By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 18, 2011 at 1:18AM
"Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail fin. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named 'The Battle of Waterloo' and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark will go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark...he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living...until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they...rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist."
Hopefully, you'll recognize that speech: it is of course, one of the most indelible moments in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," as spoken by Robert Shaw's Quint. It refers to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, torpedoed by the Japanese in July 1945, leading to the greatest loss of life in the history of the U.S. Navy, mostly because the boat sank in shark-infested waters, with only 300 sailors surviving the ordeal. Considering its place in cinema history, and the fact that it's an incredible story, it's no surprise that many have tried to bring the story to the screen over the years, but, excepting the Stacy Keach-starring 1971 TV movie "Mission of the Shark," they haven't had much luck.
Mel Gibson and Barry Levinson planned to team up on "The Captain and the Shark" a decade ago, "Donnie Darko" director Richard Kelly wrote a script called "Optimistic," more recently, "Open Water" director Chris Kentis was hired for "Indianapolis," and J.J. Abrams got as far as beginning to cast a film called "The Good Sailor," before deciding to scratch his Spielberg itch elsewhere. None have made it to the screen, but one of the biggest names in Hollywood is about to take another stab, with news from Heat Vision that Robert Downey Jr.and his producer wife Susan Downey are planning a possible project at Warner Bros.
The studio have acquired the life-rights of Hunter Scott, who, as an eleven year old in 1996 was inspired by "Jaws" to investigate the topic, and ended up, after interviewing 150 survivors of the incident and testifying before Congress, clearing the name of the ship's captain Charles McVay, who had been court-martialed and convicted of negligence in relation to the tragedy.
It's the same take on the story that Abrams was planning, but it appears that the Downeys, who will produce, are starting from scratch: they've hired Robert Schenkkan, who picked up an Emmy nomination for his work on "The Pacific," to write the script for the as-yet-untitled project. There's no word if Downey Jr. is intending to take an acting role on the project, but we imagine he might have his eye on the role of McVay, who at the time of the sinking was about the right age to be played by the actor. It's likely a few years off, and plenty of A-listers have already experienced difficulties in adapting the tale, but Downey Jr's stock has never been higher, so if anyone can get it done these days, it's him.