Quint’s USS Indianapolis Found

'Jaws without the Indianapolis speech would be like Hamlet without 'To be or not to be' - Nigel Andrews on Jaws. After 72 years of staying hidden at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean after being torpedoed by a Japanese sub in July 1945, the USS Indianapolis has now been found. 

Like many, I was first introduced to it as part of Jaws, only later discovering it was based on true events. Quint's monologue about its sinking is the stuff of legend and although the story regaled was written for the screen (which is something of a story in itself) it really was a top secret mission to deliver a nuclear bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima, Little Man, hundreds of men did go into the water and many met their fate in the water by shark. 

It still remains the US Navy’s largest-ever single loss of life at sea. It had nearly 1200 crew on board, with around 900 surviving when the ship sank in just 12 minutes. After days of exhaustion, starvation, dehydration and relentless shark attacks only 317 men were plucked from the water…

 That Speech

Jaws, as has been well-documented, is one of those films that rather than be blighted by its problems during its making, helped shape it and turn it into a classic. The shark wasn't the only thing that wasn't working, the script wasn't always in the best shape either. 

All which saw several folk have a dabble at one of the films' pivotal moments, Quint's still powerful USS Indianapolis speech.

Show don't tell, so all the scriptwriting books tell you, not so with that speech. Brody and Hooper are as much audience members as we are as Robert Shaw delivers a wonderful performance that is one of the highlights of the film. Not bad for a scene in the cabin of a small boat with three people, no flashbacks.

We don't need them as the words created are so evocative that they paint a picture all themselves. 

Jaws may have been the first to feature the sinking of the ship on film, but others did eventually follow. Both of which brought that fateful night to life.


But who wrote it? Original author Peter Benchley had three passes at the script before it was tweaked by Spielberg and Producer, Zanuck and Brown. Then Howard Sackler was drafted in for a redraft followed by John Milius for Quint's USS Indianapolis speech. And then Carl Gottlieb, well that's according to Andrew Yule in his book about Spielberg, Father to the Man.

If that wasn't complicated enough the aforementioned don't seem to be able to agree quite how the speech came about as we see it in the film. Benchley recalls Shaw claimed he wrote it himself, but heard the Milius rumour. 

Producer Brown states whilst Milius added to it it was written by Sackler but that Shaw added a great deal at the end.

Gottlieb is adamant it very much belongs to Shaw who penned an extended version post examining drafts by the other writers. As an award winning playwright and gifted actor it certainly rings true.

Spielberg remembers Milius penning it in front of him with Shaw cutting it down, although Milius says he did it over the phone. It's more like The Usual Suspects of monologues. 

In the book, Nigel Andrew on Jaws, many of the same arguments are had, you certainly get the impression that Milius and Shaw are equally adept at spinning fisherman's yarns about how the ultimate fisherman's yarn came about.

In that book Spielberg remembers it as being Shaw acting out an eight page Milius speech, which was itself based on a Sackler two pager, with that eight pager thinned out to five by Shaw.

As Andrews states: "Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan."

Quint may have been a character of fiction but the rest of his monologue is very real...


The Mission of the Shark: The saga of the USS Indianapolis

Made in 1991, it is a TV move that stars Stacey Keach as the ship’s captain, Charles McVay III.

We also get to see a young David Caruso and Richard Thomas - still probably most famous for John Boy from The Waltons. He'd also experienced sharp teeth and water of a different kind the previous year in the two-part mini-series IT!

First shock spotted: 49 minutes

First attack: 54 minutes

It’s a frenzy, complete with overturned dinghy and people bobbing up and down in their life jackets being eaten alive legs first. The story and the men drifting at sea is naturally compelling and being a true story it really is difficult to know who will live and die. The lingering menace of the sharks are always there but they only punctuate two short scenes, the main focus is more the slow decent into madness of the men after drinking salt water and how, in many instances, they prove just as deadly as the sharks. As does the ineptitude of the Navy top brass, which ends in an absolute shambles in court.

It's a still a worthy watch if you know nothing of the story aside from Quint's monologue but for a movie - albeit one made for TV - named Mission of the Shark it is a little on the sharkless side.


USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

The sea is certainly more alive with dorsal fins in the latest telling of this true story.

