Quint, the grizzled and very seasoned shark hunter, played brilliantly by Robert Shaw, is easily one of cinema’s great characters. His bravado, his charm, his personality simply make a him the best of the main three protagonists in the movie Jaws. He has some of the finest dialogue in the entire film and delivers each and every word with conviction. Right here, I’m going to explore the truth behind one of his most famous deliveries.
“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”
You see, this is quite simply one of the most profound and deep-meaning lines captured on film ever. It may seem like a completely throw-away piece of dialogue at first, but it’s when we begin to peel back the layers of not just what is being said, but also how it is said, that’s when we can really begin to analyse it’s true meaning.
Nah, just joking. That’s just a funny little quip. But in all seriousness, I really do want to take a look at an absolutely wonderful piece of writing and acting from Jaws. I want to look at the real story behind a very specific speech. That being Quint’s recollection on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
First up, a quick reminder (as if you need one) of the speech in question.
“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know… was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Heh.
[Quint pauses and takes a drink]
They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. Y’know, it’s… kinda like ol’ squares in a battle like, uh, you see in a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo, and the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, and sometimes the shark’d go away… sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. Y’know 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 livin’… until he bites ya. And those black eyes roll over white, and then… oh, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red, and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces.
Y’know, by the end of that first dawn… lost a hundred men. I dunno how many sharks. Maybe a thousand. I dunno how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland- baseball player, boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up… bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well… he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. Young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. Y’know, that was the time I was most frightened, waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.
[Quint pauses, smiles, and raises his glass]
Anyway… we delivered the bomb.”
That’s a damn fine example of a picture being painted with words, one of the best four minutes of cinema ever. Some amazing writing and delivered perfectly by Robert Shaw’s acting. That one scene, that speech is actually Steven Spielberg’s favourite bit of his own film, and it’s easy to see why too. But the thing I want to take a look at in regards to that speech is the truth behind it. Jaws may be a fictional movie, but the USS Indianapolis, the secret mission and its sinking were all very true. Quint’s speech is not 100% factual though, there are a few embellishments to add to the drama of the scene or possibly just not fully researched to be accurate enough, but overall, it told the same story. Here is the real story of what happened to the USS Indianapolis and I’ll point out some of the changes as I go, I’ll list the differences in bold so they stand out from the rest of the text.
The Real Story Vs Quint’s Story
So yes, there was a United States Navy ship called the USS Indianapolis and yes, it did go on a secret mission related to the Hiroshima bomb and most of what Quint says is true, to a point.
The USS Indianapolis had already been involved in several World War II campaigns before she met her fateful end. Helping out in both the New Guinea campaign and the Aleutian Islands campaign, the USS Indianapolis also took part in numerous battles including the Landing at Amchitka, Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Saipan to name a few. After several years of service and battles, the USS Indianapolis was in need of repairs and an overhaul to get her up to standard for a top secret mission. After her work, she set out from San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on the 16th of July, 1945. Her mission was to deliver a huge payload of enriched uranium and various bomb parts to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. She made the journey and delivered her payload on the 26th of July, after a stop at Pearl Harbor on the 19th of July.
Already here, there is a little discrepancy between Quint’s speech and the real story. Quint says they delivered the Hiroshima bomb, which is not strictly true. The USS Indianapolis delivered several bomb components and the uranium used to build the world’s first first nuclear weapon nicknamed ‘Little Boy’, the Hiroshima bomb. But it didn’t deliver the bomb itself.
After the delivery, the USS Indianapolis went onto Guam for a change of crew. She then left Guam on the 28th of July and headed for Okinawa to join Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf to join his Task Force 95. But there was a stop over planed on Leyte Island first, a journey she never made. It was around twelve-fifteen in the morning on the 30th of July, 1945 when the USS Indianapolis was stuck by two torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine. They struck her on her starboard side, causing massive damage. As the USS Indianapolis was kitted out for war, it was very top heavy with weaponry, cannons and the like. She began to take on water, the USS Indianapolis rolled completely over, the stern rose in the air and she quickly sank, and all within twelve minutes of impact with eleven-hundred and ninety-five crew-members on-board.
Most of what Quint says is true for this part. They delivered the bomb (parts) and set sail for Leyte Island from Tinian Island (after a stop off at Guam). It was a Japanese sub that slammed two torpedoes into her side too, and she did sink in twelve minutes. Quint also said that eleven-hundred men went into the water, it was a little more then that, but I guess he was just rounding down? However, around three hundred men actually went down with the ship and drowned. Now, Quint never says that didn’t happen, nor does his speech say that it did, but it does seem to suggest that all of the crew were adrift, which wasn’t exactly true. In reality, there were just shy of nine-hundred men in the water after three-hundred drowned as the ship sunk, not the eleven-hundred that Quint suggests.
It was around ten-twenty-five in the morning on the 2nd of August, 1945 when a PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber flew over and spotted the crew of the USS Indianapolis adrift in the ocean. The pilot, Lieutenant Wilbur “Chuck” Gwinn and his co-pilot dropped a life raft and radio transmitter. The alarm was raised within seconds and all available units came to the rescue.
Quint says that the mission was so secret that the crew were not known as missing for a week. That’s definitely not true, the alarm was raised a little over three days later. Certainly not a week. But Quint is right when he said that a Lockheed Ventura saw them, it just wasn’t a week later as he claimed. But there is a discrepancy here as Quint says that the crew were not listed as overdue/missing for a week… but also says the plane spotted them after five days? Is he counting a week as five days, not including the weekend?
