Great Scene: “Jaws”

June 29th, 2013 by

Monologues are common with stage plays, but not so much with movies. Of course, “motion pictures” are primarily a visual medium — motion pictures — so dialogue, while important, is a secondary form of communication cinematically. However, great dialogue can transcend the adage, “show it, don’t say it.” And perhaps nothing better exemplifies that point than this great scene in the movie Jaws, screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Peter Benchley.

               
           Brody is looking at a small white patch on Quint's other
           forearm.

                                 BRODY
                          (pointing)
                     What's that one, there?

                                 QUINT
                          (changing)
                     Tattoo. Had it taken off.

                                 HOOPER
                     Don't tell me -- 'Death Before
                     Dishonor.' 'Mother.' 'Semper Fi.'
                     Uhhh... 'Don't Tread on Me.' C'mon --
                     what?

                                 QUINT
                     'U.S.S Indianapolis.' 1944.

                                 BRODY
                     What's that, a ship?

                                 HOOPER
                          (incredulous)
                     You were on the Indianapolis? In
                     '45? Jesus...

           Quint remembering.

           CLOSE ON QUINT

                                 QUINT
                     Yeah. The U.S.S. Indianapolis.
                     June 29th, 1945, three and a half
                     minutes past midnight, two torpedoes
                     from a Japanese submarine slammed
                     into our side. Two or three. We was
                     still under sealed orders after
                     deliverin' the bomb...the Hiroshima
                     bomb...we was goin' back across the
                     Pacific from Tinian to Leyte. Damn
                     near eleven hundred men went over
                     the side. The life boats was lashed
                     down so tight to make the bomb run
                     we couldn't cut a single one adrift.
                     Not one. And there was no rafts.
                     None. That vessel sank in twelve
                     minutes. Yes, that's all she took.
                     We didn't see the first shark till
                     we'd been in the water about an hour.
                     A thirteen-footer near enough. A
                     blue. You measure that by judgin'
                     the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't
                     know... of course the Captain knew...I
                     guess some officers knew... was the
                     bomb mission had been so secret, no
                     distress signals was sent. What the
                     men didn't know was that they wouldn't
                     even list us as overdue for a week.
                     Well, I didn't know that -- I wasn't
                     an officer -- just as well perhaps.
                     So some of us were dead already --
                     in the water -- just hangin' limp in
                     our lifejackets. And several already
                     bleedin'. And the three hundred or
                     so laying on the bottom of the ocean.
                     As the light went, the sharks came
                     crusin'. We formed tight groups --
                     somewhat like squares in an old battle --
                     You know what I mean -- so that when
                     one come close, the man nearest would
                     yell and shout and pound the water
                     and sometimes it worked and the fish
                     turned away, but other times that
                     shark would seem to look right at a
                     man -- right into his eyes -- and in
                     spite of all shoutin' and poundin'
                     you'd hear that terrible high
                     screamin' and the ocean would go
                     red, then churn up as they ripped
                     him.  Then we'd reform our little
                     squares. By the first dawn the sharks
                     had taken more than a hundred. Hard
                     for me to count but more than a
                     hundred. I don't know how many sharks.
                     Maybe a thousand. I do know they
                     averaged six men an hour. All kinds --
                     blues, makos, tigers. All kinds.
                          (Pause)
                     In the middle of the second day,
                     some of us started to go crazy from
                     the thirst. One fella cried out he
                     saw a river, another claimed he saw
                     a waterfall, some started to drink
                     the ocean and choked on it, and some
                     left our little groups -- our little
                     squares -- and swam off alone lookin'
                     for islands and the sharks always
                     took them right away. It was mainly
                     the young fellas that did that --
                     the older ones stayed where they
                     was. That second day -- my life jacket
                     rubbed me raw and that was more blood
                     in the water. Oh my. On Thursday
                     morning I bumped up against a friend
                     of mine -- Herbie Robinson from
                     Cleveland -- a bosun's mate -- it
                     seemed he was asleep but when I
                     reached over to waken him, he bobbed
                     in the water and I saw his body upend
                     because he'd been bitten in half
                     beneath the waist. Well Chief, so it
                     went on -- bombers high overhead but
                     nobody noticin' us. Yes -- suicides,
                     sharks, and all this goin' crazy and
                     dyin' of thirst. Noon the fifth day,
                     Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura swung
                     around and came in low. Yes. He did
                     that. Yes, that pilot saw us. And
                     early evenin', a big fat PBY come
                     down out of the sky and began the
                     pickup.  That was when I was most
                     frightened of all -- while I was
                     waitin' for my turn. Just two and a
                     half hours short of five days and
                     five nights when they got to me and
                     took me up. Eleven hundred of us
                     went into that ocean -- three hundred
                     and sixteen got out. Yeah. Nineteen
                     hundred and forty five. June the
                     29th.
                          (pause)
                     Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

And here’s the scene:

Incredible delivery by Robert Shaw. Incredible scene.

[Originally posted September 19, 2008]

3 thoughts on “Great Scene: “Jaws”

  1. As great as the monologue is in the script, it’s Robert Shaw’s rewrite of it and absolutely KILLER delivery that elevates it from just another monologue to one of the greatest of all time (in any medium).

    I still get chills watching it…

  2. I can’t help but feel that unless you’re an established writer — a chunk of unbroken dialog that long would never make it past a reader or notes.

  3. Femme_Mal says:

    YES. THIS. This is one of the greatest monologues in film, the marriage of a really great script, an actor who understands and gives completely what the film demands, and a director whose ego allows the organic process of creation to unfold without stepping on it.

    This bit that Shaw added:

    “…Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. …”

    This is the salt on a prime cut of meat, the thing that ensures this monologue in its entirety is memorable even 38 years later.

    Stellar lesson to writers that sometimes our work develops a life of its own and we need to get out of its way at the moment it attains artistic self-awareness.

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