TCM BIg Screen Classic: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

So it’s time again to celebrate an anniversary of a classic film. This week it is John Huston”s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, starring Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and the director’s father Walter Huston. It is a tale of desperation, paranoia, greed and ultimately madness. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times over the years but I don’t think I’ve seen it on the big screen since the seventies. It would most likely have been at a revival theater in those days, but it was presented in a digital format this evening at a local AMC as part of the ongoing programming from TCM and Fathom events.

If any of you are unfamiliar with the film, let me provide a very brief synopsis. Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, an American down on his luck and trapped in Mexico without the funds to get anywhere. He and another American become partners with a third, much older American in a prospecting venture that takes them far into the wilderness. There the search for and discovery of gold tests their mettle and the limits of their morality. The film is a cautionary tale on the subject of greed, but even more so on the issue of trust and character.

Dobbs is never a particularly nice guy but he seems decent enough and he has some reasonable limitations and goals when we first meet him. Curtin, the character played by Holt is similar in circumstances but maybe just slightly less jaded, at least until both of them are betrayed by a man who gives them jobs but refuses to come up with the money he owes them. This plants the seeds of distrust in both of them, but Dobbs seems to be the most vulnerable to suspicion after that incident. The third member of their partnership is Howard, an American who has found and lost riches as a prospector all over the world. After a couple of lucky breaks, they manage to put together a grub stake and travel into the mountains of Mexico in search of gold.

Walter Huston won an Academy Award as Howard, the old prospector with a ton of wisdom concerning both mining and human nature. The difficulty of the project takes its toll on the two younger men, but they struggle along, managing to overcome brief periods of suspicion but building greater and greater pressure as the film goes along. Huston is a joy to watch in his performance. He is wizened and gleeful and disparaging from scene to scene. His performance is memorable, and even though he admits to having some of the same faults as the other two, he is the most sympathetic character in the story.

If there are two characters that define Bogart as a cinema figure, the first would be Rick Blaine from Casablanca, but a close second would be Fred C. Dobbs. Here is a clip from a Bugs Bunny cartoon that first introduced me to this character.

The opening section shows a beaten man, but one who still has a sense of morality about him. Bogart tightens his belt from hunger, licks his lips from thirst and keeps his eyes downcast from shame as he begs for assistance from fellow Americans. Still he is generous enough to share a cigarette with another man down on his luck and to pick up a bigger share of the grub stake when the project starts. We can see in his manner however that he is becoming more paranoid by the minute once fortune smiles down on them. All three have a moment of morality failing when they choose what to do about an interloper on the trail, but they are spared having to live with the consequences by luck. Holt has a moment of weakness when he considers the idea of allowing Dobbs to stay buried in a mine collapse, but ultimately pulls himself out of it. Bogart just can’t get out of those doubts. Two or three times he is shown how wrong he is to be suspicious but he never learns to get over those doubts and he succumbs to a failed moral choice. Huston’s was the stand out performance but Bogart is no slouch. I suspect that the nature of his character prevented as much praise as the performance probably deserved.

The music by Max Steiner is another outstanding feature of the film. And let’s not forget that the movie contains the frequently misquoted lines about badges.  The film is playing two more times in theaters this week. For some reason those screenings are on Tuesday instead of the usual Fathom/TCM Wednesday schedule. So all you old movie weirdos out there, put on your stinking badges, travel back 70 years, and enjoy a classic on the big screen.

The Man Who Would Be King [Movies I Want Everybody to See]

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Review by Richard Kirkham

 [ This essay was originally Published on the deleted site “Fogs Movie Reviews” in the Fall of 2013]

All you film fans out there who were born after 1970 are about to eat your hearts out. You may know that the 70s were the second golden age of Hollywood, after all that’s when “Star Wars”, “The Godfather”, and “Alien” all started. You may even be aware that the greatest adventure film ever made, “Jaws”, was released in the Summer of 1975. It would be a solid argument to make that 1975 was the apex of Hollywood film making in that decade. Here is a partial list of the movies released that year: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Barry Lyndon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rollerball, Three Days of the Condor, Shampoo, Nashville, Seven Beauties, Cousin cousine,The Passenger as well as the aforementioned fish story. ” That is a list of essential films for anyone who loves movies to partake of. Buried in the avalanche of great films from that year, is the one film that stars Michael Caine and Sean Connery together as the leading men (each had a small part in “A Bridge Too Far”) and as a bonus it was directed by John Huston.

