The Faces of Jaws

Everyone knows the stars of the movie “Jaws”. Between them, the three actors had Oscar nominations for five other roles and one win for best actor. All three leads had long and distinguished filmographies. I would never say anything to diminish the contributions that they made to the film. The movie however has a background cast that is made up not of necessarily great actors but great faces. When you look at the characters, most of whom appeared in only one scene and often without a line, you get a real feeling for the community of fishermen and tourist business owners and other locals that are likely to make up the population of Amity Island.

Robert Shaw’s Quint is shadowed in his scenes on land by a mysterious, mute, slack jawed lackey with a dog. He may be Quint’s usual assistant, but he apparently knows better than to get on the Orca with Quint in full Ahab mode. Ben Gardner’s most famous moment occurs underwater and at night, but he lends credibility to the film as the charter boat captain that thinks all of the bounty hunting fishermen are looney.

Locals like Polly, the Chief’s secretary, seem to have aged under the sun and the fog of the island. We only see the back of the irate store owner as he berates the jobber who failed to bring in the correct summer stock, but we can tell from his posture and the face of the man he is confronting, he expects people to listen to him. The harbor master is almost a parody of old sea captains from the area, and by the way he was a dead ringer for my Father in Law.

If you want to look despair in the eye and have it followed up by fury, glance at Mrs. Kitner as she confronts the Chief on his feckless handling of the original shark attacks. The local motel owner is scowling at the news that the beaches are closed and she drops the dead bird on the conversation when she tells the crowd at the public meeting that the joke about the bounty being in cash or check is not funny. Her eyes tell you she sees no humor there.

The collection of oddballs they gathered for the successful bounty hunters is hysterical. One guy looks like the kid from “Deliverance” all grown up, the other two look like bowling pros who are slumming for the weekend by fishing for shark. The media guys are played by real media guys, slightly out of their element. Benchly looks like a condescending elitist, pontificating on camera about the island being terrorized.  Screenwriter Gottlieb is mostly in the background but fits as the reporter who is more booster than newsman.

The stuntman who dies in the estuary looks more like he belonged in the little rowboat he occupied than any day sailing vessel. The poor kid on the beach who can’t find his dog, victim number two who is often over looked, Pipet, has a nice forlorn expression. College boy drunk who missed out on getting with Chrissy and being dessert, has the long blond hair of a college crew member on Hartford’s rowing team. Best of all, the two little stinkers who play the practical joke with the cardboard fin are perfectly snotty and whiny when they get caught. The speed with which the younger one throws his partner under the bus was amazing and he had the face of a squealer to match the performance.

None of these were big parts but they were all essential to making the movie entertaining as it sets up the confrontation that takes place in the last act.

One last face to include from this evenings screening, TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz.  If you left before the credits were over, you missed a nice little coda that was also an ad for “Double Indemnity” next month.

 See you in July Ben.

Less Celebrated Lines from Jaws

We just finished our first of two screenings for Father’s Day.

The time while people filed in was filled with a few trivia cards. Come on, you gotta find something a little harder than this.

Another Jaws List for you.

 

One of the myriad of things that Jaws is noted for are the quotes that have become part of the culture. The AFI has the most memorable quote from the film at number 35 on their list of 100 Greatest Quotes 

That’s a little low in my view but still respectable.  Fans of the movie will have a dozen other quotes that they will harpoon you with if given a chance. 


Bureaucrats everywhere will be comforted by the rationalization of the mayor of Amity when he warns the Chief about being too proactive based on the first attack.

  

Mayor Vaughn: Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July. 

It’s awful hard not to smile with righteous glee when the truth gets flung back in the face of the sheepish police chief and the cow-towing medical examiner by young Mr. Hooper on examining the body of the first victim.

Hooper: Well, this is not a boat accident!

Of course  the misanthropic shark hunter Quint has no shortage of million dollar lines.

At the town meeting, after he gets a introduction worthy of Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, he sums up his offer to all the locals succinctly.

 

Quint: $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.

As Quint engages in the male ritual of one upmanship with the Chief by offering a toast with his own home made moonshine, he shows himself to be as crude as the Chief fears he might be.

Quint: Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women

Of course Quint also gets the whole monologue about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. That five minutes has some of the greatest visualizations and quotes in it and star Robert Shaw delivered it perfectly.

Chief Brody has no shortage of good lines. One quote inspired Director Bryan Singer to name his production company.

