18 Things to Look For the Next Time You Watch Jaws

MCA/Universal Home Video
MCA/Universal Home Video

Steven Spielberg invented the modern summer blockbuster with Jaws, and his 1975 great white shark thriller is like nothing before or after it. The director was essentially an unknown at the time, his only theatrical film having been the modestly successful The Sugarland Express. With an estimated production budget of just $7 million, the then-28-year-old turned a horror movie disguised as beachy fun into a box-office sensation that grossed about half a billion dollars worldwide.

What’s most impressive about Jaws today is how gripping it still is, thanks to clever camerawork and editing, as well as Spielberg’s innate understanding that what we don’t see is always more unsettling than what we do. You’ve almost definitely seen Jaws, but if it’s been a while, grab the popcorn and blankets and watch it in a whole new way with these interesting facts and Easter eggs in mind.

1. It's as much John Williams's movie as it is Steven Spielberg's.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

Jaws is known at least as much for the singular theme music written by composer John Williams as it is for any shot or line. The surprisingly simple arrangement of notes is played during the opening credits and repeated throughout the film, particularly to heighten scenes in which the shark attacks, and it’s impossible to get it out of your head. But when Williams first played the score for Spielberg, the director laughed and said, “That’s funny, John, really. But what did you really have in mind for the theme of Jaws?”

Thankfully, Spielberg was ultimately convinced that the score would work, since Jaws wouldn’t be close to as potent without Williams’s work, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Score. Spielberg and Williams have been tight collaborators ever since.

2. The first victim is left helpless when her paramour falls asleep.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

This movie is not exactly an endorsement of men. Among other things, the shark's first victim—a young woman—falls prey to the giant fish after she meets a guy at a hippie-ish party on the beach. He chases her toward the ocean, where she skinny-dips. He has to ask for her name again even though they’re about to hook up (it’s Chrissie), and as he’s taking off his clothes, he falls asleep! That leaves her alone in the water, where the great white pulls her to her death.

3. That woman is actually a stuntwoman.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

The first victim isn’t just a bikini babe in distress. Because of the requirements of the acting gig, Spielberg cast a stuntwoman, Susan Backlinie, who specialized in swimming scenes. If you look closely, it’s pretty obvious she’s being pulled by a rig rather than a sea creature, given the quick, rigid movements. Backlinie was actually fitted with a harness attached to a 300-pound weight, which crew members moved using ropes to drag her through the water.

4. We watch through the shark's eyes.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

One of Spielberg’s great formal tricks in Jaws is the use of POV (or point-of-view) shots, in which the audience sees things from the shark’s perspective. An underwater camera stalks the shallow floor of the ocean near the island, approaching soon-to-be victims frolicking in the water. POV shots showing a killer’s vision became a recurring trope in horror movies, especially slashers like John Carpenter’s classic Halloween, which was released three years after Jaws.

5. There is no Amity Island.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

The setting for all the human-chomping action is Amity, an idyllic island. In Peter Benchley's original novel, on which the film is based, Amity is located in Long Island, New York. Because of particular production demands, shooting took place on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. It’s probably better for the tourism industry of Martha’s Vineyard that the fictional island remains known as Amity (though the island is clearly proud of its place in film history).

6. That's a real woman's arm.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

We get our first look at the shark’s damage when police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) comes upon the corpse of the woman killed in the opening. You’d be forgiven for thinking what he sees is just a prop arm dangling out of the sand. In fact, Spielberg decided the prop looked too fake, so he opted to have a female crew member buried in the sand, leaving her arm above the surface.

7. The mayor is intolerable from the start.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn intentionally undermines Brody’s investigation into shark attacks so that the town can rake in more money from the summer beach season, leading to more casualties. But it’s his introduction, wearing an obnoxious anchor-print blazer, that signals the character as someone not to be trusted.

8. Brody fears the water, just like Spielberg.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Brody’s discomfort with the ocean is alluded to throughout the plot, and he refuses to get into the water for most of the film. It’s hard to blame him after watching Jaws. But Spielberg commented on a similar anxiety of his own. “I’m not so much afraid of sharks,” he said of his blockbuster. “I’m afraid of the water and I’m afraid of everything that exists under the water that I can’t see.” That might be why he so often depicts the ocean at night, when it’s at its most murky and unknowable.