“The Man Who Would be King” was a dream project for John Huston. He had tried to put together a version of the movie as far back as the 1950. His original choices for leads were Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. That was the royalty of the earlier film generation. When he finally did get to put the story in front of the cameras it was to feature the royalty of the next generation of movie stars. While other names had been mentioned, someone (likely Paul Newman who turned down the film) suggested that Huston stick to using British actors. That was the best advise Huston could get because this movie is a quintessentially British story focused on a time period when the English Empire was at it’s height and the ambitions of men who were it’s subjects knew no bounds. It is this condition that allows our lead characters to work so well in the tale.

Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot are recently retired British non commissioned soldiers who decide the world at home is not big enough for the likes of them. They have developed a strategy to make themselves Kings. In particular, rulers of Kafiristan, a remote region of Afghanistan

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Daniel Dravot:” In any place where they fight, a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find – “D’you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dynasty.”

Before they begin this quest, they make the acquaintance of an English journalist working in India as well. This journalist turns out to be Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the story on which the film is based. These encounters with Kipling becomes the bookends for the film and give the story an even greater sense of adventure and  mystery. While the story itself is fantastic, the characters are ground in reality and the presence of Kipling as future narrator of the tale is all the more needed to set the mood. If you have not seen this film, be assured that when you get to the end you will empathize with the Kipling character and stare in wonder at the proof of it all. The tie in to the story concerns the masonic brotherhood that the English characters share in common. There are some great curves that follow from this early revelation. Christopher Plummer is unrecognizable in the role and he strikes just the right tone of concerned bemusement in the first act and utter astonishment in the conclusion.

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After assisting the two adventurers, Kipling fades from the story and the focus is on the travel to Kafiristan. There are several exciting incidents on the road but eventually the spine of the story begins when they arrive and connect with the remnants of an earlier English expedition. The lone survivor is a gurkha soldier named Billy Fish. He becomes their interpreter and confidant. His part in the story reminds us that the relationship of the British to their Empire was not always hostile. These fierce hill people fought valiantly alongside their English counterparts in many battles over the last two hundred years. While the relationship is not one of equality, the two adventurers are not condescending to their third partner, in fact they trust him implicitly.

The second act of the film focuses on the battles and strategy that the two employ to gain the power that brought them to the remote land to begin with. There are several small incidents that test their friendship and commitment. There is a great deal of humor involved in the training sequences and in some of the moments of conquest. That humor may be viewed as politically incorrect at times, but it is not so much based on racism as ethnocentricity. The world is still a brutal place, and while those of us living in Western cultures might view some of the behaviors as relics of the past, it may not be as true as we wish. Of course the intercultural conflicts go both directions since the English soldiers are viewed just as differently by the tribesmen they encounter as we might treat a alien from another world.

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All of this is offered up though through the performances of two of the greatest screen personae of the last fifty years of film. Connery and Caine are both Award winning performers from the generation of actors that came out of England in the sixties. Along with Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, they represent that moment in time when the culture of Great Britain was the Beatles and James Bond. Here they are in an adventure story that harkens to the glory days of the Empire and much as the Western is a romanticism of American history, a film like this served the same purpose for the English. Connery plays Daniel Dravot as the more blustery of the two itinerant soldiers. He uses his commanding voice and fierce expression to cow his enemies and establish a position of power with others. He can however take on a warm quality as he does with Kipling at one point and his subjects later on in the film. The dividing point for the two characters comes when Danny becomes infatuated with a local beauty that he sees as cementing the legacy of Alexander he has come to see himself playing.  The beautiful Mrs. Caine was cast in the part at the last minute as soon as John Huston met her.

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Peachy Carnehan has the more subdued character. Caine is more sly and cautious, except for the scene on the train in the opening of the film. Peachy does get his dander up but almost always it is in response to his partner and not the other characters. It is Michael Caine’s  delivery of the opening framing story that gives the tale it’s magical quality.

Rudyard Kipling:”Carnehan!.”

Peachy Carnehan: “The same – and not the same, who sat besides you in the first class carriage, on the train to Marwar Junction, three summers and a thousand years ago.”

It is that prologue that sucks us in and makes us want to know what has transpired in the intervening three years. Caine has a breathless line reading that is haunting and fits really well with the coda of the story. It is his willingness to hold back his voice at times that allows the ruse these two perpetuate on the populace to work. He is the brains of the outfit but he has to stand back to let his partner gain the power that both of them seek. You can also see it in his face and posture when Danny gets full of himself and Peachy has to let some of the air out of him.

