Jaws Comes Back For Another Bite

When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread
(“Mack the Knife,” The Threepenny Opera.)

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was released 40 years ago this weekend (June 20, to be precise).

And the film is being shown in select theaters nationwide on June 21 and June 24. John King Tarpinian wanted to commemorate the occasion by attending but he couldn’t get in. “Jaws was sold out,” writes John. “Should have ordered tickets online.”

Here are a few of the legends that now surround the movie.

(1) The shark had many nicknames on set.

The 25-foot killer shark that terrorized screen audiences was simply called “Bruce” on set. Named after Spielberg’s lawyer, the mechanical shark was a complete disaster, sinking on it’s first voyage into the waters. The crew reportedly also referred to it as “flaws” or “the great white turd” from then on.

But some good did come from the failure. “I had no choice but to figure out how to tell the story without the shark. So I just went back to Alfred Hitchcock: ‘What would Hitchcock do in a situation like this?’ … It’s what we don’t see which is truly frightening,” Spielberg said. It’s then that Spielberg decided to use the shark’s point-of-view for more terrifying shots and added suspense.

(2) Who wrote Robert Shaw’s U.S.S. Indianapolis speech? Here is Steven Speilberg’s answer:

“I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie. I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard … Howard one day said, ‘Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.’ I said, ‘Howard, what’s that?’ And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write it as a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page. But then when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said, ‘Can I take a crack at this speech?’ and John wrote a 10-page monologue that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down … Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.”

(3) John Williams’ musical score is virtually a co-star of the movie.

Spielberg later said that without Williams’s score the film would have been only half as successful, and according to Williams it jumpstarted his career. He had previously scored Spielberg’s debut feature, The Sugarland Express, and went on to collaborate with the director on almost all of his films

In 2001, Jaws was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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