Robert Shaw is probably the main reason for Jaws being one of my favourite films of all time, mainly of course for a scene that is three and half minutes of near-perfection. Shaw steals the scene effortlessly, aided by a few whiskeys of course, but here in 2013 most films have ten minutes without any dialogue at all, so the famous Indianapolis scene of rich dialogue without a cut is quite special and yet tragic to think that Robert Shaw died of a heart attack only 3 years after this magnificent performance as Quint.
There has been so much mythology surrounding this scene; about authorship, what was improvised, what was scripted but an interview with Spielberg on Ain’t It Cool News is quite enlightening.
Steven Spielberg advised that 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.
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.