Tag Archives: USS Indianapolis

Shaw’s Jaws

“In that clear water you could see the sharks circling. Every now and then, like lightning, one would come straight up, take a sailor, and take him straight down. One came up and took the sailor next to me. It was just somebody screaming, yelling …” – Loel Dean Cox, USS Indianapolis survivor [1]

In August, 1989, my wife and I “did” southern California.  Including Disneyland and Universal Studios.  Then we only had two kids: the oldest nearly four years old, the next just over one year old.  I doubt they remember.

I clearly remember the robotic sharks at Universal Studios tour that were used in the thriller movie “Jaws.”  Parts of the movie flickered through my mind’s projector screen.  Intrigued, I resolved to watch it again, the next chance I got.  I think we rented the video tape and played it on VCR shortly thereafter (remember VCR?).  I don’t think my wife watched much of it.

Great Whites can exceed 20 feet

I can vividly remember the day that I first watched “Jaws”, in August of 1975.  I was not quite 19 years old and I was working a 7-to-4 job in an unairconditioned Arkansas sweatshop factory that summer ‘twixt my freshman and sophomore years at A-State.  I had a high school friend on his way, via Continental Trailways bus, from Wisconsin. We planned to go to a late evening showing when he arrived. It was a Friday.

Right after work was the company picnic.  It was my first introduction to southern-style deep-fried catfish and hush puppies. I was a strapping growing lad.  “Self-indulgent” doesn’t begin to describe my ravenous consumption.  I stayed late to make sure there were no leftovers. Then I hustled down to the bus station to fetch my buddy.

A few hours later – in the theatre – well, I didn’t feel so good.  Pretty rumbly in the tummy.  And a rather gruesome film didn’t help.  When shark expert “Hooper” suddenly and unexpectedly sites Ben Gardner’s face while investigating the underside of Ben’s fishing boat late at night … of course, late at night … well, I got the sudden urge to lose about five pounds of southern deep-fried crap food.  I did make it to the toilet in time — just barely.

_____________________________________

Even though my wife and I are already members of a great health club (Camp Gladiator) –  each 1-hour session is a team event –  we recently joined a second club.  It is only a couple minutes from our new home.  It is quite inexpensive, especially considering the many benefits available.  We use it to augment our team workouts with individual strength and cardio work in its huge facility. It has hydro massage, hot tub, sauna … One of the blessings of being mostly retired.

Benefits and cardio work.  In one of the cardio rooms the club has the largest video screen I’ve ever seen, outside of a theater. Probably 40 feet across.  Very wide screen. Last weekend I dropped into it for the first time to burn several hundred calories and to watch that old ‘70s suspense thriller movie that I had seen twice before.

_______________________________________

“Jaws” is blatantly a modern twist on Moby Dick. It has a great white shark instead of a great white whale; and has a crazy old seaman named Quint instead of Captain Ahab.  Directed by young, still-largely-unknown, 26-year old Steven Spielberg, and based on a book by Peter Benchley (subbing for Herman Melville), the movie stands out for a few more parallel reasons with “Moby.”

[Warning: a few minor plot spoilers ensue]

First, as a sort of old-time adventure story, there are no major female roles in the storyline.  Second, even though there is a lead protagonist in each story (Ishmael in Moby, Chief Brody in Jaws) the roles most remembered are those of supporting characters.

Roy Sheider does a very good, yet non-showy and straight up, portrayal of Police Chief Brody.  Yet he was, in my estimation, totally upstaged by two remarkable performers, playing their roles expertly.

A very young looking Richard Dreyfuss plays the shark expert Hooper.  Hooper is the rich, over-educated, know-it-all, smart-ass city boy.  Dreyfuss is convincing as Hooper, the outsider here on the island, who gets roundly antagonized for it, and refuses to change. This was when Dreyfuss was just becoming a big star (his only big hit ‘til then was “American Graffiti”); he was only 26 at the time of filming.

To me, even Dreyfuss is quite upstaged by Robert Shaw, who plays crazy seaman Quint.  Quint, it becomes obvious from his first appearance on set, is quite attracted to the idea of hunting and killing large sharks. As it turns out, he had good reason.

Robert Shaw as Quint

We learn that reason in back-to-back scenes aboard Quint’s boat, while the three main characters are out hunting the killer great white shark at night.  Of course, it’s night.

These are two of my favorite scenes in cinema history, even though overall the movie is not all that spectacular. These scenes come back to back; in fact, technically, they are probably from the same scene.

In the latter of two scenes, all three have had a bit to drink – Quint of course acting as ringleader. He starts mumbling one of his crazy sea songs and is interrupted by Hooper (Dreyfuss) who breaks out into “Show me the way to go home … (I’m tired and I wanna go to bed.  I had a little drink about an hour ago, and it got right to my head)”.  Soon, the other two have joined in – I wouldn’t call it harmony – pounding in synch on the table.  To this point in the story, the three have gotten along poorly.  Now they have bonded. That’s when the shark rams the boat.

