#goldnagecrime, Books, Crime Fiction

Christmas Mysteries and More

The Crime at the Noah's ArkIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at the cozy offices of Dean Street Press; the halls are decked, the gifts are wrapped, our epic vintage holiday music playlist has us humming along to Bing Crosby, and each day concludes with a warming cup of mulled wine that our company director expertly brews in our little office kitchen.

I am so overwhelmed with the holiday spirit that I’d much rather not be working, but instead, snuggling down with one of Dean Street Press’s Golden Age Christmas Mysteries.

Molly Thyme’s The Crime at The Noah’s Ark (1931) couldn’t be any more Christmassy, with its glamorous cast marooned by bad weather at the Noah’s Ark inn, each forced to spend the holidays suspecting each other of murder. The same year saw the publication of Christopher Bush’s ingenious mystery, Dancing Death, with the characters again holed up in the snow, this time in a rather grand English manor to which they have been summoned to a costume ball on New Year’s Eve.  Both of these titles are available through Amazon as paperbacks and e-books, and both have introductions by noted crime historian Curtis Evans. I’ll be gifting these titles to the Golden Age Mystery fans on my Christmas list, along with a little, muslin bag of the Dean Street Press mulled wine spice blend.

Garland

 

Although Dean Street Press is best known for its Golden Age Crime Fiction, Furrowed Middlebrow publications, and Golden Age Hollywood biographies, we have one or two interesting outliers (published for no other reason than a personal affection), one of which is The Festival of Christmas by Laurence Whistler. Written in the late 1940s, Mr. Whistler set out to document the origins and history of the holiday’s traditions, many still with us, some lost to time (but certainly worth reviving). Clearly a lover of Christmas, Mr. Whistler’s prose is as warm as the season itself, all of it enhanced with beautiful illustrations by  Robin Jaques and Joan Hassall.

who killed dick whittington coverThe worst thing about Christmas is when it all ends, but we can all enjoy a little holiday spirit in March, 2019, when Dean Street Press will publish the wonderful Classic Crime novels of E.& M.A. Radford, one of which is the delightfully atmospheric, Who Killed Dick Whittington? Written in the 1940s, the murder is set in the theatrical world of Christmas pantomimes, the actress playing The Principal Boy meeting her end on stage and in full view of the audience. Whodunnit? I don’t know yet, as I am only half way through proofing it before it goes to press, and am considering myself particularly fortunate that a Christmas mystery has landed on my desk at the start of this holiday season.

Oh; so I do get to snuggle down with a Dean Street Press Golden Age Christmas Mysteries after all.

Now where’s that mulled wine…

Garland

Amanda Hallay Heath
Director of Marketing and Publicity
Dean Street Press
deanstreetpress.co.uk

 

 

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The Never-Ending ‘Tales’

Tales 1I was excited to read that Netflix are bringing Armistead Maupin’s seminal Seventies’ satires, ‘Tales of the City’, back to the small screen. Set in modern day San Francisco, the 10 episode series picks up with central character Mary Ann Singleton (a role revived by Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann in the original ’90s’ adaptation of the novels) in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and I’m assuming the new series is based on Maupin’s later novels in his ‘Tales’ series, novels that I personally felt lacked the magic of the original three; Tales of the City, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City.

The original series (produced by Britain’s Channel 4) which debuted in 1993 was a well-executed period piece; the ’70s costume and decor were perfect rendered, and although it took me a while to get used to actors embodying characters who had become so personally beloved, I grew to sort of enjoy it. But only ‘sort of’. The problem was that it just wasn’t all that funny; Armistead Maupin’s books were hilarious, relying as they did upon internal monologue, something that (unless a voice-over is employed, a la Father of the Bride or A Christmas Story), is impossible to translate to the screen.

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Tales 3If you’ve never read the ‘Tales of the City’ series, I wouldn’t blame you, tucked away as they so often are in the ‘Gay’ or ‘LGBT’ sections of bookstores. This always infuriated me, as Maupin wrote of diversity before ‘diversity’ was even discussed, the books have as many straight central characters as gay central characters (all of whom are given equal play), and so I’ve always felt that shoving ‘Tales’ into the ‘Gay’ section rather robs Maupin of his brilliance; he is not a ‘great, gay writer’; he’s a great writer. Period.