Given a serious drubbing on IMDb I wasn't expecting anything from this version of the USS Indianapolis story.


It plays as one part Pearl Harbor meets Titanic and, despite not having a James Cameron sized budget - which is most obvious in the opening dogfight and the CGI USS Indianapolis leaving for sea. 

I'd say that by and large the director pulls off a film that keeps the interest. It really hits high gear for me when the ship sinks and the sharks stay circling.

The Director, Mario Van Peebles, should know a thing or two about shark attacks though as he once played a shark attack victim in Jaws the Revenge. Depending on which version of the film you have seen Jake, friend of Mike Brody, is either dragged beneath the waves never to be seen again or miraculously survives in one of the worst moments ever committed to celluloid. Read more about Jaws the Revenge in my 30th anniversary special here. ADD LINK

The shark degrees of separation doesn't end there either as we also get Deep Blue Sea's Thomas Jane.  Headlining proceedings though is one Nic Cage (insert own Cage goes in the water Quint impression moment here.)

And indeed he does go into the water - along with many of his crew - as he plays Captain McVay, who was at the ship's helm when it was torpedoed by a Japanese sub. Cage does instil the film with that cinematic quality, even if some of his choices have been more direct to DVD of late.

We get plenty of shark foreshadowing though as Tom Sizemore sets the scene about sailors not standing a chance in the ocean against one, not even if they are good swimmers.

We also get a shot through a set of shark jaws, a visual riff of sorts on the moment the Orca leaves Amity and the camera frames the boat through the Jaws of a shark through Quint's window. That's the defining shot of Jaws, the film explained in one frame with the jaws seemingly bigger than that of the Orca, swallowing it whole. They really are going to need a bigger boat.

Because it is the same story and the same focus in many ways lots of the same ground is covered by both this and Mission of the Shark. Both are certainly worth a look, even if just from a curiosity point of view as a Jaws fan.


Certainly truth - or based on a true story at least - can be stranger than fiction and I'm sure that when many Jaws fans first saw the Quint monologue they thought it was purely invented for the film. Both these films peel away at some of the layers of the true story behind that and give us a real insight into the horrors of war and the horrors of being stranded in shark infested waters.

First shark spotted: 49.50

It's expertly done as well, we know the sharks are coming - after all that is why most of us are here but the first appearance is almost unexpected. You are that caught up in the ship sinking and Nic Cage being thrown into the sea by an explosion that it is something of a shock to see a shark appear with his 'dull and lifeless eyes' under the water as Cage fights for air.

As the ship slips beneath the waves the men huddle together but beneath them in the water the silhouetted shapes of sharks begin to gather and swarm. Freezing to death post Titanic seems the lesser of two evils in comparison.

First shark attack: 53.35

Quint saying, "I'll never wear a life jacket again" has never resonated louder.


What might have been…

For a while it was rumoured that the sequel to the original Jaws was going to be a prequel with the films original director, Steven Spielberg.

He was interested in only retiring to the franchise if he could return to that night of the sinking with a young Quint. 

There was also recently a spec script doing the rounds in 2016 entitled The Fisherman, which concentrates on Quint and his life pre, during and post his USS Indianapolis story. You can find out more about that script here at Scriptshadow 

With the discovery of the final resting place of the USS Indianapolis perhaps that is an end to the story that began over 70 years ago and was cemented in cinematic history in Jaws.

Or perhaps, in this world of origin stories, it may reignite interest in the origin of Quint. For me, we know enough about him and I want to keep the rest of him a mystery. 

The Quint Indianapolis origins story should remain like him and the ship, at the bottom of the ocean.

Jaws may have raised the profile of the USS Indianapolis disaster but it inspired one Jaws fan – a then 11 year old Hunter Scott - to research the sinking. He discovered the ridiculous and astonishing court-martialling of Captain McVay, he sadly eventually committed suicide in 1968.

Thanks in part to Scott’s efforts, and others who believed the court-martialling unjust,  McVay was posthumously pardoned in 2000 as one of the last acts of then US President, Bill Clinton. It was rumoured by The Independent in 2015 that Robert Downey Jr and his Producer wife were circling the Scott story as a film.


By  Dean Newman

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