Sunday, September 14, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Jaws

The Set-Up: "Ya wanna see something permanent?" After a long, laborious, contentious day of shark-hunting in the movie Jaws, the crew of the Orca is looking more like a Ship of Fools. Nerves are frayed, personalities--especially those of Skipper Quint (Robert Shaw) and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss)--snag, and Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) of the Amity police, who can't swim and is frightened of large bodies of water, has received a nice conk on the noggin for his dedication.

Time to get drunk. This is a great scene, full of whimsical fence-mending while comparing battle-scars, it might be the comedic highlight of the film, and then director Spielberg and his writing team turn a fish-tail, and throw in the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, and the mood goes from hilarity to horror. Hitchcock was probably proud.

It is not in Benchley's book, and like all great scenes the history is a bit blurry. It shows up in an early screenplay of Benchley and Gottlieb's, but the rumors are that it was concocted by either Howard Sackler or John Milius or both, and re-written by actor-novelist/playwright Shaw.

Whoever wrote it, it took a number of takes. Sometimes, to do a drunk scene, the actors get really drunk—preparation, you know, authenticity—and the stars of Jaws were hammered when they did this scene. Stewed, as it were, to the gills. And Shaw had a hard time getting through his long, precise monologue, full of facts and figures and charged with screaming horror. It was filmed on two separate occasions, and Spielberg picked the best of takes. There's no denying the charge of Shaw's performance, underplayed, but not lacking in drama. The story and way he plays it puts a different pall on their escapade and the character and the scars he carries. And no one who hears this deftly written, deftly played monologue ever forgets it.

Ya wanna see something permanent?


ORCA'S CABINQuint: Chief.
Quint: Don't you worry about it, Chief. It won't be permanent. You wanna see somethin' permanent?
Quint: Bababoom? Hey, Hoop?
Quint: You wanna feel somethin' permanent? Just put your hand underneath my cap. You just feel that little lump? Knocko Nolan's. St. Patty's day. Boston.
Hooper: I got that beat. I got that beat. It's a moray eel. Bit right through my wetsuit.
Quint: Well, Hoop, now, listen. I, I don't know about that but ended an arm-wrestling contest in an Okie bar in San Francisco. You see this? Now I can't extend that, do you know why? Get to the semi-final, celebrating my third wife's demise, big Chinese fella, he pulled me right over! Ha!
Hooper: Look at that. It's a bull shark. He s--, he scraped me when I was taking samples.
Quint: I got somethin' for ya. That's the thrasher. You see that? Chief, thrasher's tail. Scewp!
Brody: Thrasher?
Hooper: It's a shark!
Quint: Do you want a drink? Drink to your leg?
Hooper: I'll drink to your leg.
Quint: Okay, so we drink to our legs! Ha ha ha!
(Brody checks his appendectomy scar. Decides not to say anything)Hooper: I got the creme de la creme. Right here. Hold on. Yeah, you see that?Brody: You're wearing a sweater.
Hooper: Right there. Mary Ellen Moffit. She broke my heart.
[Collective laughs]
Brody: What's that one?
Quint: What?
Brody: That one, there, on your arm?
Quint: Ah, well. It's a tattoo. I got that removed.
Hooper: Don't tell me. Don't tell me. Mother. Ha ha ha! What is it?
Quint: Mr. Hooper, that's the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
Hooper: (sobering up fast) 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 to Leyte, 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.
Quint: Huh-huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week.
Quint: 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 you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark comes the 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.
Quint: 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 eyes. 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.
Quint: 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.
Quint: On Thursday mornin,' Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bosom'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.
Quint: 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.
Quint: 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, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.
Quint: Anyway, we delivered the bomb.


Words by Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, John Milius, Howard Sackler and Robert Shaw

Pictures by Bill Butler and Steven Spielberg

Jaws is available on DVD from Universal Home Video

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