An Outdoor View: ‘Jaws’ at 40

Three shark attacks occurred recently off East Coast beaches, a reminder that fish that sometimes try to eat people are still out there, somewhere.

On that same subject, June marks the 40th anniversary of the release of my favorite movie, “Jaws.”

“Jaws” is to fishing flicks what “Apocalypse Now” is to war movies. It has everything a fisherman could want: suspense, action, adventure, terror and poundage.

“Jaws” is a story about a great white shark that made people nervous about being on the beach in a New England resort town called Amnity. After part of a body is found on the beach, the town’s police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches to the public. However, Amnity merchants want the beaches closed about as much as Soldotna merchants want the Kenai River closed. Marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) convinces the city fathers that their beach has become the territory of a great white shark. Fearing that the shark will scare off tourists, they hire Quint, a crusty charterboat captain (Robert Shaw), to find and kill the shark. When Quint, Brody and Hooper set out to find the shark in Quint’s boat, the “Orca,” the fun begins.

Before “Jaws” became a movie, it was a book by Peter Benchley, a relatively unknown writer. Interviewed later, Benchley said, “I knew that ‘Jaws’ couldn’t possibly be successful. It was a first novel, and nobody reads first novels. It was a first novel about a fish, so who cares?”

The book hit the stands in 1974. Hyped as “a novel of relentless terror,” it jumped to the top of best-seller lists, selling 5.5 million copies before the release of the movie in 1975. Worldwide, an estimated 20 million copies have been sold to readers who wanted to feel their hair stand on end. Like sex, terror sells.

Steven Spielberg was only 27 in 1974, when he began directing what would become the first blockbuster hit of his stellar career. “Jaws” held the title of highest-grossing movie of all time until the release of “Star Wars, Episode IV – A New Hope” in 1977. To this day, “Jaws” continues to swim strongly in the market. A Blu-ray version is now available.

The great composer John Williams, who later wrote the scores for “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park,” won an Oscar in 1976 for the unforgettable music in “Jaws.” The film, itself, won the award for “Best Sound.” The score stimulated suspense and fright like nothing heard since “Psycho.” Who can forget those ominous notes from the opening scene, when the shark is homing in on a girl skinny-dipping in the moonlight? If those notes don’t speed up your pulse, nothing will.

After the release of the film, shark fishing become more popular, to the detriment of sharks. Some people were left with the impression that sharks represent an unstoppable threat, that they’re a malevolent eating machine. The shark was rated as the 18th greatest villain on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains. A seafood restaurant in Cape Cod displayed a sign, “Eat fish – Get even.”

Interestingly, both Benchley and Spielberg later tried to dispel the image of sharks as man-eating monsters. I think they, like most movie-goers realized that, in truth, sharks tend to be cautious around humans, and never — well, hardly ever — attack them.

One of my favorite parts in “Jaws” is when a couple of locals decide they’re going to catch the marauding shark for the $3,000 bounty. They go out at night to a remote dock. Their bait is a beef roast, their line is about 100 feet of heavy chain, and their bobber is a big inner tube. They wrap the chain around two pilings and heave the baited hook off the end of the dock. They’re sitting there, waiting for a bite, when their inner tube bounces a couple of times and heads out to sea.

At this point in the movie, you haven’t even had a glimpse of the shark, but you can’t help but feel a sense of menace and foreboding. When whatever has taken the bait comes to the end of the chain, it doesn’t even slow down. It effortlessly tears 20 feet off the end of the wooden dock. causing one of the fishermen to fall in. The now-floating dock turns around and starts back toward the guy in the water, who is frantically swimming toward shore. His buddy yells, “Don’t look back!”

Now, that’s a fishing movie worth watching.

Les Palmer can be reached at

More in Life

Frenchy Vian, who posed for many photographs of himself, was acknowledged as a skilled hunter. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 2

In fact, Frenchy’s last name wasn’t even Vian; it was Viani, and he and the rest of his immediate family were pure Italian

Minister’s Message: Share God’s love even amidst disagreement

We as a society have been overcome by reactive emotions, making us slow to reflect and quick to speak/act and it is hurting one another

This image shows the cover of Juneau poet Emily Wall’s new book “Breaking Into Air.” The book details a wide array of different birth stories. (Courtesy Photo)
A book is born: Juneau author releases poetry book portraying the many faces of childbirth

It details “the incredible power of women, and their partners”

Lemongrass chicken skewers are best made on a grill, but can be made in the oven. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion
On the strawberry patch: Tangling with waves

Lemon grass chicken skewers top off a day in the surf

This photo of Frenchy with a freshly killed black bear was taken on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 1

The stories were full of high adventure — whaling, mining, polar bear hunting, extensive travel, and the accumulation of wealth

Seeing God’s hand in this grand and glorious creation

The same God of creation is the God that made me and you with the same thoughtfulness of design, purpose and intention

Chewy and sweet the macaroons are done in 30 minutes flat. (Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Sophisticated, simplified

When macarons are too complicated, make these delicious, simple macaroons

Michael S. Lockett / capital city weekly
Gigi Monroe welcomes guests to Glitz at Centennial Hall, a major annual drag event celebrated every Pride Month, on June 18.
Packed houses, back to back: GLITZ a roaring success

Sold-out sets and heavy-hitting headliners

Michael Armstrong / Homer News 
Music lovers dance to Nervis Rex at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn on July 28, 2012, at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer.
Concert on the Lawn returns

COTL line up includes The English Bay Band, a group that played in 1980

Marcia and Mary Alice Grainge pose in 1980 with a pair of caribou antlers they found in 1972. The sisters dug the antlers from deep snow and detached them from a dead caribou. (Photo provided by Marcia Grainge King)
Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 2

In Kasilof, and on Kachemak Bay, in Seldovia and later in Unga, Petersen worked various jobs before being appointed deputy marshal in 1934