Heartily influenced by Dickens (in delivery as well as tone; the first novel in the series was originally serialized in The San Francisco Chronicle) ‘Tales of the City’ is full of warmth, hilarity, outrageous coincidence, and always include something of a thriller element. Fast-reading page turners, I first read the books in the ’80s on the eve of my short-lived relocation to San Francisco (short-lived because San Francisco in real life isn’t half as the thrill ride of ‘Tales of the City’), and they have remained among my All-Time Favorite Books. Clever, touching, laugh-out-loud funny (and often, rather scary), it was  challenging the first ’round to bring Maupin’s delightfully audacious work to the small-screen, so I am curious to see what Netflix will do with this new imagining of the lives and loves of the denizens of Barbary Lane, not least of all because Laura Linney will be joined by ‘Tales’ alumni Olympia Dukakis and Barbara Garrick, reviving their roles as the magical ‘Mrs. Madrigal’ and high-strung socialite (and Jonestown survivor) ‘DeDe Halcyon Day’, both of whom (along with the rest of the Channel 4 cast) gave terrific performances in the original.

Amanda Hallay Heath
Director of Marketing and Publicy
http://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk
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‘DYNASTY’: A Not-So-Guilty Pleasure

I always ignore wDyn 1hat the critics say (unless they agree with what I think), and so shame on me for listening to the critics in their general condemnation of the CW channel’s Dynasty (currently streaming on Netflix). An updated reboot of the 1980s’ evening soap, the series has been blasted for its preposterous plot-lines, campy characters, and its ludicrous level of luxury. Hello?! Weren’t these the very things that made the original Dynasty such compelling ‘appointment viewing’? Also despised by the critics in its day (for much the same reasons), the original Dynasty now stands above even Dallas as the quintessential television optic through which to view the ’80s’ obsession with glamour and wealth, and clearly, the incredible popularity of the new Dynasty among viewers speaks to our contemporary mania for luxury labels and Kardashian lifestyles.

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‘Casual Friday’, Carrington style.
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Sammy Jo, tucking in.

But we at Dean Street Press are not binging this show as a socio-economic and cultural observation of the current zeitgeist. We are watching it because it is so much fun. I can’t even say it’s a guilty pleasure, because we don’t feel remotely guilty, eyes glued to the telly as we shriek with delight at the latest crimes, cons, and capers of the Carringtons and Colbys, all swishing around in their opulent homes and designer wardrobes. And as to the preposterous plot-lines, we say ‘bring ’em on’, as little has enchanted us more than the Thanksgiving episode when the Carringtons played host to a relative thought to be crazy who transpired to be sane, but – in a desperate attempt for revenge (there is a lot revenge in Dynasty) – locked the butler and the gay nephew (oh, hashtag ‘Sammy Jo’!) in the wine cellar, held the rest of the family at gunpoint, and ended up shooting the roasted turkey—all of this happening in the same episode as the Carrington ‘rich bitch’ daughter (oh, hashtag ‘Fallon’!) getting roped into volunteering at a church dinner, where she meets the parents of her chauffeur (with whom she is having an affair), and it all comes out that Michael (chauffeur-lover) has been lying to his parents as to his job at Carrington-Atlantic, which is just as well, because Michael’s dad is dying of a weird strain of leukemia brought on by some special chemical (or something) that Carrington-Atlantic use on crops (or something), and Cristal Carrington (who is nice) wants to go public with it, but her husband, the ever-powerful billionaire, Blake (sometimes nice, but usually just ever-powerful) is having none of it! Oh, and throw in Fallon’s fake marriage to a guy who may (we suspect) turn out to be her own, long-lost brother (kidnapped as an infant and never returned), Sammy Jo’s fear of deportation (he’s a paperless Venezualan with a penchant for shopping and high-carb dinners), coupled with his on-off relationship with Steven Carrington (a Carrington son who was not kidnapped as an infant), who has his own problems with his ex-lover, Ted, a drug addict who may or may not ‘expose’ him (there’s a lot of fear of ‘exposure’ in Dynasty), and I think you can see why this is pretty compulsive viewing.

