40th anniversary of Jaws and the dramatic tension of a dangling cigarette

 

 

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I saw an article the other day about how this is the 40th anniversary of Jaws (I was a total weenie in that movie, it really terrified me as a kid). And this story had the very famous, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene attached.

I realized something with this scene. In it, Roy Scheider has a cigarette in his mouth and is shoveling chum into the water to attract the killer Great White. When the Great White pops up out of the water behind the boat, Scheider stands there transfixed in horror at the sheer size of the shark, with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

He backs into the cabin of the boat and says to Quint, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (If you pay attention, you’ll notice a continuation error in this scene. When the giant shark bobs up out of the water, Scheider’s cigarette is unlit. When he backs into the boat’s cabin, his cigarette is now lit. Apparently, Scheider quickly lit his cigarette while walking backward.)

I realized that cigarettes were for a very long time used by Hollywood to create dramatic tension. A cigarette simply dangling from the mouth, a character too shocked to even be aware of that cigarette being there. I’ve seen that used in a number of films.

For instance, in Ghostbusters, there is a scene almost identical to the Jaws scene, only this time, it’s done for laughs. When Ray rounds a corner in a hotel hallway, he sees a gross green spectre they come to call “Slimer.” He’s smoking a cigarette, and again, shocked and transfixed, a lit cigarette dangles from his lip. Only in this scene, it literally dangles from his lower lip and then falls to the ground. It’s actually a really funny scene, and it’s interesting how similar it is to the scene from Jaws. It’s a total spoof of Jaws, I’m sure of it.

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It was an earlier era in which cigarettes were absolutely used as a prop in Hollywood

(BTW, Roy Scheider died a few years ago at the age of 76 from myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Ironically, one of his best-known roles was in “All That Jazz,” a semi-autobiographical film about Bob Fosse, playing a chain-smoking Fosse who dies from heart disease. Fosse actually was a chain-smoker and actually did die of heart disease at the age of 60. Fosse’s wife also died of lung cancer.)

 

 

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