Enzo G. Castellari, 1980
Starring: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli, Joshua Sinclair
"One thing’s for sure... It wasn't a floating chainsaw."
Because Italians loved to copy American blockbusters in the '70s and '80s, there are numerous Italian-made rip offs of Jaws (as there are of Star Wars), but Enzo G. Castellari’s Great White aka The Last Shark is probably the most famous because it is such a direct copy of Jaws that the producers were sued by Universal. Financially, Universal could have laid waste to them, but the main outcome was that Great White was banned from a North American release, though it snuck into theaters for a few weeks in 1982. Because of this, it remains unavailable on legitimate region 1 DVD release, though you can find it streaming online or in bootleg form.
Do I need to describe the plot? Suffice to say it is the same as Jaws. A gigantic, raging shark attacks a small coastal town. The mayor refuses to close the beach and a shark specialist and a rugged sea captain are forced to hunt down the shark before it claims any more victims. Shockingly, they use explosives. I can’t pretend that Great White is a good film or even a particularly entertaining one. The thing that I really love about it is that it amusingly documents the way Italians in the early ‘80s viewed Americans. Which is amazing and makes the film well worth watching. Apparently a lot of young American men windsurf as a competitive sport and also wave Confederate flags during celebrations, among other wildly inaccurate things.
As I said, this isn’t a particularly good film, but it was made by a director whose work I will heartily defend, Enzo G. Castellari. Sometimes he made copycat films and sometimes he was utilitarian, but his movies are always entertaining, even if in a delightful, bottom of the barrel sort of way. He made some good spaghetti westerns, the best of which is Keoma (1976), one of the only war films I like, Inglorious Bastards (1989), which has become famous for its Tarantino remake, and some early Italian crime movies like Big Racket (1976). My favorite of his works, other than Keoma, is 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982).
The competent and likable James Franciscus - hard to forget due to this blinding smile - is welcome as the novelist and shark expert. Genre fans and cinephiles will recognize Franciscus from a number of television shows and films: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Cat O’Nine Tails (1971), City on Fire (1979), and many more. Vic Morrow is great as the salty sea captain, a stand-in for Robert Shaw’s Quint. Aside from roles in a number of beloved TV shows and films like Cimarron (1960), Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), Castelari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and more. Morrow is also known for being the father of actress Jennifer Jason Lee and for his helicopter-related death during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
Though I was entertained by Great White, there are admittedly a number of bad things about it. There are a ton of pointless side stories and subplots to add filler to the running time. Some of the acting is decent (mainly Franciscus and Morrow), but a lot of it is absolutely terrible. The conclusion is disappointingly anticlimactic, mostly because the print is very dark and it’s difficult to see any of the underwater shots. The shark itself is just... priceless. Constantly changing size and shape, roaring, and so on, the locals attempt to catch what is supposedly a thirty foot shark with regular fishing equipment.
There are also some delightfully stupid elements. Many of the shark victims seem to inexplicably explode when they are attacked in the water. The mayor, after declaring the beach had to stay open, realizes the consequences of his selfish, greedy actions and gets into a helicopter and tries to take on the shark alone. In a scene right out of Jaws 2, but better, the shark leaps out of the water and takes the mayor and the helicopter down with him, dining on both. Amazing. And in case you were concerned about the lack of John Williams’ score, instead we get what can only be described as Italian disco. Watch at your own risk, but fans of Italian B movies will definitely be entertained.