Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Jaws: The Morgue Scene

If you remember a recent Jaws Month post of mine, I mentioned a scene from Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss, as oceanographer Matt Hooper, is in the medical examiner’s office looking at the remains of the first victim, Chrissie Watkins. He lifts her severed arm out of a small plastic tub and states, “This is what happens…” before the shot suddenly—and mysteriously—cuts away. In fact, it seems to me the moment interrupts an already existing shot…as if it were inserted into the film late in the post-production process.

For Jaws fans everywhere, this edit has raised a question that, as far as I know, has never been answered: what was removed from that inserted shot? Taking my own advice, I went on-line and began searching for Jaws scripts—rough drafts, early versions, and finished screenplays—where I could hopefully discover for myself whether or not that complete line of dialogue ever existed. Or if I had experienced some sort of false memory of something that never existed in the first place.

I found two versions of the screenplay during my search; the first was an undated early draft credited to the novel’s author, Peter  Benchley, and to screenwriter Carl Gottlieb. What’s interesting is, this draft carried the title Stillness in the Water, with the alternate title of Jaws listed underneath as an ‘also known as’. Below is the scene in question, featuring Brody, Hooper and the unnamed coroner studying the remains of the unfortunate Chrissie. And note that the medical examiner’s office is described here as ‘morgue’. (Script and scene courtesy of the Internet Movie Script Database):



               The Amity Morgue is also the Amity Funeral Home, a Victorian 
               house that normally serves as the community's mortuary. The 
               Coroner, a professional small-town GP, is standing by as 
               Hooper is speaking into a sophisticated cassette recorder 
               with a headpiece that leaves his hands free for measurement 
               with a calibrator or calipers.

                         Let's show Mr. Hooper our accident.

               With a shrug, the Coroner slides open the drawer.

               CLOSE ON HOOPER

               He is looking down as the drawer slides past him, still matter-
               of-fact, turning on his recorder.

                         Victim One, identified as Christine 
                         Watkins, female Caucasian...

               The sheet has just been lifted, and Hooper stares down at 
               the lump on the slab. He stops, turns off his recorder as 
               emotions wage war with his senses. Rationality wins, and he 
               turns on the recorder again.

                         ...height and weight may only be 
                         estimated from partial remains. Torso 
                         severed in mid-thorax, eviscerated 
                         with no major organs remaining. May 
                         I have a drink of water? Right arm 
                         severed above the elbow with massive 
                         tissue loss from upper musculature. 
                         Portions of denuded bone remaining.
                              (tense, to Brody)
                         -- did you notify the coast guard?

                         No, it was local jurisdiction.

                         Left arm, head, shoulders, sternum 
                         and portions of ribcage intact.
                              (to Brody)
                         Please don't smoke. With minor post-
                         mortem lacerations and abrasions. 
                         Bite marks indicate typical non-frenzy 
                         feeding pattern of large squali, 
                         possibly carchaninus lonimanus, or 
                         isurus glaucas. Gross tissue loss 
                         and post-mortem erosion of bite 
                         surfaces prevent detailed analysis; 
                         however, teeth and jaws of the 
                         attacking squali must be considered 
                         above average for these waters.
                              (to Brody again)
                         -- Did you go out in a boat and look 

                         No, we just checked the beach...

                              (turns off the recorder)
                         It wasn't an 'accident,' it wasn't a 
                         boat propeller, or a coral reef, or 
                         Jack the Ripper. It was a shark. It 
                         was a shark.

Okay, no solution to our puzzle there. But what about this next one…a final draft screenplay that was again undated, where Peter Benchley is credited as the sole screenwriter. This version is strictly titled Jaws, and it even carries a production number (#02074), which would lead me to believe that this was the more recent of the two scripts. But the one above more closely parallels the final product that we see on-screen, so maybe the one below was Benchley’s final draft before Gottlieb came on board to revise his work. Again, we have Brody and Hooper at the morgue, but this time the coroner is given a name, and the dialogue is completely different from what we know from the film. (Script and scene courtesy of Drew’s Script-O-Rama):


               Hooper is measuring the bite marks on the Day-Glow raft
               with his dial calibrators.

                         I'll look at her now if you don't


               Hooper scribbles notes, then mumbles something inaudible
               into his pocket cassette recorder. Coroner Santos looks
               to Brody, plaintively.

                                     CORONER SANTOS
                         That was a different sort of accident.
                         As I told you ---

                                 (guilty, angry)
                         Let him.

               The coroner hesitates, then walks to the ice chest and slides
               open the drawer.


               At first his face registers shock. Then, with forced composure,
               Hooper steadies his hands and begins to take pictures with his

                         I've heard the boat-propeller story
                         several times. And the nocturnal
                         hatchet-murder story, the dashed-
                         upon-the-razor-coral story --
                                 (to Brody)
                         The little boy was never found?

               Brody nods, looking down at his feet.

                         They're very successful creatures,
                         sharks. Eighty million year's antiquity
                         for the species of the Great White.
                         The family goes as far back as three-
                         hundred million. Plenty of time to get
                         good at what they do.

               An attendant flies into the room, joyfully out of wind.

                         They called from the dock, Mr. Brody!
                         They got it!


               He appears stunned.


               Enjoying a lightheadedness he hasn't felt in weeks.

                         Want to see?