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Connery has said that this is his favorite film that he appeared in. I heard him say it in person at the Archlight Cinerama Dome Theater in Hollywood three years ago. He did a short five to ten minute introduction of the film at one of the AFI Night at the Movies events. It is easy to see why he would feel this way. He and Michael Caine get to play larger than life characters who are a little bit crazed. There is action, drama, comedy and suspense throughout the story.  While there are a number of other elements of the film that make it memorable and worthy, all of them would be for naught if the two actors at the heart of the story were not perfect.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: art direction, costume design,editing and screenplay. Amazingly it did not win any of those categories. Even more amazing is that the two leads and the fine supporting performance from Plummer were not recognized at all. It is ideal to imagine that this was a result of the lushness of the films of the period. It was clearly not the inadequacy of the work done by the film makers. The score is by Maurice Jarre, the man responsible for the music of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago”. So you can expect the music to reflect the grandeur of the setting and the heroics and faults of the two main characters. If you listen to the opening track that accompanies the titles, you will hear echos of “Gunga Din” and those 1960s classics as well.

As the story unfolds and you witness the relationship between Danny and Peachy, you will see why Huston thought of Bogart and Gable and later Redford and Newman. There is great byplay with the two actors. At one point they had hoped to share the screen again, this time with their pal Roger Moore, in a version of James Clavell’s Tai Pan.  It is something to lament that this coupling of actors could not be accommodated later on. That makes it all the more important to treasure this match up of two great actors the likes of which we may never see again. 800__man_who_would_be_king_blu-ray_8_

 

Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Day 2 TCM Film Festival Friday April 7 (Part 2)

Beat the Devil

If you have never seen this odd film from director John Huston and Star Humphrey Bogart, you are likely to be thrown for a loop when you do. It is not at all what you would expect. It started out as a serious project but some of the circumstances are odd and after Truman Capote signed on to work the script, it becomes an outright comedy.

Jennifer Jones is really interesting as a woman who is fickle in love and has a tenuous relationship with the truth. The oddball characters start stacking up and although there is murder in the air, the drama of the story never seems to be the focus. Instead we are anticipating the next outrageous turn of events or quip from Bogart.

The first half of the film takes place onshore as the cast of characters awaits repairs to the vessel they are supposed to sail on. We take in local ruins, and the cast mistakenly think that characters have died. When you have Gina Lollobrigda and Jennifer Jones as romantic interests, you are a lucky guy. At least in love, but the scheme seems to be going off the rails at times. Bogart’s partners include Robert Morely and Peter Lorre and Italian actor Marco Tulli. Everyone is double crossing everyone else and you will have a hard time following the plot and scheme, but that is mostly not relevant to enjoying the picture.

The program featured a discussion of the filming by script supervisor Angela Allen, who told several amusing stories about working with the cast. Apparently, one day when they were shooting at sea, the captain misunderstood the directions and had the ship sailing off to North Africa for a couple of hours before anyone realized it. The cast and crew did not get back into port until many hours into the night and they were lucky they did not wake up in Tunisia.

TCM Film Festival: Fat City (1972)

If you have read on this blog to any depth at all, you know that i am a champion of 1970s films. This whole blog started as a project to catalogue the films I saw in the summers of the 1970s.  There is a sense of danger and grittiness to films from that era. They don’t all end well, there are some very cynical views of life shown, and characters are often flawed in ways that real people are. They have their good points but the imperfections are substantial.fat_city

John Huston as a director is a solid choice for films featuring these kinds of characters. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Beat the Devil”” feel like they were warm up exercises for a movie like this. While it may not be a Forgotten Film for old movie geeks like me, “Fat City” is a movie that probably no one in any of my classes has ever heard of much less seen. The subject matter and the style of the director would be too grim for most cinema goers these days. Heck, I’m not even sure it could be made as an independent film in the current marketplace. The closest comparison to a contemporary movie I can think of is “The Wrestler”. Both feature characters that are flawed and struggling to come to terms with their weaknesses. If you thought the end of  “The Wrestler” was tough, get ready to be punched in the gut because this movie is even more somber.  “Fat City” is a film of it’s day and it belongs in the 1970s.