Spit It Out
Fallon, working on her next one-line zinger.

Over-the-top and absurd? Oh, you bet!

This is Féerie in Fendi; it is Grand Guignol in Gucci.

And why not? Thinking of some of our titles here at Dean Street Press that center on the ludicrously rich in the 1930s, for example, with their chauffeurs and butlers and blackmailers (and murder!), is Dynasty on Netflix truly that dissimilar? We have always, as a culture, loved to live vicariously through those who are richer, more privileged, and better dressed than ourselves, and so why the critics have come down so hard on this aspect of the show seems to ignore the fact that none of this is new, and none of it is ‘vulgar’. It is simply the continuation of a great tradition of luxuriant melodrama (although, in the case of Dynasty, I would argue that it is more ‘come-drama’, and intentionally so).

Filmed entirely on location in Atlanta (unlike the original series, which was set in Denver), the years that separate the original and its present incarnation are marked by far more diversity; in the reboot, the Carringtons’ rival family, the Colbys, is African-American, at least three central characters are gay, and Cristal Carrington (originally played by the very blonde—and very white—Linda Evans), is a Latin American immigrant. The continuum between the two series is that everyone is ridiculously good-looking and gorgeously attired; even my eight year old stepdaughter is a fan, because (quote) she “loves the fashion!”, and recently spent a very annoying (for me) morning Googling the outfits worn on the show and suggesting that I buy them (for “only $2,900!”).

The Dynasty Cast, Then and Now

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Cristal Carrington
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Jeff Colby
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Sammy Jo

Personally, I am finding the new Dynasty nostalgic, for I remember being a teenager in the 1980s and waiting eagerly each week for the latest episode of the original, watching it with my dad, and both of us screaming with laughter at the audacious plots, the cliff-hanger endings, and Joan Collins’ wardrobe. Now, almost forty years later and watching this new version, I am reminded of just what made the original so great, because what made the original so great is what makes Dynasty 2018 such a blast!

Amanda Hallay Heath
Director of Marketing and Publicity
http://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk
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“THE BLOODY MURDER”: DSP’s Take On The Classic Bloody Mary

Here at Dean Street Press, Bloody Murdernobody is required to work weekends. Unless we are. Rupert (DSP Founder and Director) has, however, made working on the weekends a far merrier affair by providing his team with his excellent and original (although parts of it were cribbed from Kingsley Amis) Bloody Mary.

I know a thing or two about cocktails; not 91nZI+gnKGLonly do I drink them more or less endlessly, but in 2011, I authored the rather silly recipe book, Classic Cocktails: Retro Recipes for The Home Bartender.  I wish I had known Rupert then, as I’d have used his recipe instead 51lWGT0jngL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_of my mother’s. I would love to know how Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made them every morning on their movies sets (I am currently reading Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, and therefore obsessed with all things Taylor-Burton), but I can’t imagine it could possibly have been tastier than Rupert’s.

Renamed “The Bloody Murder” in honor of the Dean Street Press catalogue of Golden Age Crime Fiction, this version of the classic eye-opener is thinner and less ‘gunky’ than the original, fruitier, and with a gentle heat, added not with Tabasco, but with a horseradish/Worcester sauce mix.

Picture2Instead of tomato juice, we use Clamato, the North American tomato juice with clam brine. But fear not, haters of crustacean; this does not taste fishy (it doesn’t even taste likes clams), but it does have a brininess that hits you pleasantly at the back of the throat, transporting you to an aristocratic gathering in Old Cape Cod (or Brighton beach in the 1930s, the town agog at another trunk murder).

A-C007-2If you can’t get your hands on Clamato, good old tomato juice will do, and – quite honestly – once you’ve tried The Bloody Murder – traditional takes on the drink seem dreadfully heavy and soup-like.  Much as I used to love the old school Bloody Mary, it always felt more like a starter than a drink; they’re too filling to really have more than one. Not so the case with Rupert’s Bloody Murder! This is a thin (yet potent) tipple, and it’s easy to have more than you probably should.

