In 1975, there was a cycle of films about paranoia and corruption, a cumulative result of the political assassinations, Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation.
Prominent among this group was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” a well-made thriller, based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling book, “ that’s also effective as a political allegory, and one of the most popular action-suspense films of all time.
Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw star in this terrifying thriller about an enormous man-eating white shark that terrorizes a quiet beach resort off a New England at the peak of the tourist office.
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, and released to critical and popular acclaim on June 20, 1975,“Jaws” surpassed all previous box-office records; it’s still one of the highest grossing films in history.
“Jaws” was chosen by the prestigious American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest American Films of all time. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, “Jaws” won three: Original Score, Editing, and Sound.
Bearing similarity to the central idea of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in “Jaws,” a peaceful Long Island community, Amity, is terrorized by a mammoth shark. The desirable fantasy of spending a day in the sun and swimming out in the ocean turns out to be a collective nightmare. Instead of uniting the members against the external threat, the danger brings out the worst of the community’s “respectable” citizens.
Concerned with the residents’ safety, Chief Brodie (Roy Scheider) decides to shut down the beaches, but the corrupt mayor worries about its damaging effects on summer tourism, the town’s livelihood. Planning a cover-up, the mayor attempts to persuade the other members that “It’s all psychological.” (In “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the equivalent expression is “the trouble is inside you”). ”You yell ‘shark,’” the mayor says, “and we’ve got panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” The other experts are also immoral and untrustworthy. The coroner is willing to change his diagnosis of the first victim’s death and claim that the cause of death was a boat rather than the shark
As in other small-town films, Nature, here the calm blue ocean is presented as an unknown and unpredictable elemental force. Three men, representing different types of men, set out to sea alone in an open boat to pursue the shark. The first, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), is an intellectual scientist, a sharp expert who wears glasses. The second, Quint (Robert Shaw), a working-class fisherman-killer, an eccentric macho obsessed with sharks because of his past. And the third is Brodie, the more liberal Police Chief, who functions as the moral center. Brodie left the Big City (New York) because he wanted a quieter, simpler life. Rational, his heroism is not the bravura kind: he admits to be scared, and doesn’t even like to swim.
Conforming to the popular genre of “male buddy” the men develop an intimate camaraderie. At first, the macho man pokes fun at the expert, calling him “a college boy.” Gradually, however, they learn to respect and enjoy each other’s company. They sing together, “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” an ironic rendition, for none of them is the domesticated type.
However, reversing conventions of screen heroism, in this narrative, the masculine action hero is devoured by the shark. Ideologically, the film rejects left wing (which is usually propagated by experts) and right-wing (the macho fighter) politics, instead opting for a centrist position. According to a feminist reading, the film is sexist due to the fact that the Shark is seen as a huge snapping and swallowing vagina.
“Jaws” scary movie that affected people the way that Hitchcock’s “Psycho” did. The film made possible the famous ad line for the sequel, “Jaws 2” (which was not directed by Spielberg): “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”
The movie’s huge success launched the phenomenal career of Spielberg, who was the only director of the Best Picture nominees in 1975 not to receive a nomination; his slot went to Fellini for “Amarcord.” This was the beginning of Spielberg’s troubled relationship with the Academy and Directors Branch, that would continue the next decade with “The Color Purple,” which received 11 nominations, but denied one to its director. Was Spielberg punished for being artist and a popular entertainer?
There were many stories at the time about various difficulties and disasters during he shoot, the mechanical sharks that repeatedly malfunctioned, the sinking of a boat that was used in the film, taking with it cameras and stock. Then, rumors circulated that “Jaws” was “saved” by editor Verna Fields, who won an Oscar for her work. No doubt, Fields helped to create the pacing and tension that made “Jaws” such a grabber, but Spielberg should get credit for this aspect, too. Spielberg was a newcomer, with a few TV movies and one feature, “The Sugarland Express” (1974) to his credit, so it was easy for his detractors to dismiss his achievements as beginner’s luck, aided by a skillful cast and crew.
The ominous chugging theme of “Jaws” made composer John Williams Hollywood’s most famous musician. Though he has previously won an Oscar for “Fiddler on the Roof,“ this was Williams’ first original score to win the Oscar. After “Jaws,” Williams scored some of Hollywood’s biggest films, including the “Star War,” the “Superman,” and the “Indiana Jones” films.
This modern cinema classic forever changed the way entire generations thought about swimming in the ocean. Indeed, ”Jaws” became much more than a blockbuster, a cultural phenomenon that sparked a worldwide fascination with sharks that continues to this day.
“Jaws” the film launched a wave of other movies, newspaper and magazine articles, books and television specials, to say nothing of countless comedy sketches and film parodies. Even the artwork for the film’s poster–a huge shark rising out of the ocean depths toward a lone swimmer–has lived on, inspiring thousands of newspaper illustrations.
Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider)
Quint (Robert Shaw)
Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss)
Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary)
Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton)
Meadows (Carl Gottlieb)
Deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer)
Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie )
Cassidy (Jonathan Filley)
Estuary Victim (Ted Grossman)
Running time: 124 Minutes