As we approach the 38th anniversary of an American classic, and his wide-eyed, machete-wielding visage glares back at me from my desktop, I feel compelled to point out simply that Quint was a goddamn badass.
I would have followed that guy into Hell and gone down swinging next to him. Quint inspired that kind of loyalty from a little kid like me, first watching his adventures in my Dad's darkened apartment, munching on Whoppers from Burger King, a rare treat that Dad had bribed me with in order to talk me into watching this scariest of fish stories in the early 1980s on his Magnavox VCR and recently acquired 19-inch Hitachi color TV set, a huge upgrade from the 10-inch black and white cube that we had watched pro tennis on for so many years.
Sitting on the carpeted floor and leaning back on the old plaid couch, as was our habit, I was terrified by Quint's stories and his increasingly dire predicament but unable to look away. I don't even remember eating that Whopper. Though he wasn't the leading man in this picture, Quint was always the character I found most interesting.
The fearless fisherman hired to hunt down Bruce the killer shark in Spielberg's 1975 classic Jaws, Quint was full of humor and humanity, a no-nonsense, salty but driven man of the sea who was as magnetic to viewers as he was infuriating to Richard Dreyfuss's nerdy academic, Hooper.
Already well-known for films like A Man For All Seasons, From Russia With Love and The Sting, Englishman Robert Shaw was perfectly cast as the scraggly sea captain who upped his payday from three to 10 thousand bucks for promising to bring back "the head, the tail, the whole damn thing." Quint had all the best lines and stole the show from Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider's determined but water-phobic Chief Brody.
Shaw improvised many of his lines on set and struggled as a writer himself: "writing is painful, it's lonely and you suffer and there's no immediate feedback." Many of the lines Shaw contributed are the film's most memorable. Quint is the heart and soul of the film, if you ask me.
Who could forget his somber soliloquy in The Orca's cabin with Hooper and Brody after several rounds of drinks? Quint recounts his experience as a survivor of the actualworst Naval disaster in US history, going down with the sinking USS Indianapolis after being hit by two Japanese torpedoes: "Eleven-hundred men went into the water...three hundred-sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest."
Quint had a lot of great lines. Some of my favorites are these:
"This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go. The thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they...rip you to pieces."
"Come on Chief, this isn't no boy scout picnic. See ya' got ya' rubbers!"
"You have city hands, Mr. Hooper. You been countin' money all your life. What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut? Jesus H Christ, when I was a boy, every little squirt wanted to be a harpooner or a sword fisherman. What d'ya have there - a portable shower or a monkey cage?"
"Yeah, that's real fine expensive gear you brought out here, Mr. Hooper. 'Course I don't know what that bastard shark's gonna do with it, might eat it I suppose. Seen one eat a rockin' chair one time. Hey Chieffy, next time you just ask me which line to pull, right?"
"Back home we got a taxidermy man. He gonna have a heart attack when he see what I brung him."
"I'm not talkin' 'bout pleasure boatin' or day sailin'. I'm talkin' 'bout workin' for a livin'. I'm talkin' 'bout sharkin'!"
There's a reason why the sequels to Jaws started bad and got progressively worse, and the first reason among many is the distinct lack of Quint, though, (SPOILER ALERT) of course he couldn't have appeared in the sequels because the shark eats him in the first film.
In real life, as well, he died too soon. Like Quint, Shaw enjoyed his alcoholic beverages: "I drink too much. Will you tell me one great actor who doesn't drink?" Shaw died suddenly of a heart attack at age 51, leaving us (and his 10 children) before his time.
Sometime around 2005, my wife-to-be and I caught Jaws in a small theatre showing old classics. I had never seen it on the big screen, and she had never seen it on any screen. There was a lot of screaming, jumping and flying popcorn in the packed theatre. It was plenty of fun.
Nearly 38 years after its release, Jaws remains an intense and exciting film, anchored by Robert Shaw, the mighty Quint. I think I'll pick up a copy of Jaws on blu-ray and have another go with the crew of The Orca, as it's been far too long.