Susan Tyrell was the actress nominated for one of the least glamorous characters in movies this side of  Aileen Wuornos. Oma is a woman too used up and soaking in alcohol to be of much use to anyone. She sometimes seems like she has a heart but she is completely self centered and simply can’t do anything to help the main character Tully with his own demons. She was one of the things I most remembered about seeing the film when it first came out and the last time I saw it, sometime in the early 1980s. Her subsequent career never seemed to give her a similar opportunity to shine and I recall that she passed away three or four years ago.

The greatest performance in the film is the lead and I am flabbergasted that Stacy Keach was not nominated for his role as the slightly past his expiration date boxer Billy Tully. From the dialogue free first five minutes of the film, Keach is magnetic. He feels so genuine as the abandoned former prodigy, embittered by bad luck in the ring and a wife who he loved deeply but who left him. He is coping with alcohol and working some of the toughest jobs there are to get by. The film is set in Stockton, California, an agricultural center and a city with a hard as flint personality. The actor seems to fit perfectly in this setting and as he starts to consider getting back into boxing, we have so much sympathy for him because he comes across as a guy trying to cope but in over his depth. The boxing sequences are fine but it is his scenes with Tyrell and a very young Jeff Bridges that gives the performance it’s spark. There is a terrific scene where Billy returns to the gym where his former manager is training a new crop of prospects. We know that they stopped working together on bad terms and that the last time the down on his luck Tully saw his former coach, he borrowed twenty bucks from him. Unprompted, Tully acts as if the reason he is stopping by is to make good on that loan. We know how hard it was for him to earn that twenty bucks and how valuable it is to him, but he wants to pass it off as a trifling, to get back in with the crew. Keach gives a warm half smile and a shrug of his shoulders as a way of conveying all of this and it is a great moment.

The boxing milieu of this era may be long gone but it is shown here in all of it’s difficult and hopeful sides. This is a life that seems truly hard, but it has the reward of accomplishment. Ernie Munger, the character played by Bridges is supposed to be an up and comer, discovered by Tully and groomed by his former manager, Ernie is himself something of a mess. He has a lot of potential but some of the same perils that Billy faced. It looks for a while like this movie will be about the two different trajectories these two are on. Instead, it is much more of a character and tone piece. Plot matters less than the feeling of sadness and hope that floats over all the characters. Despite the bad things that happen to each, there ends up being more compassion in this brutal existence than we have much right to expect. A cup of coffee, silently shared, holds the two boxers in each others orbt, long enough to see that although the battle is lost the fight goes on.

Stacy Keach received a very nice ovation as the guest before the screening. Eddie Muller, the noir expert and writer was the interviewer and he brought a nice sense of involvement to the event since the author of the novel the film was based on was a professional acquaintance, and his father wrote for the newspaper about fighters just like the ones we see here in the film. Keach was generous with his stories and clearly proud that the film has a great reputation at least among the cinema fans. He was probably already gone from the venue when the film finished which is too bad because the audience response was twice as enthusiastic. There was a literal roar of approval at the closing credits, which validates every positive thing you could say about this movie. This was one of my top three moments from the Festival. An unsentimental masterpiece by John Huston and actor Stacy Keach.

Oscar Blogathon–Neglected Supporting Actor Performances of 1975

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This  is my entry into the 31 days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. This week focuses on Oscar Snubs. For forty years I have been stewing on this injustice and I am thankful to have an opportunity to vent. Please be sure to check out the other posts on this project at the sites listed above. I have also included links to relevant posts of my own in this entry.

I have always maintained that 1975 was one of the great years in American movie history. Along with 1939 and 1982, this year from the middle of the last golden age of cinema had a plethora of worthy films. I would never denigrate “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, or “Dog Day Afternoon”. “Barry Lyndon” is lovely but I despise “Nashville”. The picture that deserved to win the big award is featured on the masthead of this blog so it is no secret that I harbor an admiration for Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws“. It was an oversight to neglect that movie but it was understandable given the fine work done by all in the eventual winner.

