31 Days of Summer: Jaws (1975)


Day 14: Jaws (1975)

Many people don’t know Jaws is a book adaptation. A simply film really, about a rogue shark stalking a small beach community, Jaws took fear to a new height. Released in June ’75 the film encourage people to “Don’t go in the water”. The result was reduced beach attendance that summer. Even though a shark attack is very uncommon (1 in 11.5 million chance), people just did not take any chances that summer. Some were so scared they developed lifelong fears of sharks and the open water.What is most amazing is that Jaws aka “Bruce” the shark only has a total of 4 minutes screen time in the hour and a half film. Yet, the psychology of fear is deeper that the ocean water he lives in.

The Cast

Roy Scheider plays the local town chief Brody. After seeing the first shark attack he spares no precaution during the summer season in the local beach town. Scheider has also been in Marathon Man (1976), 2010 (1984), and  David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991). He also reprises his role for the sequel film Jaws 2 (1978). The first victim is played by stunt woman Susan Backlinie who takes a late night skinny dip in the ocean only to turn up partially eaten on the beach the next morning. Her role sprung the first rule of horror movies: If you get naked, you will die. And then there is Lorraine Gary who plays Brody’s wife. She also went to star in Jaws 2 and 4 (sPlaying Hooper, who comes to help out with the town’s little shark problem is Richard Dreyfuss. Well known for his roles in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and American Graffiti (1973), Jaws is probobally what most people recognize him for. He has also starred in an array of other much beloved films such as What About Bob? (1991), Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998), Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), Another Stakeout (1993), Piranha 3D (2010), and of course he voiced Centepide in Tim Burton’s James and the Giant Peach (1996). Last but not least is Robert Shaw playing seaman Quint. Besides Jaws, Shaw co-starred in Battle of the Bulge (1969), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), and The Sting (1973) and From Russia with Love (1963).

It is reported that Shaw and Dryfuss could not stand one another. This made the tension between Quint and Hooper even better on screen. Shaw’s drinking was notorious on the film set. According to Carl Gottlieb’s book “The Jaws Log,” Shaw was having a drink between takes, at which point he announced “I wish I could quit drinking.” Much to the surprise and horror of the crew, Dreyfuss simply grabbed Shaw’s glass and tossed it into the ocean. Although Shaw could be very nice to him in private, such as the time he read Dreyfuss his entire play, The Man in the Glass Booth, while the two were sitting in the hold of the Orca, publicly he was brutal to him, telling him things like he thought Dreyfuss would only have a career “if there’s room for another Jewish character man like Paul Muni.” At one point, Shaw, remarking loudly on what he said was Dreyfuss’ cowardice, dared him to climb to the top of the Orca’s mast (about 75 feet) and jump off into the ocean, for which he would pay him upwards of $1,000 (the price rising with each taunt). Steven Spielberg finally intervened by telling Dreyfuss, “I don’t care how much money he offers you, you’re not jumping off the mast, not in my movie.”

The real star of the film, although not on screen much is Bruce. Named after his lawyer, the mechanical shark cause director Stephen Spielberg a lot of heartache over the course of filming. Not only did it sink to the ocean floor the first time it was in water but it almost never worked on cue. This lead to the director using the shark less than he wanted to, in turn making it more scary. Using the camera for the shark’s POV makes the film much scarier than watching a shark stalk people in the water. Bruce was not without heavy technical faults. During pre-production Spielberg, accompanied by friends Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and John Milius, visited the effects shop where “Bruce” the shark was being constructed. Lucas stuck his head in the shark’s mouth to see how it worked and, as a joke, Milius and Spielberg sneaked to the controls and made the jaw clamp shut on Lucas’ head. Unfortunately, and rather prophetically, considering the later technical difficulties the production would suffer, the shark malfunctioned, and Lucas got stuck in the mouth of the shark. When Spielberg and Milius were finally able to free him, the three men ran out of the workshop, afraid they’d done major damage to the creature. There were three sharks: One open on the left, one open on the right, and one fully skinned. Each shark cost approximately $250,000. The last surviving Bruce is a cast made from the original mold. It is on display at U Pick Parts in Sun Valley, CA. Of course the best place to see him would be the Jaws part of the Universal Studios Tram tour. The Jaws section of the tour opened a year after the film’s release and originally featured the Orca boat on the water. The different Jaws bodies and original mold were also left out for display along the back lot. The ride is even the marriage location in Mallrats.


