There are endless cliches out there about the importance of a first impression, but whatever truth they may hold in our everyday lives they go double for film. When there’s only a couple of hours to tell a story and capture its players, an audience’s first chance to meet a character is an asset no filmmaker worth their salt is going to waste. So with that in mind, CHUD is going to take a look through the many decades of cinema to extract the most special of those moments when you are first introduced to a character, be they small moments that speak volumes, or large moments that simply can’t be ignored.
Inevitably it will be the major characters and leads that are granted the grandest of entrances, but don’t be surprised to see a few supporting players and minor individuals get their due, when the impact of their appearance lingers longer than their screentime. Also know that these moments may be chosen for any number of reasons, and the list could never be exhaustive. But here you’ll find moments that make a big splash, say a lot with a little, or we think are just particularly cool.
We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to hear from you about each and every entry. Don’t spend the effort guessing future choices or declaring what must be included- just enjoy the ride!
The Film… Jaws (1975)
Director… Steven Spielberg
Entering From Stage Left… Robert Shaw in the role of Quint.
What Makes it Special… The speech.
Aside from the shark, Quint is the role in Jaws. On paper he is simply the best character in the film — he’s got the best lines, the juiciest persona, and an epic show-stopping monologue. When Spielberg offered Robert Duvall the lead role of Chief Brody, Duvall said he’d rather play Quint. He was deemed too young though. Charlton Heston supposedly expressed interest. He was deemed too big a personality. The role was offered to Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden. They both passed. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown had just finished working with Robert Shaw on The Sting, and thought he’d be perfect for the role. Spielberg was reluctant because he felt Shaw was prone to over-acting. But Shaw got the role, and magic happened.
Quint’s introduction is an entrance befitting such an outsized character.
The city leaders of Amity have gathered to find out just what Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) plan to do about this pesky shark that is threatening to ruin the island’s lucrative summer tourist season. Brody wants to close the beach. Sensing the angry voters before him, the Mayor cockblocks Brody, assuring the crowd that the beach will only be closed for 24 hours. This does little to quell the uproar in the room. Everyone is talking at once, until…
Scrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The heinous sound of finger nails on a chalkboard. All the heads in the room turn. We see a hand scratching down a chalkboard with a crudely draw shark on it, though we cannot yet see who the hand belongs to. Heads continue to turn, people plug their ears, as the jabbering in the room falls silent. Then we first see Quint from the perspective of the whole room — he is small and far away, framed in a gap between the crowd, nibbling on a snack.
“Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’.”
From that quaint opening line, Quint then launches into an uninterrupted speech, as we steadily creep closer and closer to him…
“I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. 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.”
The room sits rapt as he speaks. When he’s finished no one seems sure what to say. The shark hasn’t killed enough people just yet. They still only care about their businesses. So the Mayor gives the politest “that’s not gonna happpen” he can, and Quint gets up, gives a wry “You’ll need me soon enough” smile, and exits (followed curiously by a weird little dude with a dog).
The nails on the chalkboard is a classic attention getter, and the way Spielberg moves the camera through the crowd, inching us closer and closer to Quint, enhances how important Quint feels, but this scene is all about that speech written by author Peter Benchley, rewritten by Carl Gottlieb, and no doubt further ad-libbed by Shaw. The moment is strange but momentous; Quint’s words are ominous but also kinda scatter brained. We didn’t even know Quint was in the room for the first section of the scene, then he talks for two minutes straight with no interruption, then he leaves and the scene continues without him — and we all spend the next chunk of the film secretly thinking, “When is that guy coming back?”. That right there is how you make a fucking first impression in a film, my friends. It was basically as though Quint just wandered into the movie and said, “Hey, sorry to cut in, I’ll be outta your hair in sec. I just want to say ‘hi’ to the audience, let ‘em know who I am.” He crashed the damn movie! There is something vaguely meta about the whole thing; it is such a “movie moment” first scene. There is a hint of a wink here.
Why it Resonates… The image of Shaw sitting in front of that chalkboard is very iconic, but the lasting legacy of this introduction is its quotability — the true test of any speech’s excellence. From “Y’all know me” to “the head, the tail, the whole damn thing,” Quint’s introduction is littered with quotables.
Other Grand Entrances… Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper has a solid first scene too, but the film’s other truly notable introduction is our first good look at the shark. Throughout the first half of the film we’ve caught glimpses here and there of the big fish, but never a full-on view. Then, once Quint has been hired and the three men are out on the sea in The Orca, Brody finally meets his adversary while tossing scoops of chum into the ocean. This great reveal is immediately followed by one of the best reaction shots ever, and the film’s most famous quote, Brody’s foreboding proclamation to Quint — “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”