And we do.

(“Hic!”)

Here is the recipe for one; multiply as needed (even if you’re the only one drinking).

INGREDIENTS

2 parts vodka.

2 parts Clamato.

Juice from half an orange.

Juice from half a lemon.

1 teaspoon of Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

½ teaspoon of horseradish.

½ teaspoon of celery sauce.

1 (scant) teaspoon of Worcester Sauce.

Celery stick (for garnish).

INSTRUCTIONS

In a bowl, mix horseradish, ketchup, Worcester, and celery salt until smooth. Squeeze the orange and lemon juice into the bowl, and stir.

In a glass, add the vodka and Clamato.

Using a sieve, add the bowl mixture, pushing through all the tangy goodness. (*If you prefer a gloopier drink, you can add some of the mixture with a spoon).

Stir well.

Add ice and a celery stalk for garnish.

Best enjoyed while reading a Dean Street Press classic.

Amanda Hallay Heath
Director of Market & Publicity
Dean Street Press

 

 

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FRANCIS VIVIAN’S ‘INSPECTOR KNOLLIS’ LIVES TO SLEUTH AGAIN!

Out Today

FV Strip

Dean Street Press is both proud and excited to announce the launch of the entire ten book series of Golden Age Crime writer Francis Vivian’s ‘Inspector Knollis’ novels.  Published between 1941 and 1957, it is astonishing to us that a mystery writer so popular in his day (Francis Vivian frequently came in joint second place with the legendary Ngaio Marsh in terms of bestselling hardback mysteries, the two writers never quite stealing Queen Agatha’s crown) was not—unlike Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Dame Christie herself— continuously republished, his name (along with that of his beloved detective) lost to time.

Until now, that is.

Alerted to the author by venerated Crime Fiction historian Curtis Evans (who provides insightful forewords to all ten novels), Dean Street Press immediately knew how right Mr. Vivian would be for our catalogue of Golden Age Mysteries, and understood wholeheartedly why contemporaneous critics (including those of The Times Literary Supplement and The Observer) raved about these novels.  Cleverly clue-ridden, Mr. Vivian gives us everything we need to know to solve the crime ourselves, yet (in true Christie style) his delicious denouements leave us kicking ourselves in the delightful realization that we (unlike Inspector Knollis) have been dolts.

Although assigned to Scotland Yard, Knollis gets around, with books taking him the width and breadth of Great Britain and sometimes beyond, and the period detail of the novels will gladden all fans of vintage culture.

By now, I have read all ten of the ‘Inspector Knollis’ novels, greedily devouring one after another. Yes, the intricate plots and gasp-giving twists are enough to keep any fan of crime fiction glued to the page, but it is Mr. Vivian’s brilliant rendering of character that particularly charmed this reader. A master of social observation, he was never shy of poking sardonic fun at his characters, and there are passages in the books that not only made me laugh out loud, but recalled to me the writing of another favorite author, E.F. Benson, of the Mapp and Lucia series, whose books I imagine Mr. Vivian may have enjoyed himself.

FV cop and coverYet these are not comedies; they adhere absolutely to the tenets of Crime Fiction, including, of course, The Detective. And what an interesting one we have here, made all the more so because Inspector Knollis is no eccentric (a la Poirot) or landed gentry that sleuth as a hobby. Knollis is simply a hard working copper—albeit one who has worked himself up the ranks to that of Inspector at Scotland Yard. He is cool, collected, but not always confident in his approach, often finding that his methods (based on his belief that all things—including murder—follow patterns) is often tested. And when it is, he calls on his old friend, the wise, irreverent, and usually tipsy Brother Ignatius, a priest of the Nestorian Order, whose understanding of the human state belies his robes and monastic lifestyle. A delightful character, Ignatius does not appear in all ten of the Knollis mysteries, and this alone speaks to Francis Vivian’s brilliance as a writer; the original Pink Panther movie worked because its most eccentric character—Inspector Clouseau—wasn’t in it very much.