Many of the crew died of dehydration and hypernatremia, some suffered terrible delirium and hallucinations and killed themselves fearing they would not survive anyway. Exactly how many died from actual shark attacks is unknown. Around nine-hundred crew survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and were cast adrift, of those, only three-hundred and sixteen were saved.
So this is where Quint’s speech is at its horrific best. This is where he describes the tiger sharks, the high-pitch screaming of the crewmen, the ocean turning red with blood as the sharks began their attack. A thousand sharks eating a hundred men by the first dawn, averaging six men an hour according to Quint. Do the maths here, if (as Quint states) they were adrift for a week and a thousand sharks were eating a hundred men a day (average). Six (men) x twenty-four (hours) x seven (days) = one thousand and eight. Plus, going by Quint’s wording, all eleven-hundred crew were adrift (not true as some drowned or were killed by the explosions of the torpedoes). Anyway, Quint does say that eleven-hundred men went into the water and that only three-hundred and sixteen men come out. Those survival numbers are dead-on accurate to the real story… but he does say that the ‘sharks took the rest’. So Quint is claiming that of the eleven-hundred in the sea (rounding down remember), the sharks ate seven-hundred and four men minimum. As covered, it’s not known exactly how many were actually eaten by sharks, but it certainly wasn’t seven-hundred, three hundred drowned going down with the ship remember, others committed suicide, some died of dehydration and hypernatremia. So all in all, it was definitely fewer than the seven-hundred and four as Quint says.
As I have previously covered, the USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes and sank within twelve minutes on the 30th of July, 1945.
But that’s not what Quint says, he ends his speech saying that she sank on the 29th of June, 1945. The date wasn’t even close, the day was twenty-four ours out yes, but it was completely the wrong month. Why the date is so wrong I have no idea, it was widely known at the time of writing when the USS Indianapolis sank. It was known as the worst sea disaster in the U.S. Navy’s history… still is.
All in all, Quint’s re-telling of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis is pretty damn close. Yes, there is some embellishment, perhaps to increase the tension and horror of the scene? A longer wait for rescue and more shark attacks than were probable, more gruesome and bloody deaths does make it sound a lot more horrific than it was… and it already was an horrific incident. But why the date of the actual sinking is so wrong I have no idea.
Anyway, even with the errors, either purposefully made or genuine lack of research, Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech is mesmerising. It’s brilliantly written, wonderfully acted by Robert Shaw and directed to perfection thanks to Steven Spielberg. But to end this article, I want to just throw in some interesting tit-bits connected to the whole scene and the Quint character himself.
The film, Jaws may have been fiction, as were the characters. But there was some grain of truth to Quint himself. Frank ‘The Monster Man’ Mundus was a keen fisherman from Montauk, New York. He had quite an eccentric personality and took great pride in displaying the many sharks he had killed over the years. The TV documentary, Shark Hunter: Chasing the Great White (narrated by Roy Scheider, who played Martin Brody in Jaws) was about Frank’s life as a shark hunter. The documentary even covers that fact that Frank Mundus was the inspiration for Quint in Jaws. Even Robert Shaw who played Quint said that he played the character as Frank Mundus, copying many of his traits and mannerisms. So Quint kind of existed in the real world. Just as a side note: Frank Mundus actually began to feel bad for all the shark killing he did and became a shark conservationist later in his life. He died in 2008 aged eighty-two.
Robert Shaw was a terrible alcoholic. The first time they sat down to shoot that scene, he was so drunk that he kept forgetting and slurring his words. The footage was useless and Robert walked away deeply embarrassed. The next day, he sat down to talk with Steven Spielberg, apologised for his behaviour and asked for another chance at the scene. So they set up again and this time, Robert was sober…
“He really wasn’t able to do it that day. The next day he came in stone sober and absolutely knocked it out of the park.”
– Steven Spielberg
What is seen in the film is an edit of both the first drunken attempt and the sober one (can you even tell which cuts are which?). But according to Steven Spielberg, Robert Shaw nailed the scene in one take when he was sober.
The original speech was written by John Milius (Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn, to name a few of his writing credits), unfortunately, it went on a bit too long… around nine or ten pages. Robert Shaw worked out that the speech would take about fifteen minutes to deliver on screen. So Robert took the epic soliloquy away and edited it down to what is spoken in the film. So not only was Robert Shaw responsible for the amazing delivery of the scene, he was also responsible for it not sending you to sleep.
The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis was believed lost, never to be found. Yet seventy-two years later, on the 19th of August, 2017, she was finally found. On the floor of the Philippine Sea, during a search led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
For a rather depressing end and a bit more of the true story behind the speech. The commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis was Captain Charles B. McVay III, he was wounded by the sinking, but survived. A Navy Court of Inquiry stated that Charles McVay should be court-martialed for the loss of the USS Indianapolis. He was charged and convicted with failing to zigzag to avoid the torpedoes that sank the ship. The Navy even flew in the Japanese submarine commander, Mochitsura Hashimoto, to testify against Charles.
Crew-members felt that their Captain was being railroaded, in fact Mochitsura Hashimoto himself even said that zigzagging would’t have stopped him from sinking the USS Indianapolis. There’s actually quite a few controversies worth looking into about the whole trial. Still, Charles McVay was found guilty of hazarding his vessel and he never sailed the seas again. Instead, on the 6th of November, 1968, he killed himself with his own service pistol. Years later in 2000, Captain Charles B. McVay III was exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis… all thanks to a twelve year old Floridian schoolboy.
“I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”