Tuesday, March 18, 2014



I have remained busy with my work on my new VickiCam website. I’ve added a new feature where visitors can dress a virtual Mrs. Norman Maine in any one of a number of glamorous high fashion outfits and then, with the touch of a button, begin an animated tap routine which will show all of the flounces and feathers off to their best advantage. The favorite, so far, seems to be the VickiGoth number, in basic black, with sequin bat wings in black lame. It was inspired by one of the costumes from my musical film, Divorce Me, Dracula , which I made with Hammer studios some years ago. It was always one of Norman’s favorites and he did an uncredited cameo as Renfield.

Speaking on Norman, his improved health has led to his filling up his social calendar once again. Earlier this week, he gathered together a few of his cronies from the Incontinence Wing of the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Home for the Aging and had them all over to Chateau Maine where they raided the kitchen and made messes on the carpet. The group of them spent most of the evening in the lounge, drinking sloe gin fizzes and reminiscing about pictures they had made back in their glory days at the studio. One old coot brought up that sea picture of Norman's that’s a verboten subject at our house. I've never forgiven him for it; while he was off sailing the ocean blue, I was forced into a life of poverty at the Oleander Arms making shampoo commercials while waiting for my big break. Norman, having had one sloe gin fizz too many, carried on and on about the joys of the open waves until I was forced to remind him of just how much he loved the sea by dumping a bucket of cold salt water over his head and giving him ipecac until he threw up over the balcony.

Leaving it to Jerry, the cleaning lady, to scrub the salt stains out of the new olive green shag Mr. Brad had installed in the lounge, I called nurse Tameka to bring Norman back to health, chased his friends into a fleet of Yellow Cabs, and repaired to the home theater where I put Steven Spielberg's early hit, Jaws into the DVD player.

If you're one of the three people in the country who missed Jaws on its first go round, or in any of its innumerable reincarnations, it's the story of a killer shark, (the marine and not the legal kind), that chews up stuntmen wearing bad seventies clothes and hair dos around the beaches of Martha's Vineyard. The film is based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, published in the early 70s.  It became a monster hit during the summer of 1975, scaring summer filmgoers off beaches all over the country - even though actual shark attacks are less common than transvestite news anchors.
After an opening round of shark attacks at fictional Amity Island, an unlikely trio of men comes together to defeat the perfect killing machine. They include the grizzled old fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), Chief of Police Brody (Roy Scheider) and a hotdog marine biologist, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). Much of the film is a sort of rehash of Moby Dick as the three band together and go after the creature. Roy Scheider brings a quiet intensity to the part that keeps the picture on balance. Richard Dreyfuss, unfortunately, is all neurotic tics and shows the signs of overacting that would shortly start to kill his career. Robert Shaw positively chews the scenery but redeems himself half way through the movie with an incredible monologue about the USS Indianapolis that makes us recognize what makes the character tick.

In style, the film is your basic 'Boo' movie; the shark remains an unseen monster for much of the first hour. To a certain extent, this was necessitated by repeated mechanical problems with the model sharks built for the film. Electronics and seawater are not a good mix. This forced the young Steven Spielberg (in his early 20s at the time) to use imagination and atmosphere rather than strict visual shocks. The resulting film not only made his reputation, but also a whole pile of money and, in the process, accidentally created the summer blockbuster must see. Spielberg was helped incredibly by John Williams' now famous score and by his ability to balance chills and humor. The film’s effect on audiences, me included (I was forced to cancel a contract to star in 'Wet and Wild: The Esther Williams Story' that year as I couldn't stand the thought of spending that much time afloat), was sensational as it touched some sort of primal fear.

The DVD contains a number of deleted scenes, mainly from early in the film, which shows how he also tightened up the exposition and kept the film on focus. Some of the deleted scenes are truly awful, especially one involving Robert Shaw, a kid playing clarinet and an off-key rendition of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' which would have killed the movie if it had been retained. The DVD also has a great wide-screen transfer, excellent sound quality, a couple of silly outtakes and a 'Making of documentary' that's fairly interesting.

Skinny-dipping. Skinny drowning and digesting. Pantsuits. White sand beaches. Gratuitous eyeless corpse. Boiled shark jaws. Strychnine spear guns. Half eaten rowboats. Half eaten rowboat rowers. Gratuitous exploding air canisters.

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