Still no answer! So I guess the mystery remains unsolved, for now. But if we’re looking for some positives out of all this, at least we had the opportunity to check out some interesting variations of a Jaws scene…ones which hopefully were less anti-climactic than the recent Michael Phelps vs Fake Great White Shark race that lamely kicked off Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. And if anyone has any thoughts or clues in regards to this scene, or if you know of any other drafts of the Jaws script that might hold some answers, feel free to let me know below!

18 comments on “Jaws: The Morgue Scene

  1. Nice work with the research. Fascinating stuff. Perhaps only Jaws insiders from back in the day are in the loop on this one? Or maybe there’s a professor teaching film interpretation at a lofty (or un-lofty) university with some dirt on the real deal? One day you’ll stumble onto the Monolithic truth. When you least expect it.

    • Todd B

      Thanks, Julie! I can think of two Jaws insiders who might have some insight: Richard Dreyfuss and Steven Spielberg. Although I don’t know when I’ll be able to talk to either of them…I can never seem to catch them at home. And I’ve checked out a few behind-the-scenes books and searched for articles and information on-line, and so far I’ve come up empty, so maybe you’re right: one day I’ll just stumble upon it, when I least expect it.

  2. Dracula

    To conclude Jaws Month, I did not swim with the great whites in San Diego. I did stumble across a cool shark t-shirt where the lil man said “hey, let’s get that for Mr. Todd”. Soon to be donated to the CM collection.

    • Todd B

      You tell the lil man that I said thank you, and am looking forward to wearing his cool gift with pride. And I’m disappointed to hear that you did not swim in the Westwood Club pool with any computer-generated sharks.

  3. grandrapidsgirl

    Hey, not fair that I cannot post my funny shark wearing polka-dot bra pics here!

    • Todd B

      Why not? If I can add an image to my comments, you should be able to do the same! If not, send me another comment, then send me the pic via e-mail, and I’ll add it your comment myself!

      • grandrapidsgirl

        Just couldn’t quite spare that last brain cell so it’s in your inbox. I will have to tap your skills to find out how to do that tho. Thanks!! 🙂

      • Todd B

        Here ya go, Shark Girl!


  4. Dracula

    What about those shark speedos we gave you a few years ago? Oh that’s right, you go to Blacks Beach.

    • Todd B

      I actually wore the shark speedos to Black’s Beach, but the minute I stepped onto the beach, they were enthusiastically torn off by the Nordic Women’s Surf Team.

      • Julie Dunning

        Oh! Thanks for sharing my find! And is “Black’s Beach” still a thing?!? I thought surely we’d outgrown it. Your encounter with the Nordic Women’s Surf Team – well . . . ROFL!!

      • Todd B

        Apparently Black’s Beach IS still a thing…though it wouldn’t be MY sort of thing, unless there really was a Nordic Women’s Surf Team. In which case, you couldn’t drag me away from that place, no matter how hard you tried. 😉

  5. If anyone is going to figure this mystery out, I know it’ll be you. Maybe if you start stalking Richard Dreyfuss he’ll let you in on the secret. Either way, I’m not going to let this one blip in the film canister ruin my enjoyment the next time I sit down to watch this. As a matter of fact, I’m about due. Maybe that Laserdisc version I found.

    • Todd B

      I’d like to think that Dreyfuss has been asked this question a thousand times, but who knows, I may end up being the first. IF I ever find him! And do you actually own a Laserdisc player? My local used record store sells laserdiscs for a buck or two each, and I’ve bought a couple for the fun of it…but it might be cool to find a player somewhere that’s cheap, too.

      And remember, whenever you next watch Jaws: “This is what happens…” – CUT! “This is what happens…” – CUT! “This is what…”

  6. Mike W

    I remember seeing Jaws in the theater when it first came out. The scene in the coroner’s office was not the same as it is now. I first noticed the coroner’s office changes right away once the movie came out on vhs. Every time a newly presented copy of the film, like one that included stars narrating or photo stills etc, came out I would buy it hoping to see if maybe they put that scene back in. I don’t remember the particulars of the scene but I remember it was gruesome and thought at the time I noticed the scene missing that they must have cut it because of the violence. Back at that time movies / TV were held to stricter standards by the government; one example might be I Dream of Jeannie not being allowed to show her belly button.

    • Todd B

      Hey Mike, thanks for sharing your verification of the morgue scene omission! For me, I first noticed the difference either during its theatrical re-release in 1979, or when I watched it first aired on TV that same year. And I can’t recall any visual changes…just that bit of dialogue that seems to be cut off suddenly. And what still baffles me is, why hasn’t anyone found an answer to this puzzle? Maybe it’s like Jeannie’s belly button: it’s something we’ll never have access to.

  7. Jodi

    I remember this scene very vividly and noticed that it was missing in the TV version and in the DVD. I remember “See, this is what happens…” was followed by “when you…” I want to say he said, “See, this is what happens when you don’t pay attention.” I’m not sure if that fits or if that’s what he said, but honestly this has been driving me crazy for years. Yes, years.

    • Todd B

      I’m right there with you, Jodi, and trust me, it’s been bugging me for decades! I must have noticed it in a TV airing as well, perhaps during that first broadcast back in 1979. And I guess another question to be asked is, if there was a bit of dialogue that was cut, then why was it cut? Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

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