They needed a scuba-diving midget. Exactly why was a secret. "We wanted to keep that," says Director Steven Spielberg, "for the sapper."
The casting call specified that the midget ought also to have had some experience doing stunt work. At his office in Universal Studios, Spielberg interviewed anyone with this curious combination of credentials. Then Carl Rizzo walked in.
At 4 ft. 11 in., Rizzo is not a full-fledged midget. But he did have stunt experience. And when he arrived in the office, his face was covered with blood. He explained that rushing to the interview, he had got into a car accident outside the studio gate. Rizzo got the job in Jaws on the spot.
He was dispatched to the township of Port Lincoln, 170 miles west of Adelaide, Australia. From there he was to sail 20 miles out into the gulf in company of Underwater Photographers Ron and Valerie Taylor and be lowered over the side of a ship in a special steel mesh cage. Rizzo's role, doubling for one of the film's leading actors, was simply to persevere while a great white shark tried to trash him.
Since the real shark is about 16 ft. long, and the fictional great white in Jaws no less than 24, Rizzo's diminutive height would make the real fish look bigger. Rizzo understood all this. He did not count, however, on the fervor of the great white. Beginning his first descent, he watched one shark attack the Taylors' boat. Vexed, it sideswiped Rizzo, ripped his cage from its cable and took it to the bottom. Carl shot out of the water and headed for cover.
His dilemma and his eminently rational response would win anyone's sympathy. But this summer, movie audiences may find themselves sharing a taste of his terror. Unlike Carl, most spectators will surrender willingly to the sea monster. Unlike Carl, too, most will probably want to see more of its tantrums.
Jaws, which opens in 490 theaters this week, is part of a bracing revival of high adventure films and thrillers over the past few months (see box page 44). It is expensive ($8 million), elaborate, technically intricate and wonderfully crafted, a movie whose every shock is a devastating surprise. Like Earthquake, it takes a panic-producing disaster and shows how a representative cross section of humanity responds to it. Like The Exorcist, it deals with an essentially unknowable, therefore unpredictable and thoroughly spooky symbol of evil. Jaws promises to hit right in the old collective unconscious and to draw millions irresistibly to the box office. Start a mass-medium migration like that, its producers hope, and millions more will turn out just to see what all the excitement is about. After that, as they say in the trade, "through the roof."
What sets Jaws apart from most of the other ceiling busters and makes it a special case, like The Godfather, is that it is quite a good movie. For one thing, it is mercifully free of the paddingcosmic, comic, culturalthat so often mars "big" pictures. In that sense, the movie is very like its subject. If the great white shark that terrorizes the beaches of an island summer colony is one of nature's most efficient killing machines, Jaws is an efficient entertainment machine.