Immediately preceding this scene comes – in my opinion — one of the best and most memorable monologues in cinema history.

Hooper and Quint have been at each other for most of the movie.  The scene has gotten a bit testy – alcohol enhanced – when Hooper and Quint start comparing injuries and scars. Antagonism is turning toward warmth and respect.

Eventually Quint wins the scar contest.

How? He is asked about a scar on his arm that turns out to be from a removed tattoo.  What did the tat say?  Hooper teases: “Don’t tell me: MOTHER”, then roars at his own joke.  Softly, Quint replies: “USS Indianapolis, 1944.”

Brody seems ignorant of the significance. Hooper is incredulous that Quint was on board.  And then Shaw/Quint breaks into a 670-word monologue describing his experience as a survivor of the USS Indianapolis.

Clearly whoever wrote the script for that had done some in-depth research on survivors’ testimony and knew how the lines should be delivered.  Turns out that person was Shaw, himself.

Besides being a terrific actor, it turns out Shaw was also an accomplished writer of novels and screenplays.  Correctly sensing that it would be one of the most important scenes of the movie, perhaps the one most remembered, Shaw did not like the original versions and convinced author Benchley and director Spielberg to let him re-write it himself.

One reading – with Shaw’s newly acquired crazy-seaman-northeastern accent – and they were all confident: Shaw had nailed it perfectly.

Filming the monologue took only two takes.  The first did not go according to plan.  Shaw was a hard drinker his whole life – had been since losing his alcoholic father to suicide at age 12 … those damned genes – and he decided he should do the scene a little under the influence.

Except, he was a lot under the influence.  He awoke the next morning with little recollection of the shoot and feared it was terrible.  I suppose everyone else thought it was OK, but Shaw begged to reshoot it.

He did it straight up sober and magnificently. [Video: Shaw’s USS Indianapolis talk] [4]

Born in England (Lancashire), and moving first to Cornwall and then to Scotland after his father’s death, Shaw must’ve had quite the breadth of accents down before coming to acting.  It’s kind of unfortunate that he got typecast in movies; it’s just that he played the crusty old-guy so well.  He was an accomplished theatre actor, touring widely and doing mostly Shakespeare, into his mid-twenties. But he did have a gift for accents; in his film career, he played a 16th century British king, an Israeli spy, a Russian spy, A German WWII officer, and a crusty Long Island fisherman.  [3]

Crusty old guy? Shaw was never an old man.  He was only 46 for filming Jaws – although he looked and acted about 66.  His hard-drinking and workaholic ways — both exacerbated by losing his beautiful wife rather young (age only 42), just before Jaws was released — led to stress and poor health. He passed on, age only 51, from a heart attack, on the road just outside his cottage in Toormakeady, Ireland.

Anyway, at least he left us some cinematic memories.

Ben Franklin famously quipped that nothing is so sure as death and taxes.  I’ll add that the quip will never die; and both can be so unfair.

Speaking of taxes, Shaw essentially made nothing for his role as Quint – even though Jaws was the first movie to gross over $100 million, was probably the first Summer Blockbuster, he got first line billing and it is probably his most remembered role.  Why? Taxes, taxes, taxes.  The jaws of taxes. His taxes were excessive that year from reported income in Canada, Ireland, Britain and the US, reducing his US take-home pay to nil.  I wonder if those governments spent his millions wisely?

Here’s hoping for some modicum of fairness in your lives, dear readers.

Adieu for now.  “Show me the way to go home.  I’m tired and I wanna go to bed ….”

Joe Girard © 2018

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2384393/Survivors-1945-sinking-USS-Indianapolis-explosions-shark-attacks-worst-sea-disaster-U-S-naval-history.html

Shaw made one slight mistake.  The torpedoes hit on June 30, not June 29.  However, the torpedoes hit at 12:03AM, so a survivor could be forgiven for thinking it was the day before. The movie script was adjusted so that the shark attack on the young boy was June 29.

[2] Story of Robert Shaw as Quint: http://www.legacy.com/news/celebrity-deaths/article/robert-shaw-as-jaws-quint-8-facts

[3] Short version of Shaw’s filmography:
From Russia, with Love
A Man for All Seasons (as Henry VIII)
Battle of Britain
Young Winston (as Winston Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph)
The Sting
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Jaws
Black Sunday
Force 10 from Navarone

 

[4] Copyrighted text to Jaw’s screen play: Shaw’s talk about the USS Indianapolis.

[Actually I’ve come across two versions of this.  Not sure which is more correct.  Guess I need to see the movie, again].

HOOPER: You were on the Indianapolis? In ’45? Jesus…

(Quint remembering)

               CLOSE UP ON QUINT

QUINT

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian ta 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. 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 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.

Ya 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, 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. 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.

{pause}

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.