9. A kid and a dog die, but somehow Jaws is rated PG.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

It’s worth stopping to recognize that two of the first three shark victims are the young Kintner boy and a dog, who’s not seen after fetching a stick. Dog deaths are normally traumatic events reserved for the climaxes of movies, but Spielberg pulled out the big guns early.

10. That was one hard slap.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

One of the more quietly powerful moments involves Brody being confronted and slapped by Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro), the mother of the boy killed by the shark. Fierro had trouble credibly faking a slap, so she used force. Seventeen takes later, Scheider was genuinely hurting.

11. That ghoulish shot of a dead man was a last-minute addition.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

After Spielberg felt preview audiences didn’t scream loudly enough at the image of a decomposed head found by Richard Dreyfuss's Matt Hooper, the director decided to reshoot it using his own money. He summoned a crew to editor Verna Field’s swimming pool, and they dumped in a gallon of milk to give the illusion of seawater.

12. We don't see the shark until more than halfway through the movie.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

The audience gets its first—brief—look at the shark during the Fourth of July weekend, when it kills a boater and pursues Brody’s son in an estuary. Though it looks impressively lifelike, the prop shark was a headache to operate, often failing, which helps explain why Spielberg used it so sparingly.

13. The shark was known as "Bruce," which almost makes him sound cute.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Three mechanical sharks subbed in for the man-eater, and were collectively known as Bruce on the set (after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer). That was apparently cuddly enough for a reference in Finding Nemo, which features a great white named Bruce.

14. The shark's cause of death is teased much earlier.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Few climaxes are as visually glorious and satisfying as watching the shark blown to smithereens at the end of Jaws, thanks to Hooper’s compressed air tank. But the tanks are mentioned well before, when the sea-averse Brody accidentally knocks them over on the ship. Hooper chastises him, warning him that they could explode. What’s not clear is why they don’t use the would-be bombs on the shark much earlier.

15. The most famous line wasn't in the script.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Brody is throwing chum into the water and smoking a cigarette when the hungry shark unexpectedly leaps in front of the camera. The startled chief withdraws and tells Robert Shaw’s Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” thereby putting himself in the film history books. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb admitted that the line wasn’t scripted; Scheider improvised it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, however, since Scheider repeats some version of it two more times.

16. That's a real shooting star.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

You can’t always plan for the perfect cinematic moment. The shooting star that appears behind Brody as he loads his gun during a night scene on the boat looks magical for a reason: That was nature intervening on the set.

17. Hooper was supposed to die.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

In the novel, the shark delivers a fatal blow to Hooper when he’s in his cage underwater. (He also sleeps with Brody’s wife, but that’s another matter.) A Jaws crew in Australia captured footage of a real-life great white thrashing an empty cage, however, and Spielberg wanted to use it. So the ending was rewritten.

18. Brody and Hooper inappropriately share a laugh at the end.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Hooper doesn’t emerge from the depths of the water until after Brody has demolished the shark, which is smart thinking on his part. He swims up to Brody and the two immediately share a laugh over their good fortune, while nearly in the same breath Hooper discovers that Quint has just died. It generally goes against decorum to express joy in the early stages of mourning.

Flight of the Conchords's Bret McKenzie Is Rebooting Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Emmet Otter may not be Jim Henson's most iconic character, but he holds a special place in the hearts of fans who grew up watching his holiday special in the 1970s and '80s. Soon, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas will be charming a new generation of viewers. As Variety reports, a reboot of the made-for-TV film is in development, with Flight of the Conchords's Bret McKenzie attached to write the script and the songs.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas premiered on ABC in 1977. Based on the children's book of the same name, it follows a young otter named Emmet and his mother as they enter a Christmas talent competition hoping to win the cash prize. It's one of only a handful of Jim Henson-directed movies that doesn't star the Muppets.

