Jaws (1975) – The Indianapolis Speech Scene

I recently caught Jaws on the TiVo and watched it through a few times. I hadn’t seen it through in decades. I had it on VHS as a teenager and it was one of those films I would turn to again and again. I actually made a comic book out of it, pausing the tape and writing down the dialogue. I did this with a few of my favourite films.

What struck me most I think, upon watching it this time was the lack of polish, something you get used to with Spielberg films of late. I think this was only his third feature(?) and he was still in his mid-twenties at the time. It has the multi-layered chaotic dialogue style he uses in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (a film he was writing as he filmed this one). In both cases this form of naturalistic dialogue style offsets the fantastic subject of the film. In CE3K’s case it was multi coloured UFOs and here it is the notoriously unrealistic shark. The point is though, as outmoded the effects are compared todays super CGI realism, you inevitably get pulled into the story, the film making is so strong.

One example of this storytelling is Quint’s Indianapolis speech which comes midway through the all-at-sea who is hunting who section. It provides a pause, but intensified and deepens the tension. Robert Shaw’s performance is extraordinary and there are many tales of how the speech came about.

Here’s Spielberg talking about how the scene came about:

I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie.

I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.

Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.” I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.

But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.

Steven Spielberg


see also The Last Speech of Tom Joad.

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