When they killed the first shark and cut it open to see whether it was the one eating bathers, they found a Louisiana license plate. "Lord," I thought, "I don't want to mess with something that would eat a Louisiana license plate."
But that was nothing. By the time they located the right shark and killed it, thereby saving the tourist trade of the New England town off whose shore it had been chomping, it had eaten four extras, a boathook, an aqualung tank, two considerable lengths of thick rope and Robert Shaw. I never believed anything would eat Robert Shaw.
It happens in Jaws, the new movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring two rows of teeth "as big as shot glasses." I was going to take notes in the theater but all I recorded was a quote from the Shaw character: "...dead eyes. When he comes at you, he don't seem to be living. Until he bites you." When the lights came on and I looked down, my ballpoint pen had been bitten in two. I don't know whether I did it, or the lady sitting next to me. It couldn't have been the shark, which wouldn't have left anything except my leg. There is a very realistic leg turning slowly, slowly in the water, with a sneaker on it, after one of the shark's attacks. But the best thing is the face in the bottom of the boat which is all that is...no, I won't spoil it for you.
I have long been wary of sharks. Once I was in a small boat with one that was maybe 30 inches long, and I was never so glad to see anything as that fish finish whipping three people and snarling their rigs into one big tangle and managing to leap out of the boat. The shark in Jaws is 24 feet long. And, yes, it is a better actor than the whale in Moby Dick. It is also smoother moving, if less engaging, than King Kong.
June 29, 1975
And I bought it. The novel Jaws was so ungripping between shark scenes that I never even read all the shark scenes, and the more advance press I saw about the movie makers' trials with their midget and their plastic shark, the more I prepared to scoff. And indeed Shaw's performance, as the crazy grizzled fisherman Quint, is the only human one that amounts to much, and even Quint is what you might call farfetched (the other major roles are Richard Dreyfuss playing a marine biologist and Roy Scheider a chief of police). Still, Jaws provides a brisk dose of gasps and shudders. It may not fill you with as much stark raving horror as you hope it will after all the reviews, but I think it will keep you bolt upright. Good exercise.
As to whether you ought to stop going out in the surf after this, well, you didn't stop prospecting for gold after Treasure of Sierra Madre did you? Let's keep things in perspective—Jaws is not as good a movie as that one, because the shark is not as interesting a character as Fred C. Dobbs or as frightening as Alfonso Bedoya, the "we don't need no stinking bodges" bandit chief. The shark makes your skin want to run off and leave you, not crawl, and those dead eyes don't stay with you very long.
But I'll say this. Spielberg has announced he is going to make "a comedy where people will laugh so much that they'll begin to throw up all over each other." If he essays this film and you go to it, wear old clothes.