What I do find unforgivable however is the negligence of the Academy’s Actor’s branch to include two performances from that year in the supporting actor category. Not only were the two performances I want to highlight for you ignored, they were far more deserving than any of the roles that did receive nominations. Just to refresh your memory, in case you don’t carry that sort of trivia around in your head for just such a discussion, the nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category were, Brad Dourif as Billy Bibbit in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Burgess Meredith as Harry Greener in “Day of the Locust”, Chris Sarandon as Leon in “Dog Day Afternoon” and Jack Warden as Lester Karpf in “Shampoo”. The eventual winner was sentimental favorite, comedian, vaudevillian, and TV personality George Burns, as Al Lewis in “the Sunshine Boys”. All of these men did fine work, and no one should be embarrassed to have been included, but the five selected did not include career defining work from two other well known and worthy actors.

imagesLet me start with the performance that is least likely to be remembered by today’s movie goers. Brian Keith was maybe best known as a Television actor. He starred in two separate successful series, one in the 1960s, “Family Affair” where he played Uncle Bill, the bachelor guardian to his brother’s orphaned children. In the 80’s he costarred in Hardcastle and  McCormick, he had two or three other series that did not last more than a season or two as well. He made an appearance in many films since he started in the business but worked most consistently in TV. In 1975 he showed up and off in the John Milius written and directed “The Wind and the Lion“.

Keith played President Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most accomplished man we ever had in the job of President of the U.S.. It is also a role that is parodied in films, depicting Roosevelt as a reckless headstrong cowboy, whose bellicose manner was defined as the “Big Stick” policy. What may not be said as frequently is the first part of the policy, “speak Softly”. Keith manages to to convey this dual nature of Roosevelt in this adventure film inspired by a real historic incident.chi-president-election-movies-20121105-004

In the story, Sean Connery is a Berber brigand who has taken an American woman hostage for political purposes in Morocco. As he is preparing to run for the office he inherited, Roosevelt seizes upon the event as a potential campaign issue. Keith never raises his voice or shouts. His whole performance is level but with a lot of vocal nuance. Keith had a naturally gruff voice that fits with our image of the Rough Rider Teddy. He uses tone and pacing to emphasize some deep philosophical ideas well at the same time laughing at himself for taking things so seriously.

Keith has a bit of an advantage in his performance by playing opposite Director/Actor John Huston who plays Secretary of State John Hay. Huston had another one of those great voices and the two of them crossing swords in the White House or out on the shooting range made for some wonderful scenes in the movie that contrasted nicely with the action adventure scenes set in Northern Africa. Keith gets some nice moments of power conveying the certainty of his foreign policy. Roosevelt was know as a man of action and that’s exactly how he is represented here. Not by having him run around in circles crying Bully every five minutes but by speaking forcefully and decisively. His actions are not shown to be short sighted or politically motivated but rather, that he understood the political advantage his manner and policies provided him.

The closest the film comes to mocking Roosevelt is in a scene where he tries to Picture 3describe to a man from the Smithsonian, how he wants the grizzly bear he shot to be displayed. He poses with hands up and growls, and encouraged by his daughter, repeats the pose and growl on a table. Part of it is political theater, but mostly it comes across as the enthusiasm of a man who knows what he wants. Keith’s jovial nature in the scene contrasts effectively with an earlier scene in the wilderness with an entourage in tow as he speaks about the taking of the bear with a magnificent vista behind him. He is proud of the accomplishment but also sad. He expresses an admiration for the grizzly that seems heart felt and warm, again mostly because of the vocal variety he uses. He smiles with his voice and speaks wistfully about America’s place in the world.

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Connery and Keith never shared any scenes in this film. Their characters are an ocean apart but very similar in nature. In the closing of the movie is the closest we come to an interaction as Roosevelt, suffering from blindness in one eye, sits at the foot of his bear and reads a note from the Rasuli, describing their places in the world. The two actors would share the screen a few years later in the execrable “Meteor” but nothing there matches the power of Connery’s voice over narration as Keith sits in silence and acts with just his shoulders and hands in the scene.

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While Brian Keith being ignored is a disappointment since he never had another part equal to that role, the second actor ignored is a crime beyond my comprehension. If you were to ask almost anybody in the movie business, what are the most culturally influential films of the 1970s, there are really two main answers. “Star Wars” is a juggernaut that turned the geek audience into the main driving force of popular culture today. All the comic book movies that dominate the screen these days are descended from that George Lucas film in 1977. Yet it was two years earlier that the ground began to shift, the blockbuster mentality began to rule, and the talent of Steven Spielberg was recognized by the world. The failure to nominate Steven Spielberg for the best film he ever made is probably a result of jealousy by other Academy members and hubris by Spielberg himself. The failure of the actors branch to mention Robert Shaw is inexplicable.

“Jaws” is a film that everyone who watches movies knows about, and anyone who loves  movies cherishes. The story behind the making of the film has been told before. So has the story of the impact of the film. This is not the first time I have complained about the neglect of Robert Shaw either. As a vocal advocate of this movie I will freely admit that this is not an unbiased opinion. I consider it a duty to remind the world on a regular basis of the greatness of this film, and this post gives me the opportunity to do so through the means of promoting a great screen performance.