Following the success of Emmet Otter's theatrical re-release last year, a reboot of the story is in the works. It will be a collaboration between the Jim Henson Company, the Pacific Electric Picture Company, and Snoot Entertainment. In addition to his roles as screenwriter and song composer, McKenzie also has the option to direct. Whether he'll take that job hasn't been announced.

Bret McKenzie is best known for making up one half of the New Zealand musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, but he also has experience writing songs for puppets. He served as the music supervisor for 2011's The Muppets and received an Oscar for the song "Man or Muppet" the following year.

[h/t Variety]

12 Wild Facts About Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
20th Century Fox

Lovable outlaws, buddy comedies, and Westerns have always been a part of the cinematic landscape. But it was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that first combined those elements into a box office smash, setting the tone for the dozens (hundreds?) of action comedies that have followed. It also put Robert Redford on the A-list (Paul Newman was already there), and introduced audiences to the bizarrely anachronistic pop song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Here are a dirty dozen facts about one of our favorite movies about bad guys, which was released 40 years ago.

1. “Most of what follows is true” isn’t true.

That disclaimer at the beginning of the film, a variation of the familiar “based on a true story,” is tongue-in-cheek. The reality is that much of the lore surrounding Butch and Sundance was difficult or impossible to confirm or debunk, so screenwriter William Goldman (who’d primarily been a novelist before this) just went with it. In fact, that’s why he wrote a movie instead of a book: he was interested in the story, but he didn’t want to do the laborious research into day-to-day turn-of-the-century frontier life that a novel would require.

2. Paul Newman was in from the beginning, but finding his co-star took some work.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
20th Century Fox

When he wrote it, Goldman had in mind Newman—then perhaps the biggest movie star in the world—and Jack Lemmon, who’d done a 1958 Western called Cowboy and seemed like a good fit. Lemmon turned out not to be interested, and numerous other candidates were approached, including Steve McQueen (see below), Warren Beatty, and Marlon Brando. Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, suggested Robert Redford—then a stage actor who’d been in a few films but was considered something of a lightweight. Woodward, Newman, and director George Roy Hill all pestered the reluctant 20th Century Fox bosses until they conceded to casting Redford.

3. The president of 20th Century Fox could have lost his job for buying the screenplay.

Not because he bought it, but because he paid $400,000 for it. Richard Zanuck, son of Fox co-founder Darryl F. Zanuck, was authorized to spend $200,000, and later had to justify to the board of directors his decision to spend twice that much, especially since $400,000 was more than anyone had ever paid for a screenplay before. (That’s about $2.8 million in 2019 dollars, a figure that has been paid plenty of times.) The price turned out to be worth it, as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the top-grossing film of 1969. But despite that and a few other hits, Fox was hemorrhaging money due to expensive flops like Dr. Dolittle, and Zanuck was fired in 1970.

4. Steve Mcqueen dropped out over billing.

If Newman was the biggest movie star in the world at the time, Steve McQueen was right up there with him. The idea of casting not one but two mega-stars as Butch and Sundance made perfect sense, but there was a problem: whose name would go first in the credits? Fox president Darryl F. Zanuck later said that he proposed an unusual arrangement where half the prints of the film would list Newman first, the other half McQueen, but McQueen (or his representatives) wouldn’t accept anything other than top billing across the board. And that was that.

5. It was titled “The Sundance Kid And Butch Cassidy” until the casting was settled.

Once they’d settled on Redford as Newman’s costar, a new (minor) issue arose. Newman thought he was playing Sundance in what had heretofore been known as The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It turned out Hill, the director, actually wanted him to play Butch, and Redford to play Sundance. No problem; Newman was fine with the switch. But now they had a situation where the character being played by the less-famous actor came first in the title. The obvious Hollywood solution: reverse the title. “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy” sounds weird to us now (as does the notion of Redford being significantly less famous than Newman), but there you go.

