steven Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden for the role of Quint. Lee Marvin was also considered for the role.
While author Peter Benchley optimistically suggested Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen to play the central trio of Chief Brody, Hooper and Quint, Spielberg mostly wanted to avoid star names. That being said, he offered the meatiest role of Quint to Lee Marvin at first, but Marvin wryly commented that he’d rather go fishing, although wished the young director the best with the project. Next up was Sterling Hayden, but the “Dr. Strangelove” star was in trouble with the IRS, and after an attempt to get around his income tax problems (the filmmakers tried to pay him as a writer, rather than an actor), Spielberg went with Robert Shaw, who ironically also had tax problems and had to flee the U.S. as soon as he wrapped the film. No wonder Steven Spielberg nicknamed the mechanical shark after his lawyer Bruce…
2. Spielberg angered Charlton Heston by turning him down to play Chief Brody, while Jeff Bridges could have played Hooper.
Quint wasn’t the only part that went through a number of actors before landing on the eventual winners. Charlton Heston wanted to play Chief Brody, and was so incensed when he didn’t get it that he vowed never to work with Spielberg (he later turned down the part of General Stilwell, taken by Robert Stack, in “1941” — a wise move, in retrospect…). Robert Duvall was favored by Spielberg for the part, as the actor had encouraged him to make the movie. But Duvall saw that it was a potential phenomenon, and turned it down for fear that it would make him too famous. Jeff Bridges, Jan-Michael Vincent, Timothy Bottoms and Jon Voight were all considered for Hooper before Spielberg’s pal George Lucas recommended Richard Dreyfuss, with whom he’d just worked on “American Graffiti”
3. The famous USS Indianapolis speech went through the hands of many writers.
For all its thrills and jumps (including the unforgettable pop-up head, which was actually a reshoot after Spielberg decided he wanted one more scare), the film’s most compelling scene is a verbal one: Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis, the second world war ship sunk by a Japanese torpedo, only for the survivors to be picked off by sharks. Originally invented by Howard Sackler (best known for “The Great White Hope,” and who’d later return to write “Jaws 2“), and embellished by “Apocalypse Now” scribe John Milius, the scene became a bone of contention between author Peter Benchley and credited scribe Carl Gottlieb. As they argued, Robert Shaw went and rewrote the bulk of the scene himself: it passed muster with both Benchley and Gottlieb, and remains in the final film, one of the great screen monologues.
4. Robert Shaw was drunk and belligerent throughout the shoot and fought with most of the cast and crew, but especially with Richard Dreyfuss.
As many “Jaws” fans already know, Robert Shaw — the salty and dissolute Quint, who helps Chief Brody and Dr. Hooper track the shark that is haunting the waters of Long Island, New York — was an inveterate drunk. Saucy and irate, Shaw’s real-life tempestuousness on set helped fuel the ire between him and Richard Dreyfuss‘ Hooper because it was largely a real-lfe conflict between the two actors. Dreyfuss famously said that Shaw terrified him on set. “Robert totally intimidated me,” he admitted. “I knew that on the first day I met him. He was a great gentleman, [but] he was also a terrible bully and he was really big.” When Shaw passed away in 1978, the cast and crew became even more at ease in telling these stories. In fact, during Shaw’s unforgettably chilling and aforementioned USS Indianapolis speech, when the actor went to shoot the scene, he suggested to Spielberg that he imbibe a little bit to catch a taste of the characters who were all supposed to be drunk. Shaw got so soused that Spielberg had to wrap the day early. “He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day,” Spielberg said in an interview last year. “He said, ‘Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you.’ He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken.” Still, it’s an electric, indelible performance and the actor’s alcohol problems shouldn’t undermine it.
5. Steven Spielberg didn’t like John Williams’ now-iconic theme when he heard it.
“That’s funny, John, really. But what did you really have in mind for the theme of ‘Jaws?’ ” Spielberg said to the composer when he first heard the score, presumably thinking it was too big and cartoonish to be effective at the time. Fortunately, he changed his mind as the score to “Jaws” is obviously one of, if not the most recognizable pieces of movie music of all time. Another fun fact: Williams had to run double duty at the 1976 Oscars. Already conducting the orchestra for the ceremony, when he won the Best Original Score for “Jaws” that night, he had to run up to the podium and accept his award and then quickly run down back into the orchestra pit to conduct his own walk-out music.
And if you’re looking for more shark-related fun, below you can find a promo from Universal to promote their new restoration, a selection of deleted scenes from the picture and the trailer.