We Delivered The Bomb, by Bob Connally

3 Jul

A deeply depressing thought occurred to me as I had my annual summer re-watch of Jaws. It came to me specifically when watching what is probably the film’s single best scene. Chances are that you probably already guessed that I’m referring to Quint (Robert Shaw) describing the terror of being in the water in 1945 as the U.S.S. Indianapolis sank and sharks picked off members of the crew one by one. Jaws is, believe it or not, now 44 years old. The movie remains one of the more perfectly paced and entertaining in the history of cinema. Quint’s tale of sheer horror is absorbing and still has the capacity to put viewers on the edge of their seats after multiple decades and viewings. So what depressed me so much? I imagined what would happen to this scene if this movie were to be made now. I don’t mean if someone were to remake Jaws (which shouldn’t happen ever) but if the original film hadn’t been made in 1975 and a brand new movie called Jaws with essentially the same story, characters, and time period were to be released freshly to audiences in 2019.

Somewhere in southern California a few months before the planned release of 2019’s Jaws, a test audience would view the film with a few effects shots missing and a temp musical score. (That opens up two separate cans of worms; one about showing us the shark too early and too often and another about envisioning the movie without that piece of music, but I’m going to stay on topic here.) I imagined a studio flunky asking the audience some questions after the film. “Was it scary? If so, what scenes specifically were scary? How did the shark look? Was the shark scary enough? Were there enough jump scares?” And so on. That probably all seems sad enough to you. But the reason I even thought about this in the first place was that I imagined a modern test audience watching the Indianapolis scene. A scene that is roughly three and a half minutes of Quint recounting the most terrifying days of his life. It’s really just Robert Shaw talking. Minimal editing, some unobtrusive scoring from John Williams and a few reaction shots of Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss being incredibly still, just taking the story in. It’s exactly what it should be. But put that as a brand new scene in front of a 21-year old in 2019 and he’s going to say, “That scene’s too boring, yo. Dude’s just telling a story.”

“Yeah,” his buddy would chime in. “Why can’t we see the sharks tearing people up?” he would ask completely insensitively, not realizing that this was a real life tragedy. “I felt like somebody was making me watch baseball.”

“So does everyone else feel the same about this scene?” the studio flunky would ask, almost willing the rest of the audience to gang up on it. “It’s too boring?” Person after person would start to single it out as the worst scene in the movie. “SOOO boring!” “I know you said no phones, but I was about to fall asleep so I had to pull mine out.” “I’m like, I guess they haven’t shot the flashback scene yet.”

“Flashback scene?” Mr./Ms. studio person would inquire, voice raising up slightly. “Go on.”

“Well, the movie should start with a flashback and you could have this crazy epic action sequence where the ship sinks and you see the sharks just eating a bunch of dudes up and like Quint is this young, kind of innocent guy and he goes through this and it makes him this angry dude. Like he hates sharks now and he has to kill every one he sees. Somethin’ like that.”

“Like Abraham Lincoln.”

“What?”

“Before he was in the Civil War he was a captain who tried to kill a whale for murdering his dad. There was a book about it, man. I had to read it in high school.”

“Oh, dude! I wanna see THAT movie!”

The results of this test audience discussion would be taken to heart and a new opening sequence would be shot with explosions, frenetic editing, and hundreds of CGI sharks attacking and devouring frightened young sailors. Quint would indeed be portrayed as a wide-eyed young man fresh out of boot camp. After his best friend Herbie Robinson is killed and he is rescued, he becomes embittered, vowing revenge on every shark that swims the waters. You can see it all, can’t you?

This might sound familiar to you at least vaguely. Universal has toyed with the idea of turning young Quint’s Indianapolis story into its own feature-length film. Sort of Quint’s origin story. But what on earth would be the point? The story was told concisely and perfectly. The true Indianapolis story is absolutely worthy of being told all on its own. This true tragic event saw almost 900 men die near the end of the war in the Pacific as they delivered the bomb that would ultimately be dropped upon Hiroshima. My own grandfather, Boyce Connally, was a 20-year old Navy corpsman who was amongst the medical personnel treating the 300+ survivors as they were brought ashore.

2016’s USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, directed by Mario Van Peebles and starring Nicolas Cage as Captain Charles McVay, put the story on screen but it was poorly received critically and came and went virtually unnoticed by audiences. This absolutely leaves the possibility in the air that one day Quint: A Jaws Story could become a reality.

One of the oldest adages about drama either on screen or stage is, “Show, don’t tell.” But in telling his story, Quint is showing Brody, Hooper, and us his humanity and vulnerability. He shows what’s underneath his hard as nails exterior and it comes at just the right moment in the film. We see it when Hooper and our main protagonist Brody see it. We shouldn’t see that before they do and director Steven Spielberg was smart enough to know that. It’s a scene that was crafted by Spielberg as well as uncredited writer John Milius and Shaw himself, who personally edited the monologue’s 10 pages down to a length he not only felt he could memorize but would also convey what was necessary about Quint’s experience.

It’s a scene that wouldn’t make it to the screen in 2019. It just wouldn’t.

Has this article been cynical? Yes. Did I portray the test audience in a comically heightened way? Sure. But am I right about what the end result would be? I’ll leave that to you. But yes. Yes, I am.

One Response to “We Delivered The Bomb, by Bob Connally”

  1. Thomas Adkins August 3, 2019 at 2:54 pm #

    My father Clarence Adkins was your grandfather Boyce”Salty” Conallys tent mate and friend on Peleliu. I met your grandfather in 1994. He came to Louisiana to see Dad and friend W.K. Brown. Every thing I know about my dads navy history is credited to your grandfathers story. Dad was also present when the Indianapolis survivors arrived on Peleliu.

Leave a Reply