Of all the Golden Age Detectives, perhaps Inspector Knollis is the most real; he can be happy (especially when cracking a case), but there are moments of self-questioning that can lead to mild melancholia. He is in possession of an often dry sense of humour, yet shows an empathy  that can even extend to a killer that reads as incredibly more contemporary than one would expect from crime novels written seventy years ago.

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Inspector Knollis rather reminds me of a much later fictional inspector, ‘Tom Barnaby’ of the television series Midsomer Murders (as played by the original Barnaby, the excellent and understated John Nettles).

 

Knollis is—as we all are—made of many parts, but perhaps not quite as many as his creator, and it is at this point that I must give props to Curtis Evans for doing such diligent sleuthing of his own, as without Mr. Evans, the world would now know little of the life of eclectic Francis Vivian.

Francis Vivian was the pseudonym adopted by British newspaperman, Arthur Ernest Ashley (1906-1979), when he began writing fiction in 1932. Starting his career at the age of 15 as a gas meter emptier (yes, there was such a job!), he then spent a decade as a painter-decorator until he began writing short stories for newspapers and magazines, turning to Crime Fiction in 1937. The genre suited him, not least of all because the richness of his novels afforded him the opportunity to discuss his many (and varied, to say the least) interests; psychology, drama, mythology, psychic forces (Mr. Vivian believed himself to have psychic gifts), and beekeeping, all of which make appearances in his ten Inspector Knollis novels, much to the delight of his original readers.

Becoming the editor of The Nottingham Free Press, Vivian lived out his days giving talks on his areas of interests, writing (of course) and encouraging younger authors, most famously, ‘Angry Young Man’ author Alan Sillitoe, best known for his kitchen-sink dramas, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

Passing in 1979 at the age of 73, the work of Francis Vivian seemingly died with him, so it is with great excitement that Dean Street Press are bringing these ten remarkable novels back to life, with new cover art, forewords by Curtis Evans, and available as both paperbacks and ebooks through Dean Street Press or on Amazon.com.

Amanda Hallay Heath

Director of Marketing and Publicity

Dean Street Press

 

 

 

 

 

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The Anthromorphic ’Thirties

MAINAnthromorphism (the attribution of human characteristic to animals or objects) has been around forever, yet it was in the 1930s—with its Great Depression need for whimsy – that this bizarre predilection peaked. As Dean Street Press publishes so many titles that date from The Thirties, it’s no surprise that anthromorphism is one of our (many) guilty pleasures. No moral incertitude seemed to have existed when putting a hopeful face on a potato alongside a recipe for french fries, and there was certainly no shortage of largecannibalistic pigs brandishing plates of bacon with a “come and get it!” glee. This was the era of talking mice and obstreperous ducks, and to paraphrase one of the decade’s most famous songs, when it came to anthromorphatic crap, “anything went”.

It seems impossible to have existed in the ’30s without being in possession of salt and pepper shakers in the form of lettuces in love, ad men jumping on this craze for ‘stuff that isn’t human acting human’, with a whole host of not-very-exciting brand mascots, most of which didn’t make it past Pearl Harbor (it was probably best that our Victory Gardens didn’t have beguiling smiles and cheerful personalities; it isn’t patriotic to eat one’s friends) appearing in The Great Depression.

Anthro group

PPlanter’s ‘Mr. Peanut’ had been around since 1916, yet really came into his own in the glamour-hungry 1930s. Heinz seized this topper-wearing “Puttin’ On The Ritz” chic beloved of the decade, but its ‘Mr. Tomato’ lacked the Fred Astaire finesse of the Planter’s mascot. Sure, 5b9cb821ae8aa2aed573b144b363110che had the top hat, starched collar, and monocle, yet his facial expression gave him the appearance of one of those self-made captains of industry who’d show up in RKO pictures of the era and usually end up paying off a showgirl.  ‘Mr. Tomato’ looked louche and self-serving, his chickens soon coming home to roost in the form of a lawyer masquerading as a bell hop serving him divorce papers. (No wonder he’s blushing).

