Shark! [aka Caine] (1969)

Shark! [aka Caine] (1969)
Director: Samuel Fuller
TC4P Rating: 4/9
Species: appears to be a tiger shark in most shots, though it seems like it flashes to other sharks briefly here and there.
Downside: actual death of a stuntman used in the film.

Just before the opening credits end on this early Burt Reynolds starring feature, the following dedication appears:

"This film is dedicated to the fearless stuntmen who repeatedly risked their lives against attacks in shark infested waters during the filming of this picture."

The film then gives up the Samuel Fuller's name as the director, and within about half an hour, the viewer will come under the realization that Shark! (also sometimes known as Caine, the name of Reynolds' character) is perhaps in that small but not so intimate circle of the worst releases ever to be lensed by a renowned international filmmaker. That it is available enough for low-budget schlock house Troma to gain the rights and release it as part of their DVD line might be testament enough as to its haggard status in film history. Fuller, the creator of bona fide cult classics such as Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, Pickup on South Street and The Steel Helmet (this is an unreserved call for any and all to check them out... he was truly an amazing and original director), famously quit the production after the studio decided to use the death of a stunt diver to promote the film.

Why? Naturally, this stunt diver was killed by a shark, and as we know by now, if there are two things that go well together, it is the media and a shark attack. Even years before Jaws, this was a solid rule. Fuller was apparently upset with a great deal during the production, but this was the final straw. When the film was released, Fuller saw a drastically reedited version from the one he had envisioned, and though he asked for his name to be removed from the print, he was refused this courtesy. (The film was, no surprise, re-edited and released once Jaws-hysteria struck the world.)

This is not to say that the film is not of interest, outside of the fact that someone is shown actually being killed in Shark!, which is a natural, sick draw. The pre-cultural icon Reynolds (who, according to Fuller, also threatened to quit the film) is already fully practicing his "what the hell... I'm a handsome guy" off-kilter humor, and he radiates the charm that would serve him well over the coming decade as a leading man. Arthur Kennedy, an old favorite of mine, is far too over the top as a drunk doctor, but he does have a couple of nice moments. And the fight scenes are engaging and sharp, with Burt going crazy with the full leaps into his opponents, and often into the food and trinket stalls lining the streets of whatever Sudanese port in which this film (shot in Mexico) is supposed to take place. There is also a mildly kinky vibe to his "romance" with legendary Mexican actress Silvia Pinal, as they both intend to seduce one another for, ultimately, the same purpose. All in all, there is a definite rough edge to every character within the film, which squarely is a sure sign of Fuller's involvement; even with his eventual denial of the film on whole, its toughness certainly conveys the feeling that it is one of his making.

But, the print is entirely shoddy, most of the key scenes are far too dark to even know what is going on, and the sound quality is inferior as well (it's loud enough, but much of the dialogue is garbled). All of this serves as a serious detriment to the key reason both you and I are here on this page, which is the shark scenes. If you are watching this movie for the death scene with the stuntman, it is hard to tell which underwater scene it is. There is a shark attack scene in the prelude to the credits, and there is one at the tail end of the film. At first, I thought it was the same shots shown twice. Checking back on it, there are differences in each scene. There is, however, a shark attacking a stuntman and a resulting stream of blood spewing forth in each shot. It is possible that these shots are both from the same attack, but from different angles, but without any further knowledge to back this up, it is hard for me to say.

But, the death scene is not the only time that the editors have their way with continuity or cohesion. Not just switching back and forth throughout the movie amongst a series of reused shots, the menacing shark also switches species on more than one occasion. If they were trying to give the impression that there were multiple sharks surrounding the actors, then they have failed as they never show a single shot where there is more than one shark at a time. I know there is some compulsion to live up to the phrase "shark infested waters," but... an infestation of just one shark and one shark alone? If this is the way you must portray it, apparently the waters where they were diving were equally "ray infested," as the same shot of a single bottom-drifting ray is used more than once as well. By the same token, you could argue the film is "Silvia Pinal or Burt Reynolds infested."

The only thing that Shark! is not infested with (in the single digits) is Samuel Fuller. He swam away from its creepily voyeuristic legacy long ago, and with good cause and forethought.

RTJ

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