6. They had to change the name of Butch and Sundance’s gang to steer clear of Sam Peckinpah.

In real life, Butch and Sundance’s crew of bandits were collectively known as the Wild Bunch, and were so named in Goldman’s script. But as the film was going into production, Fox execs became aware of a Warner Bros. property called The Wild Bunch, written and directed by Sam Peckinpah. It wasn’t about the same guys, but it was a Western, and the story bore some coincidental similarities. What’s more, WB was rushing to get it into theaters before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. So calling anybody “the Wild Bunch” in the Butch and Sundance movie was out of the question. Fox’s solution was to rename them the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, after a place in Wyoming that Butch (and other bad guys) sometimes used as home base.

7. Newman did his own bicycling stunts—because the stuntman couldn’t.

The studio sent a guy who practiced Butch’s showing-off moments for days ahead of time, but when it came time to shoot it, he couldn’t stay upright. Newman ended up doing most of it himself, which looked better on camera anyway. (The one shot he didn’t perform—the one at the end where the bike crashes through a fence—was done by cinematographer Conrad Hall.) Director Hill was duly annoyed by the waste of money on the bike stuntman.

8. Newman got mad at Redford for doing his own stunts.

To be fair, Redford’s stunts were a lot more dangerous. It was the scene where Sundance leaps onto the top of a moving train and runs stealthily across the cars. It wasn’t that Newman was jealous of Redford’s derring-do—he was concerned for his safety. “I don’t want to lose a costar” is what Redford recalls Newman saying. Chastened (and touched), Redford agreed it was a selfish move on his part, and he refrained from risking his life after that.

9. Katharine Ross was banned from the set for being too helpful.

Katharine Ross and Paul Newman in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (2019)
20th Century Fox

The 29-year-old actress, an Oscar nominee for playing Elaine Robinson in The Graduate, played Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place. In real life, she was dating (and would soon marry) cinematographer Conrad Hall, and that’s how she got into trouble. Ross was interested in photography, and while observing a scene that she wasn’t in, she asked Hall if she could operate one of the cameras. There were several cameras in use for this particular scene, so it didn’t matter (to Hall, anyway) if one of the less important ones was operated by an amateur, just for fun. Many crew members felt otherwise, and director Hill was furious when he found out. He sent word to Ross back at her hotel that she was no longer allowed on the set except when she was working. “It became a very difficult shoot for me,” she later said. “In fact, it took me a long time before I even wanted to see the film.”

Ross and Hall were married in 1969, the same years as the film's release, and divorced in 1974. Ten years later, Ross married fellow actor Sam Elliott; the couple is celebrating their 35th anniversary this year.

10. The film had to endure additional editing because it was too funny.

One of the complaints some critics had about the movie was that the glib, humorous tone felt anachronistic. They should have seen the earlier cut, which was even more uproarious. Zanuck later recalled that test-screening audiences found it too funny, funnier than the studio had in mind. They wanted it to be an amusing Western, but not an all-out comedy Western (a genre that tended to do poorly). The film was sent back for re-editing to take a few laughs out and make the whole thing feel a little more respectable.

11. There was a super-posse in real life, but with a very different outcome.

The film depicts several of the best lawmen teaming up to hunt Butch and Sundance as a group (which could actually make for a very interesting movie on its own). For a 30-minute chunk of the film, our heroes are on the run, barely staying a step ahead, ultimately escaping by leaping into a river and then moving to Bolivia. That’s all an embellishment of the truth. There was a super-posse, but they didn’t engage Butch and Sundance in much of a chase: as soon as Butch and Sundance heard who was in the group, they fled, knowing they’d never be able to beat them. The hunt was over before it started.

12. They wanted to shoot some of it on the set of Hello, Dolly!

The script called for a sequence where Butch, Sundance, and Etta go to New York before heading for South America. Recreating turn-of-the-century New York would be prohibitively expensive—but as it happened, 20th Century Fox had another movie in production for which just such a set had been built: Hello, Dolly!, the movie version of the hit Broadway musical. Maybe the Butch Cassidy team could borrow it for a few days? But Fox’s Zanuck nixed it for general cost-cutting reasons (and possibly because the Hello, Dolly! team objected). Instead, Hill created a montage of period photographs with the actors pasted in.

Additional Sources: DVD interviews and features Paul Newman: A Life, by Shawn Levy American Film Institute

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