• Graveyard Shift

Plot Points From The 'Jaws' Book Thankfully Left Out Of The Movie

Peter Benchley's Jaws was first published in 1974 and immediately became the must-read book of the year. Like the movie, the book focuses on a great white shark as it terrorizes the town of Amity during the height of tourist season. And also like the movie, the central figure of the story is local Police Chief Martin Brody, who faces the ire of the local business owners and town politicians for his reluctance to keep the beaches open during the main money-making season. 

And that is where the similarities end. 

While the book is filled with occasional gruesome moments, much of the story is just discussion of the fish, the politics of the town, and a deep dive into a broken marriage between Brody and his wife. Even director Steven Spielberg had issue with the book, which he found initially difficult to adapt. The helmer stated that when he first read the book, he found himself rooting for shark because the characters were so unlikable.

And though the book is a well-written page turner, Spielberg's version is a truly terrifying masterpiece. The very first summer blockbuster of its time, Jaws is a movie that will keep generations out of the water thanks to Spielberg's vision. 

Some of the screen changes were superficial: Martin Brody is a native to Amity rather than a New Yorker, he has three sons rather than two, there are different casualties of the shark... all can be forgiven for the sake of storytelling. But in addition to the small tweaks, there are also massive plot points that were removed in an effort to create a cohesive and scary story for the big screen. 

So, what made it to the screen and what was scrapped? Here is a look at key plot points and scenes from Benchley's original novel that were best left behind. 

  • There's A Strange Subplot Dealing With Mayor Vaughn And The Mafia

    In the book, Mayor Larry Vaughan (spelled Vaughn in the movie) has secretive "partners" in his business affairs. They are alluded to on several occasions throughout the book, and as events move forward, it becomes clear that Vaughan is terrified of them. 

    Vaughan's mysterious partners are a key element to the story and a main reason why he doesn't wish to close the beaches. It becomes a bit of a mystery that dogs both Brody and newspaper reporter Harry Meadows. 

    As it turns out, Vaughan had shady dealings with syndicates. But at the end of the book, he flees Amity, loses his business, and leaves his wife behind, looking to start anew. 

    The subplot about the political unscrupulousness and syndicates was cut from the screen version and for good reason: It was unnecessary to the central story and bogged down the intensity of the terrifying tale. 

  • Hooper Perishes In That Cage

    If the book did everything it could to make Hooper an unlikeable foe to Brody, then readers who wanted comeuppance in the finale got theirs when Hooper is eaten by the shark. 

    Unlike the screen version, there is no happy ending with Hooper swimming towards land with best buddy Brody in tow. No, the book version of Hooper has him meet his maker in the cage he brings onto the Orca to help catch the shark. And it isn't a peaceful exit:

    The jaws closed around his torso. Hooper felt a terrible pressure, as if his guts were being compacted. He jabbed his fist into the black eye. The fish bit down, and the last thing Hooper saw before he died was the eye gazing at him through a cloud of his own blood.

  • Meadows Has A Larger Part As The Town's Newspaper Editor Who Sometimes Foils Brody

    In the film version of Jaws, Meadows is a bit part played by scribe Carl Gottlieb, a simple local reporter who shares a few scenes with stars Roy Scheider (Brody) and Murray Hamilton (Vaughn). But in the book, Harry is a central character who works both with and against Brody, depending on what would make a better story. 

    In the book, Meadows helps hush up the first onslaught, but when the shark strikes again, he gives no pause to throwing Brody under the bus, blaming him for keeping the first encounter quiet. He is also the one who contacted Hooper and invited him to Amity. Eventually, Meadows discovers Vaughan's ties to syndicates and the real reason for keeping the beaches open. 

    In the film, Meadows is an unnecessary character as the syndicate B-plot was removed from the script. 

  • The Book Discusses The Class Divide Between The Struggling Locals And The Rich Folk

    Mentioned in a throwaway line in the movie by Mrs. Taft ("Ellen, never, never! You're not born here, you're not an islander, that's it."), the divide between the summer people and islanders is clear. The summer people use the island to escape the city, and the islanders use the summer people to sustain their life. The two classes develop a love/hate relationship built on shaky ground that is disturbed when a giant man-eater takes up residence at Amity.

    But in the book, the divide is a much bigger issue. Without the summer people, the residents of Amity Island (moved from New York to New England in the movie) face financial ruin.  

    Some of the resentment boils over into acts of mayhem against Brody, who is seen as a threat despite his good intentions. At one point, his cat is viciously mutilated in retaliation to his threat to close the beaches. Great people, those Amity folks. 

    While interesting, this subplot that pulls attention away from the shark is better left unexplored in the movie.