c50c2fe248b05d0d5e9669ddaad6eeddIn saying that, he probably  fared better than the bizarre ‘Sir Apple’; certainly, he was as dapper as the other monocled mutineers of a decade obsessed with how the other half lived. He even came with a title. Unfortunately, he didn’t come with two eyes, and one can only guess as to why the commercial artist charged with creating ‘Sir Apple’ gave him a jaunty monocle positioned over…no eye. One suspects that if anyone at Sir Apple HQ noticed this anatomical anomaly, it must have seemed understandably trivial against a backdrop of Bread Lines, Dust Bowls, and European fascism. “Nobody’s gonna notice”.  Eighty years later, we’re still noticing.

carrotOf course, anthromorphism was a gift to the lazy copywriter tasked with cutesy greeting card sentiments. In a decade that gave us the glittering word play of Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night, it is oddly dichotomous that the ’30s also adored the cringy, uninspired, and utterly unfunny pun. I am sure that it started with the artwork, and one can only imagine the apathetic and eye-rolling approach taken by a writer when a pair of smitten carrots looking longingly at each other was placed upon his desk. “Could you CARROT all about me, Valentine?” can’t have been copy of which anyone was proud, but it kept the writer out of Hooverville, and paid for that next Sears Roebuck catalogue installment.

HeinzReturning to Heinz (determined to make anthromorphistic advertising work for them), the brand scored a spectacular double coup with musical notes that are also tomatoes that are also singing faces! But why did they stop there? Why not go for reverse anthromorphism and fashion the staves to look like veins pulled from a human leg?

Grotesque? FT5g209Oh, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you view the ‘you-can-never-unsee-it’ French ad’ for sausages depicting a pig, gripped with deranged laughter, as he slices meat from his own torso (didn’t a man in Germany recently advertise on the internet for somebody to do this to him?)  It is a particularly gruesome image, and had it ever been turned into an animated feature, there is no doubt in my mind that Peter Lorre would have voiced it.

Clearly, the phenomenal success of Walt Disney had much to do with the anthromorphic ’30s; Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928, just in time for him and his farmyard friends to capture Depression Era hearts. What one forgets today is just how popular Mickey and Co. were with adults of the ’30s; they were fun, optimistic, whimsical, and cute – a genuine diversion from the real life anxieties of such difficult times.Diz

Anthromorphism is still with us (the Geico Gecko probably the most famous in terms of advertising, and Mr. Whippy, that 1950s’ mascot with his lovely, Rococo-style ice-cream wig, is still around), but unless one is a collector of such junk (and there are many collectors of such junk; I myself resist the urge on an almost daily basis), most adults no longer want teapots that smile at them, or toilet-roll holders that look like potatoes that also have faces with mustaches. And perhaps this speaks to the fact that – although we tend to think we’re living through ‘the worst of times’ –  compared to the 1930s, we just might be living through the best of ’em.

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Amanda Hallay Heath

Head of Marketing and Publicity

Dean Street Press

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“GONNA NEED A BIGGER BLOG” Swimming with ‘Jaws’ in the summer of ‘Meg’

Jaws posterJust when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies, this summer’s big blockbuster is the uber-shark shocker, The Meg. I have yet to see The Meg, but Dean Street Press Founder and Director did, and gave me a two word review; “The Meh”. Evidently, although it does have some exciting scenes, it had plenty of others that weren’t, but it doesn’t really matter, because The Meg is just the latest in the never-ending trend for shark related movies. Be they sort of scary (47 Meters Down, The Shallows), or seriously silly (Sharknado 1, 2, 3 and 4), our interest in celluloid sharks seems never to diminish. Arguably, Animal Planet’s wildly popular annual event, Shark Week, feeds into this demand to see innocent swimmers turned into lunch, and even I have an app’ on my phone that tracks real-life shark attacks. (I don’t know why).