  • The dead woman’s arm prop looked too fake and plastic. Spielberg buried a woman under sand to get a more authentic look.
  • The head in the boat hole scene was filmed in a home pool. Spielberg wanted more than an ordinary shock moment. However, the studio was unwilling to budget a re-shoot. So Spielberg declared that he’d pay for it himself, assembling a crew in editor Verna Fields’ back-yard swimming pool, which would serve as the underwater location. A gallon of milk gave the water enough of the look of Nantucket Sound. The boat bottom was placed in the pool and Richard Dreyfuss’ stunt double went through the action. The studio eventually ate the cost of the re-shoot, and the scene was taken to a much higher level, just by changing the composition and timing of a few feet of footage.
  • Martha’s Vinyard residents were paid $64 to scream and run across the beach as extras.
  • Author Peter Benchley was thrown off the set after objecting to the climax. Benchley thought Steven Spielberg’s idea of shooting and blowing up the compressed air tank was horrible and unrealistic. Spielberg defended himself by saying he will have held his audiences’ attention for two hours and they would believe anything in the end no matter how unrealistic or unbelievable the ending really was. Alternatively, Spielberg even thought of an ending where after the shark is blown up, Brody would look up to see several shark fins.. Spielberg even considered having Chief Brody kill the shark only to look up and observe several other fins coming towards him.
  • The first killed shark in the film is a real shark that was killed in Florida. They had to bring in a large enough shark because they could not find one on location. By the time the shark arrived it had already begun decomposing and smelled foul. To make matters worse, as it was hung from its tail, its internal organs broke loose and piled up in the back of its throat, adding to the discomfort of those forced to work in close proximity to it.
  • Quint’s boat is named “Orca”. In real life, the Orca whale (usually known as the “killer whale”) is a known enemy of the shark and the only known predator of the Great White. Originally however the boat was named The Warlock.
  • After Brody (Roy Scheider) empties his pistol at the shark from the bow of the Orca, a meteor can be seen traveling from right to left.
  • Quint’s name comes from the Latin word for “fifth”. Quint is the fifth person killed by the shark (after Chrissie Watkins, Alex Kintner, Ben Gardner’s disembodied head in boat, and Michael’s sailing teacher). This count does not include the dog and shark which brings a total of 7 on screen deaths.
  • In a biography, Spielberg revealed how Robert Duvall helped to encourage him into making the movie. In return, Spielberg offered the role of Brody to Duvall but he turned it down, fearing that it may make him too famous as a result.
  • To create the sound of a drowning woman during post-production, Susan Backlinie was positioned, head upturned, in front of a microphone, while water from above was poured down into her throat.
  • To get the crabs to move in the scene with the arm part on beach, the property master poured some hot coffee on them.
  • During the display in which Dreyfuss and Shaw compare battle scars, Scheider lifts up his shirt to reveal an appendix incision. This is not a prosthetic, but Scheider’s own scar.
  • Universal was so happy with the completed film they spent $700,000 on tv advertising.
  • Following the release of the film, a sort of hysteria overtook some members of the public, resulting in numerous incidents across the country. In one, a beach in Southern California was cleared by lifeguards due to sharks in the water, which turned out to be dolphins; and in a sadder incident in Florida, an immature pygmy sperm whale that beached itself was beaten to death by bystanders who mistook it for a shark.
  • The Orca was a 29-foot trawler that had to carry the weight of more than 20 cast and crew members at any given time. For several shots, the boat had to rock as if being struck by a huge shark from below. To accomplish this, there was a speedboat with a rope attached to it that ran under the Orca’s hull and hooked to the other side. It would be gunned at full speed, causing the Orca to rock violently and everyone on board to fall, which is what they wanted. After doing that three or four times, a hole broke open in the Orca’s hull. With safety boats rushing in and people yelling “Get the actors off the boat,” the vessel sunk in about three and a half minutes.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t much bad you can say about a classic film. The film sparked so much fear, Shark Week is celebrated almost as a national holiday. While the fear of sharks still lingers strong 40 years after it’s release beach goers still go into the water. The movie is among the best ever made because of the psychology behind the fear. Specifically, the use of the Jaws theme to elicit fear. It is a great summer movie and best watched before going to the beach.

About Raven

i am what i am. a movie fanatic with a shopping addiction.
This entry was posted in 31 Days of Summer 2015, Cult, Horror, Horror, Monster, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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