Brody: That’s some bad hat, Harry. 

Perhaps the greatest ad-libbed line ever created, comes from actor Roy Scheider, when he first gets a look at their nemesis. He backs of in fear and awe and tells Quint everything he should know about what is going to happen.

 Brody: You’re gonna need a bigger boat.  

 

This post however, is a salute to some of the lesser lines in the film. They often convey a character or render a bit of humor in the first half of the movie. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who appears in the film as the local newsman Meadows, was a TV writer who added punch to most of the script which had a spine from novelist Peter Benchley. He is almost certainly responsible for the quotes that follow, many of which are spoken in the background of the scene.

The Chief’s Secretary is in only one scene but she quickly conveys to the audience how mundane the work of the police department in Amity should be. Her big piece of news is the complaint from some of the local businessmen.

“It seems that the nine year olds from the school have been karate-ing the picket fences.”–Polly

The mayor says it in more than one spot, Amity is a summer town, it depends on summer dollars.  When the Chief goes to the hardware store to get the materials for printing “Beaches Closed” signs, we hear in the background the local merchant complaining to the jobber who has failed to bring the requested summer product. You can tell from his language that he’s an “Islander”.

“This stuff isn’t going to help me in August, the summer ginks come down here in June.”–Store Owner

The Chief’s Deputy conveys his sense of powerlessness, lack of status and personal insecurities when the Chief instructs him to let Polly do the printing on the signs. He demurs with an understated question.

“What’s the matter with my printing?”–Hendricks

As the town selectmen announce support for closing the beaches, the Mayor tries to buy some calm with his pronouncement that the closure will only last 24 hours. The Chief says, “I never agreed to that”, but from the crowd comes the fearful response.

“Twenty four hours is like three weeks.”–Unidentified voice at the Council Meeting

The story is full of colorful characters who don’t really get any development except their one or two scenes. When their attempt to catch the shark from a jetty on the opposite side of the island goes bad, you can hear the understatement of the year from the first guy out of the water:

“Charlie take my word for it, don’t look back”.–Denherder

Fisherman Ben Gardner has disdain for the outsiders showing up to collect the bounty put up by Mrs. Kitner on the shark. As he takes his charter out, he mutters a curse under his breath that sounds like it would come from the mouth of a local fisherman.

“Wait till we get them silly bastards down in that rockpile they’ll be some fun, they’ll wish their fathers had never met their mothers.”–Ben Gardner

Matt Hooper attempts to be helpful by identifying the shark that is caught by one of the cast of idiots that went out on an overloaded launch. The quote itself is not so special, but the way in which it was delivered results in a laugh that is still hard to explain.

“A What?”–Belligerent Fisherman Pratt

Here is one that is so understated that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it before. Amanda pointed it out to me when we were watching the film last Sunday. After Hooper offers his help in identifying the shark, he discovers that the know it all does not always endear himself to others. He made the mistake of suggesting that the shark might not be the one who killed the little boy. The bounty hunters take umbrage and offer to stick his head in the mouth of the shark to prove their point

 

“What I’m saying is it may not be the shark, just a slight difference in semantics that I don’t want to get beaten up for.”–Hooper

Obviously the lion’s share of great lines went to the three stars. When the characters interact they reveal more about themselves to each other and us. As they are searching the waters where the shark has been feeding at night, Hooper chides the chief about being afraid of the water but living on an island. The Chief gives the only rationalization that makes sense of his situation:

“It’s only an island if you look at it from the water”.–Brody

The Mayor played by Murray Hamilton, is often seen as a villain in the story. In truth, he represents a part of the fear that the shark presents to the whole community. His way of coping is to cling to the trappings of his office and the illusion that some degree of control is still in his grasp. He’s not as worried about the shark as he is about nascent Banksyies moving into the neighborhood.

 

“That is a deliberate mutilation of a public service message.” –Mayor Vaughn

It is always funny to me when we show how predictable we are as humans. One of the prime examples of our craven natures is our desire to avoid responsibility for our actions. The world is full of excuse makers and apologists. Kids are much more honest about how this is true. When caught, one of the two kids with the cardboard fin is quick to sell out his buddy in order to weasel out of paying a penalty.

“He made me do it, he talked me into it.”– Whiny Prankster

OK, those are my choices. If you have some that you like and I neglected to mention, feel free to add them in your comments, then we will either take it under consideration or hang you up by your Buster Browns.