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Written by Timothy Sexton
In retrospect, it is almost impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of Chief Brody. Roy Scheider was anything but a star prior to the film, though he had recently made a big impression as Gene Hackman’s cop partner in The French Connection. What really makes Scheider so memorable as Chief Brody is the way he endows the tough and dependable law enforcement officer with an offbeat sense of humor as well as a down-to-earth quality that makes him far more easy identify with than a big star might have been.
One of the first on-screen acting jobs for Richard Dreyfuss was in The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman was cast in the lead role in that movie despite the part of Benjamin Braddock being written with a tall, blonde preppy sort of actor in mind. Interestingly, in the novel, Matt Hooper is described as a tall, blonde preppy sort of guy; the sort of guy who has an affair with the wife of Chief Brody. Clearly, big changes were made in adapting the part of Matt Hooper for film, but Dreyfuss—like Dustin Hoffman—proved that looks aren’t everything.
Captain Quint also underwent a physical transformation from page to screen. Described as bald-headed by author Peter Benchley, Quint seems to have prefigured the arrival of Rogaine by the time Robert Shaw took over. What Quint may have lost in the potentially imposing physicality that a totally shaven head might have provided was more than made up in the profound depth of character gained through Shaw’s perfectly modulated performance. The actor’s performance in the “Indianapolis tragedy” scene alone should have been more than enough to garner him an Oscar nomination. Sadly, Oscar voters apparently felt that George Burns doing the same shtick he'd been doing for half a century was more deserving.
Lorraine Gary’s most memorable contribution to the Jaws legacy is not the fact that she reprised her role as Chief Brody’s wife in subsequent sequels, but that she proved to possess and immediate chemistry with Roy Scheider. A significant number of reason exist for why none of the sequels managed to come even close to the sublime perfection of the original, but one of those reasons is surely that the makers failed to capitalize on that chemistry.
The genius of casting veteran character actor Murray Hamilton as the Mayor of Amity Island lies in the fact that his face is familiar to viewers from a long history of small parts playing the nice guy. Vaugh, of course, is not a nice guy. He is the villain of the movie; the real shark with a voracious appetite for destruction. That Hamilton is still capable of being “folksy” while playing a politician as corrupt as any other is a testament to his talent.
The iconic image of Jaws instantly recognizable to anyone who has called earth their home since 1975 is that of a solitary, vulnerably oblivious nude female swimmer and the mammoth shark rising upward toward her beneath the waves. That image graced the cover of the paperback novel before becoming arguably the most effective movie poster of all time. The recreation of conditions of that example of marketing brilliances serves as the terrifying opening scene of the film and the generic female swimmer was Susan Backlinie. What many people many not know is that Backlinie recreated the scene in another Steven Spielberg film. Only in 1941, the assault upon her nude form was perpetrated by a Japanese military submarine rather than a great white shark.
Lee Fierro has appeared in just four movies in her career. In two of those movies, she played the tragic mother of the ill-fated little Kintner boy. The slap she delivers to Chief Brody remains—arguably, perhaps—the most unexpectedly dramatic moment not directly involving the shark in the entire Jaws series.
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