“Anyway we delivered the bomb” – Telling the Story of the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

Those who regularly follow my blog posts or come to the top page first, will be aware of a range of my research and personal interests. Three of these areas – Japan, atomic/nuclear weapons, and Jaws – come together with one event, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

In a sentence, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis links them as the character Quint discusses the event in Jaws and the ship had just delivered the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Anyone who knows anything about the subject will be aware that that sentence just doesn’t do justice to the event or the greatest monologue in movie history. Before you read this post any further, just take a few minutes to rewatch the scene.

The other week I had a special Jaws Day where I went to watch the amazing play “The Shark is Broken” for a second time. This play is particularly concerned with the creation and delivery of “The Indianapolis Speech”. During my Jaws Day, I also listened to a number of episodes of the brilliant “Jaws for a Minute” podcast, including all of the episodes (they had a full “Indianapolis Month”) to do with “The Indianapolis Speech” (the episodes that you need to listen to are Episode 57: Tooth Watch, Episode 58: J to the AWS, Episode 59: Hereditary with Sharks, and Episode 60: Dick Liddl and the Ice Cream Bunny – the interesting titles make sense if you listen to the podcast)

There are also other ways in which the sinking of the USS Indianapolis are covered – having two films that revolve around the event. I re-watched both of these this week.

The first I watched was Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

According to the details on IMDb this TV-movie was released in 1991. I’m still surprised by this as my memory was watching at my childhood home in Shropshire, but we left there in 1989. I did begin to question whether there was another TV-movie out there covering the story, but from what I can tell this is the same one that I remembered. It is very watchable (should you be able to find a copy) still and seems to tell the key aspects of the story well – keeping in mind that most, if not all, movies which are based on historical events will have errors and other things that are not factually accurate. These are not documentaries. This is an issue that I have discussed in my articles such as Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?. When I checked the film’s details on IMDb before watching it again, I was surprised to see that I had only given it 7 out of 10 as my memory was that it deserved more than that and I fully expected to up the rating after watching it. In the end, I decided that the 7 is still right (it has an average of 6.3). There are clearly times when the limited budget available to TV-movies showed and, without being too morbid about it, the sharks didn’t really get to play a large or frightening role in the movie as the story, particularly given the title to the movie, deserves.

I then re-watched USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.

As with Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, I re-checked the details of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage on IMDb before watching it. I wasn’t surprised to see that it had an average of 5.3. After all, many recent movies about WWII have not been that great. And, I have to say that I’m not a huge Nicolas Cage fan. So I was shocked to see that I had given the movie 8. This, I was certain, would drop down after watching it again. It didn’t.

Yes, the movie is not perfect and has a number of errors and issues. Also, many of the sharks, done with CGI, just don’t look as good as “Bruce” did in Jaws. I still don’t understand why some people are so critical of the models used in that film given the rubbish attempts, particularly with CGI, that have come since. At least USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage had some convincing looking models for when the sharks are not that visible (I have recently watched The Shallows and have exactly the same feeling about that one in terms of the shark). USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage has issues, but that’s why it’s an 8 not a 10. It is watchable and it tells the story of what happened well, in my view. I also like it that some actual survivors are included at the end telling their side of things.

Two small observations about the film. Although I didn’t have subtitles on, I’m sure there was a scene (before the sailors get on the ship) where one of the crew is referred to as “Quint”. It wouldn’t be that Quint (not least, because he was a fictional character!) and maybe I misheard (or wanted to hear it) – but it gave me further food for thought should I progress with an idea to write a book about Jaws‘ Quint, covering his life up to where Jaws starts off. Also, later, after the sinking, there is a totally different character who is dressed a little like Quint with a green jacket and bandana. This must have been deliberate. Surely.

But, in the end, the most watchable version of the story of the sinking of the Indianapolis is still the brilliant monologue by Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws.

What I found interesting in re-watching both of the movies is the suggestion that the Japanese submarine had spotted the Indianapolis before it got to Tinian and delivered the bomb. I’m still not sure how much this is embellishments by both movies as a cursory search hasn’t brought up any supporting information on this. However, the implication is clear – although not dwelled on in either movie – had the sinking happened then, the first bomb would have been lost. Ultimately it would probably not have changed Hiroshima’s fate as it would probably have got the bomb that was used on Nagasaki, but who knows what else would have changed? Would Nagasaki not have been bombed? Would Russia not have entered the war against Japan? Would the surrender have happened at another time?

I still find it interesting how three of my interests come together with this one event. And, as I have mentioned in two other posts, it’s also interesting how Robert Shaw’s son, Ian, is linked to the events through playing Captain Tibbetts in the excellent BBC docu-dramatization “Hiroshima” and then playing his father in “The Shark is Broken” (indeed, in a Q&A he confirmed that it was playing Tibbetts and realising he had come to look so much like his dad that helped provide the impetus for writing “The Shark is Broken”). I think there is more for me to explore here about the various links. I have already touched upon this in my academic writing, as I said, but plan to do more on it in my next novel too.

Click here to see my other posts related to “Jaws“, including my post about “Contents Tourism and visiting Martha’s Vineyard

See also Truth and Limitations: Japanese Media and Disasters

4 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s