The Shaw Thing: Remembering Robert Shaw

'Bruce' the shark may chew people in Jaws but only one person (almost) chews scenes and that is Robert Archibald Shaw.

 

August 9 2017 would have marked Shaw's 90th birthday, sadly he died way too young of a heart attack just past his 51st birthday in August 1978, only three years after his amazing turn as Quint.

 

 

 

The Lancashire born lad trod the boards with the Old Vic and on the big screen was renowned for playing larger than life figures, like a certain Irish fisherman. He got his only Oscar nomination as Hebert Viii in A Man For All Seasons. It's hard to fathom that out as of the principal leads Shaw would have been a sure (Shaw) thing for a best actor or supporting role nomination at least.

 

That SS Indianapolis speech is like an Oscar calling card. And, depending on the book or documentary you read or watch, Shaw wrote or streamlined elements of the monologue. Whatever he wrote or reinterpritated it he owned that dialogue on screen and dominated the film during his appearances. His delivery is as hypnotic as his piercing blue eyes.

As with the other members of the principal cast, numerous names have been linked with the salty sea dog of a captain including Sterling Hayden, Lee Marvin and Robert Duvall. It really is hard to imagine anyone else in that fishing chair crushing like Quint though.

 

Quint and the shark are as one, both hunters, both missing a tooth, both a relentless rogue mentality. It's only fitting that when Quint, Brody and Hooper drink to their legs, that is exactly the way Quint goes. Legs first.

Quint's demise is important - he's simply drowned by the shark like Ahab from Moby Dick in the book - but in the film it's all gargles and crimson red from his mouth before he is taken beneath the waves.

His exit isn't as important as his scene stealing and scene tingling intro in the school house where we initially meet Quint, first by the noise of fingernails being scratched down a blackboard. We then get a great monologue accompanied by a wonderful slow tracking shot that closes in on craggy Quint staking his no nonsense claim on getting the shark. As pitches go it's a winner, not sure how it would go down in most job interviews though.

If the mutual frisson of displeasure shared between Hooper and Quint seems authentic in its leaping from the script, that's because by all accounts they didn't have much love for one another on set. Or did they?

There's plenty of evidence from those behind the scenes, and of course Dreyfuss himself, that he was goaded and bullied by Shaw. All of which intensified their onscreen relationship and turns their encounters into pure electricity. 

Or then again Shaw, an author and playwright, was perhaps trying to bring the best out of his fellow actor? Shaw was certainly difficult but what we were left with onscreen is undeniably great. It wasn't all bad, at least he still let Hooper drive the boat.

One thing cannot be disputed, the three leads are mesmerising - so they should after all that extra rehearsal time due to the shark not working - but Shaw is something else. He owns the film, the head, the tail, the whole damn thing. 

But if Jaws is arguably his signature film, what else is essential Shaw?

Hot off the success of previous Universal hit, The Sting, also produced by Zanuck and Brown

From Russia With Love (1963)

Even almost 55 years after he was first punched in the stomach by Rosa Klebb, Red Grant is still one of Bond's greatest adversaries. On Top Tumps terms he could probably beat Connery’s Bond on each and every count, think T-800 vs T-1000. And ever since the claustrophobic and intense fight scene on the train in quickly established itself as a classic and one of the very best Bond films. Since that train scene the 007 series has paid homage to it in everything from Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me and Spectre.

TRIVIA: Then President, John F. Kennedy, named the 1957 book as one of his top ten all-time favourites in Time magazine. It is also reportedly the last film he ever saw prior to his assassination.

 

Robin and Marian (1976)

An older Connery and Shaw are reunited again, this time as an aging Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham respectively, both who have just returned from the crusades. It's delicious seeing these two acting heavyweights face off against one another again, quite literally knocking seven shades out of one another in the middle of a battlefield

TRIVIA: Friar Tuck was played by non-other than one half of The Two Ronnies, Ronnie Barker.

Connery would turn up in two other Robin Hood related projects. Time Bandits, alongside John Cleese as Hood, and as King Richard at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

 

 

The Deep (1978)

Peter Benchley novel, check. Poster similar to that of Jaws, check. Robert Shaw as the captain of a ship, check. Alas this watery thriller didn’t have quite the bite of Jaws on the big screen or at the box office. Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and an irritable moray eel were no match for Scheider, Dreyfuss or Bruce.

TRIVIA: Louis Gossett Jr – who also features – would get his feet wet again in Jaws 3D (1983).

 

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Prior to jumping on board Orca, Robert Shaw took to another mode of transport, a New York subway train. He played the criminal lead pulling off an audacious heist movie that sees Shaw lead a gang of armed men holding 18 passengers on a subway car to ransom for $1 million. And it’s up only Walter Matthau’s character that can thwart it.

Incredibly taut, edge of your seat and impeccably written and directed. Nothing is wasted, and all this from the future director of Jaws the Revenge, Joseph Sargent.

TRIVIA: All the bad guys were called Mr followed by a colour, something a certain Quentin Tarantino would use as a direct steal (well it was a heist movie) almost 20 years later in Reservoir Dogs.

A certain Mr Spielberg was considered as director.

 

The Sting (1973)

With William Goldman on script duties, George Roy Hill in the director’s chair and Paul Newman and Robert Redford as leads. The team that brought us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was back and this 30s set comedy crime drama has the same sense of fun and playfulness about. This time Robert Shaw is the antagonist.

Everyone is firing on all cylinders and you can't help but smile as you suckered in as much as Shaw. They certainly don't make them like this anymore.

Produced by Zanuck and Brown who obviously remembered the impact Shaw had on the picture when it came to the Quint casting call.

TRIVIA: Paul Newman recommended Shaw for his role.

Special mentions should also go to Black Sunday (1977) a thriller from the pen of Thomas (Silence of the Lambs) Harris about a terrorist plot at a Superbowl Game. Shaw’s character teams with the FBI to stop it. The score is by Jaws music maker John Williams. 

Final mention goes to Force 10 From Navarone (1978). A sequel to The Guns of Navarone, with Shaw taking on the Gregory Peck role. He starred opposite Harrison Ford and also came up against Richard Kiel, who also played Jaws in the previous years The Spy Who Loved Me.

This was sadly to be Shaw’s final completed film; he passed away during the filming of Avalanche Express. Even in Force 10 there are a few scenes where he is looped by an impersonator due to new sound not being recorded prior to his death.

Taken from us far too soon but to paraphrase Quint, not a bad record of films for this vicinity.

Jaws or otherwise, what is your favourite Robert Shaw performance and why?

 Dean Newman

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