Read What TIME Thought of Jaws in 1975

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Shortly after the movie Jaws was released 40 years ago this weekend, TIME declared in a cover story that it was “a case study in the recklessness, stubbornness, blindness and bravado that go into a Hollywood superproduction.”

The making of the Steven Spielberg classic involved five separate scripts, the final one of which continued to be written even as filming got underway, skeptical residents of Martha’s Vineyard wary of the film crew shooting there, and the stink of rotting shark carcasses permeating the set.

And yet, as the story made clear, the whole thing worked:

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 padding—cosmic, comic, cultural—that 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.

Partly this is due to a shrewd adaptation. Peter Benchley’s novel spent too much time on dry land, plodding around Irving Wallace country, reinvestigating such tired phenomena as the uneasy marriage, the adulterous wife, the snaky seducer. In the movie, most of this lallygagging is eliminated. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) must still fight the town’s mayor, who is fearful that closing the beaches after the first shark attacks will ruin his resort’s economy. He still joins forces with Quint, the professional shark killer (Robert Shaw, employing an ornate accent of indeterminate origin), and a youthful ichthyologist named Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), all theory and wisecracks. Scheider is occasionally too recessive for his own good, while Shaw is too excessive for the good of the film. Dreyfuss, however, is perfect. With a cheeky charm he manages to humanize the picture while stealing it.

Read the full story here in the TIME Vault: Summer of the Shark

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