I only hope that this fan made poster is right and we get an anniversary release this coming summer.

I only hope that this fan made poster is right and we get an anniversary release this coming summer.

I have done maybe a dozen posts over the years on some aspect of this film. It is a film I know I can say I have literally seen at least a hundred times because every year since it has been available to rent or or buy on VHS, watch on cable or on laser disc or DVD, or Blu ray, I have done so approximately four times a year. It is downloaded on my Kindle right now, waiting for an opportunity during a long wait in line or a medical appointment that is taking too long to get to. One of the reasons that it is so repeatable is the performance of the aforementioned Mr. Shaw. It is a part that is fascinating every time I watch it and there is always something new and amazing to discover.

To begin with, 3450810_stdthe character of “Quint”, although introduced in the first act of the film, doesn’t reappear in the story until halfway though the movie. That first introduction is incredibly memorable, with Shaw scraping the chalkboard and chewing his food during the town council meeting. He condescends to everyone in attendance and then walks out of the scene. The force of his personality lingers over the meeting and the rest of the film. We know this smug, superior fisherman in the ancient sweater jacket and muttonchops is going to return and be a pivotal player in the story.

While he does pop up in one brief moment, chuckling to himself over the amateurs who think they can bring in the shark, his return to the story takes place on his ground. The business he runs is filled with stewing cauldrons of shark cartilage and homemade liquor.  His self assurance is spat out at the way he mocks Richard Dreyfuss’s characters attempt to provide some credentials by mentioning the America’s Cup. Shaw’s English background helped make the flinty New England  accent more realistic. His devil may care costuming impresses us with his working class manner of thinking. He is a man who knows his place in the world and is completely confident in it up to the end. Look at the body language as he surveys the equipment that Hooper is bringing aboard, he might just as well have spit. screenshot-med-31

The on set legend is that Shaw disliked Dreyfuss and that dislike carried over to his performance. Shaw was also an alcoholic who needed just one drink to turn mean. It sounds like he was the perfect fit for the role. I recently saw “The Godfather” and Sterling Hayden who played Captain McClusky in that film was originally supposed to take the role of Quint, but tax complications kept him out and fortuitously put Shaw in. I can imagine Hayden fitting the part with his haggard look and somewhat raspy voice, but the character would have played very differently. I think he would have come off as an old man set in his ways and believing in them. Shaw provides some of that, but he also manages to suggest that he is just a little off hinged.

For example, the Limerick he recites as Mrs. Brody is dropping off her city slicker husband to go on the shark hunt, sounds so much more snarky and odd coming from a younger man and one who is taking such glee in sharing it out of nowhere. Quint projects it across the sounds of the Orca being loaded and he smiles knowingly as he gets to the somewhat dirty payoff. Shaw almost puts a chuckle in his voice but stops just short of being cloying. Shaw plays Quint as if he is tickled at the chance to show up all these land lubbers. Of course he is also the master of his own boat and while Brody does complain back at one point, Shaw makes it clear in near silhouette and with a frozen posture, that he is having none of it.

quint_indianapolis_speech_jaws_robert_shawCarl Gottlieb, the credited screenwriter along with book author Peter Benchley, largely gives credit to Shaw for the most famous monologue since Shakespeare. The story he shares is a ghost story about the demons who have haunted him and turned him into the character he is. The fact that Shaw sells the story makes it all the more jaw dropping. This one scene would have won the award for any number of actors. The five minutes in this scene trump the whole five minute performance of Beatrice Straight in “Network”. Of course the role was not limited to that one scene and just about everywhere else, he burns up the screen with his stare, his grin or his hat. The by-play with Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, exists in a friendly but condescending universe.

The three leads are all well cast and well played, but it is the prickly off-kilter Quint who gets the best scene and makes the most memorable impression. Robert Shaw played a series of tough guy roles over the years. Some of them steely like Red Grant in “From Russia With Love“, or Doyle Lonnegan in “The Sting“. Others were playful and heroic like the pirate in “Swashbuckler“. “Quint encapsulates both spirits and puts a haunting backstory in the mouth of a master actor. It’s nice that George Burns got an Oscar and a new career from his role in “The Sunshine Boys”, but history shows that the Academy can make a mistake in the interests of sentimentality. It is my opinion that they did so in 1975.