Jaws meg
Size matters in ‘The Meg’

They say that ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself.’ I disagree. The only thing to fear is shark. And I know for a fact that I am not alone in my irrational fear that—when I am more than two feet into water—I will hear that music in my head. Duh-DUH…Duh-DUH…Duh-DUH-Duh-DUH-Da-DUH-Da-DUH….oh, you know the rest. And you also know that as soon as we hear that music in our heads, we run (sometimes screaming) back to shore.

Last year, there were only 88 shark attacks worldwide (and some of those were just friendly nips), and only five fatalities. Why, then, this overwhelming fear that we are destined to be next on the menu for a bullying bull shark or a greedy Great White? Is it because of the animal? Or is it (as I strongly suspect) because of Jaws?

robert shaw coverStephen Spielberg’s 1975 thriller was the first – and remains the definitive – shark movie, and here at Dean Street Press, it has a special place in our hearts, as we have a connection to not one, but two of the movie’s stars; not only are we the publisher of John French’s excellent biography of actor Robert Shaw (The Price of Success), but Richard Dreyfuss kindly wrote the foreward for us, recounting his experiences with the great Mr. Shaw on the set of Jaws.

You’ll probably remember that Robert Shaw plays ‘Quint’, the seasoned shark hunter, his famous monologue on the shark attacks of The Indianapolis (“lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes…”) even more scary than the attacks that we see.  Mr. Dreyfuss plays to type as ‘Hooper’, the jumpy oceanographer, who Spielberg saw as his own alter-ego.

Both Mr. Shaw and Mr. Dreyfuss deliver performances so on point that they should be studied in every acting class, yet it is arguably Roy Scheider as the quietly heroic ‘Chief Brody’ who holds it all together, his natural, understated performance perfectly balancing the eccentric characters his co-stars play. He also delivers the movie’s most memorable line, a line I recently paraphrased myself when it was concluded that my eight year old stepdaughter was too young to see Jaws (“’Gonna need a bigger kid”).

Jaws boys
Shaw, Scheider, and Dreyfuss, The Three Caballeros of ‘Jaws’.

Certainly, Jaws can be read as a metaphor for political corruption and mistrust of authority; its 1975 release date came but three years after Watergate. Yet its popularity, both at the time, and today, had little to do with veiled commentary on the state of the American government; Jaws achieved something that all the other shark movies have not; it was (and remains) really, truly, profoundly, and (as I first saw it in 1975, and I still can’t go back in the water) eternally terrifying.

Sure, other shark movies have their suspenseful moments, but it is not The Meg or The Supershark we think of when we flee the ocean when we remember that sharks live there; it is the shark in Jaws. It is that one, that one – created by Peter Benchley in his best-selling novel and brought beautifully to screen by Stephen Spielberg – that we think of when we think of sharks (and most of us only think of sharks when we are in the water and convinced we’re about to be killed by one). So why is Jaws the only truly terrifying shark attack movie? Here’s a theory: because it’s not about the shark.

Remember, Jaws was made in an age before CGI, and Spielberg was convinced his mechanical shark looked so utterly fake that he didn’t want the audience to see it that much. We hardly ever see the shark itself; we see the shark’s eye-view, swimming towards dangling legs; we see screaming sunbathers, we see splashing water, we see blood, but we only get a couple of very quick glimpses of the shark itself.  And herein lies the genius, because – when people get attacked by sharks – they do not see them coming, and so by hiding his killer, Spielberg replicates perfectly the terror and confusion of an actual attack.

Jaws model
“There’s two sides to every story”, and this one is a little less alarming.

Moreover, sharks are not that interesting. Yes, they have their moments, but they’re fish, and fish (whether beautiful or sinister), unless we’re talking ‘Nemo’, have neither the cuteness nor charisma to carry a movie. Jaws is about people. It is about community, both coming together and tearing apart. It’s about trust, mistrust, family, parents, children, love, loss, cowardice, and bravery – all utterly human emotions, and all played out beautifully by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gray, and – of course – Robert Shaw, whose performance in Jaws (along with all his other films, including From Russia With Love, A Man For All Seasons, and The Sting) is discussed in The Price of Success: Robert Shaw.

Amanda Hallay Heath
Head of Marketing and Publicity
Dean Street Press