Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
I haven’t done a Friday Favorite in a while, mostly because no one reads them, but I felt in the mood to revive it for at least one more week. I was recently listening to one of the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcasts which parodied sections of Jaws, and like most references to my favorite films it triggered a lot of emotions and memories about the classic 1975 film. Jaws is truly a masterpiece, far more than just its legacy of propelling Steven Spielberg to the big time and creating the modern idea of a summer blockbuster. Some highlights of the film are obvious, from John Williams’ iconic score, to Spielberg’s Hitchcockian vision for the film, to some of the all-time best scares, to lines like “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Other things are more subtle, like the genius editing by Verna Fields who does some truly creative things to build tension, or the script’s ability to make a film about a killer shark with the film’s real villain being the town’s mayor. For me, however, the best part of the film might be this:
I’ve said before that I love a good speech (several times), and Quint’s is one of the best of them all. His monologue has developed into something of a legend, with the most frequently told story being that Robert Shaw himself wrote it, turning it from a small moment into what we see above. The reality is that several writers had their hands in it, including Shaw, Howard Sackler and John Milius, but that doesn’t dilute it in the least. Up until this point in the film, Quint is almost a cartoon of a character, loud, brash, and completely at odds with the rest of the town. After this speech, we realize that Quint is a man, not just a caricature of one.
Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte – just delivered the bomb, the Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about half an hour – a tiger – thirteen footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like that you see in the calendar named ‘The Battle of Waterloo.’ And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’. Sometimes the shark go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya, right into your eyes. Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white, and then – aww, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red, and in spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and rip ya to pieces. You know, by the end of that first dawn, we 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 morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. 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 was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he 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 life jacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
The speech tells us a lot about Quint. It explains his Ahab-esque obsession with sharks, and one can imagine him moving to Amity Island after the war and making each shark kill personal for a while, taking his revenge on every shark he can get hold of. After 30 years, however, revenge hasn’t brought him any sort of satisfaction, but he keeps hunting sharks because that’s what he knows. At some point he got the tattoo of the Indianapolis removed, either because the memories became too painful, or as a way to try and get the events out of his mind, though he obviously was never fully able to. It gives him a sense of inner conflict that the character lacked up until this point. It challenges the other characters’ preconceptions of Quint, as well as the audience’s.
It also is really the driving force of the second half of the film. During the first half, the primary drama lies in Chief Brody’s and Hooper’s fight against the Mayor and the town, trying to get them to realize the danger before anyone else gets killed. Interestingly, the only person in the town who seems to be on their side is Quint, although he’s seemingly only in it for the money. However, throughout all of that, we never forget that the shark is simply an animal, attacking for food rather than out of any sinister agenda. But once our three heroes set foot on that boat, the movie changes, and it becomes a battle and a chase between them and the shark. Quint’s speech helps us subconsciously redefine the nature of the shark, making it seem more villainous and menacing than simply a vicious animal. It makes the struggle personal and gives weight to everything we see. It’s echoed in moments that follow, when Quint offers the Chief a life jacket, or when we see closeups of the shark’s eyes. And the decision to have the shark attack the boat almost immediately after this scene, beginning the film’s final stretch, helps cement this speech in our minds.
I was lucky enough to see Jaws on the big screen a couple of years ago, and while I had no doubt that it still holds up after almost 40 years I was really pleased to hear the audience’s reactions to things. Spielberg’s famous scare, when Ben Gardner’s head emerges from a hole in the boat, still got some big screams, and there was a huge cheer at the end of course. But the absolute silence during this scene spoke louder than any other reactions. It’s still riveting, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. It’s perfectly delivered and well written (mild historical inaccuracies aside), and occurs at just the right moment in the film. Jaws has always been much more than a simple shark movie or a slasher film in the water. It’s a rich, emotional, suspenseful and expertly crafted film, by my all time favorite director. And while it’s full of flashier moments, whenever I think of Jaws I’ll always picture this speech first.
What do you think? Are you a fan of Jaws? What do you think of Quint’s speech? Have you ever gotten to see Jaws on the big screen? What’s your favorite part of the film (seriously, go back and watch the editing)? Which is worse: Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge? Let me know in the comments!