Spielberg Reveals the Definitive Word on the JAWS USS Indianapolis Speech

It’s tough to find a bigger fan of Jaws than Eric Vespe (aka Quint) over at Ain’t It Cool News. As a big fan of both Vespe and Jaws, reading this incredible interview he did with Steven Spielberg was a real treat. In addition to the Jaws Blu-ray news and sequel revelations by Spielberg, he also gives his definitive account on the authorship of one of the most famous monologues in the history of cinema: Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech.

Cinephiles have long argued who the actual writer of the speech was and who was responsible for what. Finally, Spielberg sets the record straight:

Steven Spielberg: I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie.

I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.

Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.” I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.

But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.

I highly recommend you read Quint’s entire interview with Spielberg. Definitely worth your time.

Also, check out the famous monologue here:

Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech

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9 thoughts on “Spielberg Reveals the Definitive Word on the JAWS USS Indianapolis Speech

  1. Brandon Cesmat

    A rare convergence of actor & writer. As I recall, “I think you’re going to need a bigger boat,” and “It’s not the years. It’s the mileage,” were other lines Spielberg let actors contribute. Quite different from David Lean.

  2. Todd

    That is still one of the single most memorable monologues in movies. Every time I watch Jaws I recite it along with Quint and even try to get the Irish brogue correct. It’s just as chilling now as it was when I first saw it in the theatre when Jaws came out. From that day forward I was terrified to go in the ocean. I still am, but now it’s mostly because of the pollution. 🙂

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  4. Tim Manning

    Sharks..! That movie made its mark on millions of people. I was one of them. That scene, delivered I feel as only Robert Shaw could have done it, in that setting on that boat, with those other characters is priceless. The words are forever etched in my mind anyway…

    Just one week ago I was in the ocean surf at Destin, Florida… and to this day when I go into the water I hear the “dumn-dumn, dumn-dumn, dumn-dumn” silently in the back of my brain. I glanced, and a whole school of stingray coursed past me like traffic on a highway… Absolutely stopped my heart! Brought me back to thinking of “Quint”, I swear.

    Great story, and I am glad I read it AFTER I returned from vacation and not before….

    If it had been spoken at a coffee table in a restaurant the impact wouldn’t have been nearly as great. Tremendous performance.

    Tim Manning

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