Below is Newsday's original film review of "Jaws," which ran Sunday, June 22, 1975. The movie premiered in theaters on June 20, 1975.
"Jaws" does for ocean bathing what "Psycho" did for taking a shower.
It makes you want to stay dry. And safe, and wary.
Virtually naked and trapped, a swimmer is as vulnerable to a marauding killer shark as the defenseless Janet Leigh was in her motel shower to a homicidal maniac. That's the stuff of nightmares.
Fear gripped the nation's imagination after "Psycho." For months afterward, psychologists noted the phenomenon of women who were afraid to take a shower unless there was someone at home to, in effect, guard the doors. And when a U.S. senator's young daughter was murdered by an intruder in her home, the TV debut of "Psycho" was postponed because of official concern that in the context of the real-life scary story, the movie might feed public hysteria.
The point about movies like "Psycho" and, now, "Jaws" is that they tap into and exploit primitive fears of murderous attacks by alien species. Tony Perkins was an inhuman madman, mentally aberrant, a schizo acting out of irrational impulses in "Psycho." The rogue great white shark of "Jaws" that feeds on bathers and boaters is a monster from that alien world, the ocean, into which millions of ordinary individuals set foot each year.
"Jaws," which opened Friday at Blue Ribbon showcase theaters, is the best action movie of 1975, and an all-time horror masterpiece. It's conceivable but unlikely that another movie this year may equal it, but there is no way to surpass it. It's tight, it's tense, it's fast-paced, it's superlative storytelling, and it's terrifying. I totally believed in the mechanical shark, even when it looked a bit rubbery toward the final episode as it tried to climb into the chase boat to devour its pursuers.
If I have any misgivings about "Jaws," it is that it probably should have been rated R (to keep out very young children unaccompanied by adults) instead of PG. I counted five mutilated corpses, not including a dog gobbled up on-screen, and each dismemberment was more terrifying than the one before.
It's hard to know anymore what exposure to such graphic realism as screaming, flailing, gushing of blood and close-ups of a severed leg sinking to the sea bottom does to the mind of a child. The 12-year-old boy with whom I saw "Jaws" was upset and angry with the picture and alternately excited and exhilarated by it. He reflexively joined the audience to cheer wildly at the slam-bang, emotionally satisfying ending. But you know your children's tolerance for gore, carnage and suspense better than any rating authorities. So be advised that "Jaws" is not for the queasy or those prone to nightmares.
"Jaws" works, as do most exceptional movies, by compounding emotions. In this case, it mixes horror and humor. In the midst of chasing the killer shark at sea, the three hunters (old salt Robert Shaw, police chief Roy Scheider and shark scholar Richard Dreyfuss) sing, humorously try to one-up each other by showing off old wounds and scars, and generally engage in a sort of friendly camaraderie. Very shortly thereafter, their boat is sinking, the shark is battering the hull and then chomping away at an anti-shark cage to get at Dreyfuss.
Director Steven Spielberg has immeasurably improved the bestselling Peter Benchley potboiler novel. Just as with "The Exorcist," the realism and the special effects ended up nearly doubling the original budget -- but the money shows on screen in the form of total credibility. The cameras are aboard the boats, at water level with bathers and underwater for shark's-eye subjective views of swimmers' torsos. The minor plot discrepancy -- three men chasing a 6,000-pound, 25-foot behemoth on a small boat instead of calling in the Coast Guard -- is poetic license, an excuse for personal adventure.
Spielberg masterfully sets the breathless pace with the attack on a girl within the first few moments of the film's opening, keeps it going long before we see the shark, escalates it into sheer panic on a Fourth of July day at the beach of the fictional resort of Amity, and carries it right through to the man-to-shark combat at film's end.
"Jaws" has two main sections. The first half is a variation on Ibsen's "Enemy of the People," with a police chief being pressured by the local pillars of society not to scare off the summer tourists by closing down the beaches because of the shark. The second half is Moby Shark with Robert Shaw as an obsessed shark hunter modeled after Captain Ahab.
Shaw, Dreyfuss ("Duddy Kravitz" in a beard) and Scheider are absolutely superb. The film is so well structured that we don't even resent false alarms. They provoke only nervous laughter. "Jaws" is a film about nervous laughter, about waiting and about survival in a jungle environment, where a species of 30-million-year-old predators more ferocious than the saber-tooth tiger still coexists with puny men who have only their brains and blind luck to defend them.