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On Its 40th Anniversary, Remembering The Terror Of 'Jaws'


I'm Rachel Martin, and I have a confession to make. It's the Fourth of July weekend, and there was a really big movie made in 1975, 40 years ago, pegged to this weekend - "Jaws."


ROBERT SHAW: (As Quint) The shark swallow you whole.

MARTIN: Many of us have seen clips on YouTube. Maybe a lot of you have seen the movie. I haven't. NPR film critic Bob Mondello thinks that is a film sin.

BOB MONDELLO: (Laughter).

MARTIN: He is here to help me correct it, and then we're going to talk about all kinds of other Fourth of July films. Hi, Bob.

MONDELLO: Hi. It's good to be here.

MARTIN: It's good to have you. All right. So before we have a conversation about what kind of movies we can watch this holiday weekend and why, let's watch a scene from "Jaws." So what are we about to watch?

MONDELLO: Roy Scheider is on the back of the boat. They're throwing fish guts to try to attract the shark.

MARTIN: Yeah, they're asking for it. OK.

MONDELLO: And he's kind of not looking at the water, and something shows up.

MARTIN: Something shows up. OK. Let's watch.



MARTIN: Oh, no.


MONDELLO: Now, you've got to admit that is amazing, is it not?


MONDELLO: And the way you just jumped. That's what audiences did.


ROY SCHEIDER: (As Brody) You're going to need a bigger boat.

MARTIN: OK, so that's what everyone was fussing about back in 1975.

MONDELLO: I can't believe this is the first time you've seen this movie.

MARTIN: I mean...

MONDELLO: Oh, my God. I saw this back in 1975. I went to the theater. It is the first time I had ever seen a theater fill up from the front row. It was like everybody wanted to be as close as possible to be as scared as possible by this movie. It was absolutely amazing.

MARTIN: But it was really scary? (Laughter).

MONDELLO: It was terrifying. You jumped when it - OK?

MARTIN: OK, you're right.

MONDELLO: I mean, and this was just one of the times that you've seen this animal. It is a very scary movie. It was very effective, and it was effective all across the country at the same moment, which hadn't happened very often at the point.

MARTIN: So we should also mention this movie "Jaws" - it was against a holiday weekend, right? It's supposed to be happening on Fourth of July?

MONDELLO: It's happening over the Fourth of July weekend, so there's a mob at the beach, and that's the problem. The town doesn't want to send everybody home because this is when make - can make all their money. So they're distressed, and they keep on trying to not tell people about the shark. Well, it becomes fairly obvious that there's a shark after a while.


MARTIN: So everyone went to see this film. This did far better than the filmmakers thought it would.

MONDELLO: Because people didn't really know that you could have a summer picture that would do a lot of business. The summer movie season what it wasn't a thing back then. Things like "Godfather" and "Sound Of Music" - they had opened in March.

MARTIN: The whole the whole idea of a summer blockbuster didn't exist.

MONDELLO: Right, it didn't exist. And this and then, a couple of years later, Star Wars opening on Memorial Day - those two pictures set this new paradigm for Hollywood that you could have a summer blockbuster season. And all of a sudden, everybody was trying to create pictures for that.

MARTIN: Is this a weekend that has traditionally been a big release weekend for movies?

MONDELLO: Well, there have been pictures that have kid of owned it. The "Transformers" movies were always opening up Fourth of July weekend for a while. The "Minions" movies...


MONDELLO: ...Have always open right about then. The reason the Fourth of July is a big deal is that everybody's out of school by then. And so all those kids have had a couple of weeks to get bored with whatever they were doing, and parents can't wait to pack them off to a movie theater. And the whole family's available that weekend, so they can all go together. So a picture that is appealing to the whole family is going to be a big hit.

MARTIN: All right, so "Jaws" was the original summer blockbuster. What about other movies that are just related to the Fourth of July?

MONDELLO: Well, there is "Born On The Fourth of July," which - it's a very serious picture. It's about the story of a paralyzed Vietnam vet named Ron Kovic, and it's a - it's a very powerful picture. It's just a very substantial movie, and it's not the kind of thing you think of as a blockbuster. "Yankee Doodle Dandy"...


JAMES CAGNEY: (As George M. Cohan) (Singing) Born on the Fourth of July...

MARTIN: What year was that?

MONDELLO: That was Jimmy Cagney - 1942.


MONDELLO: It was kind of a big deal. That's the story of George M. Cohan, who wrote the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy." And of course, there's "1776."

MARTIN: The musical?



WILLIAMS DANIELS: (As John Adams) (Singing) Vote for independency.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (As Congress) (Singing) Someone ought to open up a window.

MONDELLO: Which is really quite lovely and was wonderful on Broadway and made an OK movie. I mean, they used a lot of the same actors.


MONDELLO: There's Independence Day.

MARTIN: Will Smith.

MONDELLO: Yes, and they blew up half of the world on that one.


MARTIN: So what do you need to make a blockbuster? Does it - we talked about "Independence Day," "Jaws." Do you have to have chaos and mayhem?

MONDELLO: Well, that certainly helps. These days, blockbuster's are sort of manufactured. Back when "Jaws" opened, they were very proud of the fact that they were spending more money to promote "Jaws" than had ever been spent on a motion picture. They made it a big deal. They - for months ahead of time, they were selling the book. They made sure that the book cover looked just like the advertising for the movie. Everything was to promote this movie and to make it an event. And they were successful - far more than they expected to be. These days, promoting the art of the movie, you're promoting the idea that the movie then illustrates (laughter). "Jaws" was a good movie. It was an intimate picture with three characters who were really strong and a fourth character who was swimming a lot (laughter).

MARTIN: Bruce.

MONDELLO: That's - yeah.


MONDELLO: Yes, he did a lot of swimming. The shark - a mechanical shark who was very persuasive because you couldn't see him for a long time. You only saw him, like, the last 20 minutes of the movie.


MARTIN: Less is more with Bruce (laughter).

MONDELLO: Totally.


MARTIN: But to have sold me. You have convinced me that maybe I should go back and actually watch the whole movie.

MONDELLO: Oh, man. You have got to watch movie.

MARTIN: Not just the clips.

MONDELLO: It really - it put Spielberg on the map. It is the picture that changed the way Hollywood thought of the audience and what the audience expected of Hollywood in the summer.

MARTIN: OK. NPR film critic Bob Mondello. Thanks so much, Bob.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Happy Fourth.

MONDELLO: Why, thank you, and to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.