It's a shameless rip-off of JAWS, directed by the great Italian director Enzo G. Castellari (THE BIG RACKET, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, KEOMA, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS). Rip-offs were nothing new to Italian directors of the day. They had rip-offs of every major success of the time. THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE WARRIORS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE ROAD WARRIOR, APOCALYPSE NOW, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RAMBO, STAR WARS, ALIEN - all of these were given the sincerest form of flattery by Italian schlockmeisters in some truly memorable films. Even Italian productions were not exempt, as anyone who saw the many peplums, Spaghetti westerns or zombie films could attest. Some were even given deceiving titles - ZOMBI 2 is not a sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (which was released in Italy as ZOMBI) and ALIEN 2: SULLA TERRA has no connection to the Ridley Scott other than the attempt to make a quick buck. But don't confuse a lack of originality with a lack of quality. As a kid, I would search out exploitation films left and right through the less-frequented aisles of the local video store. Checking the credits and seeing familiar Italian names usually sealed the deal.
Not only were JAWS rip-offs nothing new, it wasn't even Castellari's first trip to the well. In 1979, he directed THE SHARK HUNTER which not only cribbed from JAWS but another Peter Benchley adaptation, THE DEEP. What separated GREAT WHITE from the pack was that unlike many other films of the day, it was forced out of theaters by the big studios. Specifically, Universal said this one was just too close to JAWS and sued indie distributors Film Ventures over the deal. It lasted in U.S. theaters for less than a week.
Aint It Cool News currently has a fascinating account up, showing that Universal does not forgive and forget easily:
This news is a shame, since Severin has done such a great job with the INGLORIOUS BASTARDS DVD (not to mention their GWENDOLINE release which I'm still swooning over two years later). Oh well, the headline is misleading in one way. If you really want to see GREAT WHITE, you can. It just takes some extra effort to track down and it might not be in the most pristine condition when you find it. Hence why a restored DVD would have been welcome.
Why Is Universal Still Blocking The Distribution of Enzo G. Castellari's GREAT WHITE?
Three weeks ago, The New Beverly Cinema hosted a special screening of Enzo G. Castellari's INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (timed to coincide with the movie's long-awaited DVD release). Severin Films, the movie's distributor, helped organize the event, which included a Q&A with the director and his stars, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and Bo Svenson. As is customary at The New Beverly, a second feature was programmed: Castellari's audacious Nazis-in-London romp, BATTLE SQUADRON. Due to a late start for BASTARDS and a lengthy post-film Q&A session (which gave way to a lengthy autograph-signing session), BATTLE SQUADRON didn't fire up until close to midnight; as a result, Castellari's Nazis-in-London WWII romp played to a house that was maybe a quarter full. This was unfortunate for two reasons: 1) BATTLE SQUADRON is far superior to INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, and 2) BATTLE SQUADRON was the back-up title for the movie Severin Films really wanted to show.
Had all gone according to plan, The New Beverly Cinema would've presented the first North American screening of Enzo G. Castellari's GREAT WHITE in twenty-six years.
Though INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is suddenly a hot property again thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the opportunity to see GREAT WHITE in a U.S. theater would've easily been the highlight of the evening. This is, after all, the notorious JAWS knockoff against which Universal Pictures filed an injunction in the spring of 1982. Why? Well, Universal had their own JAWS knockoff in production for summer 1983: JAWS 3-D. And though these Italian-produced cash-ins were usually under-promoted grindhouse schlock, GREAT WHITE's distributor, Film Ventures International, was aggressively spending millions of dollars to sell the movie nationwide. When the picture opened to huge business on March 5, 1982, its fate was sealed: GREAT WHITE was deemed a threat to Universal's "original" killer shark franchise, and it went away for good.
That Universal would take such a hard-line against Castellari's movie now strikes me as overzealous; it's been viewable for free on the internet for years, and it's really only remembered by completist geeks like me (who'd just convinced their parents to take them to see the film on the very weekend it was banished from theaters). The DVD release of the movie might cause a smattering of hype, but it's not like there's an ongoing JAWS franchise to be damaged (although I'm constantly hearing rumors of a JAWS remake/reboot in development at Universal). Time to ease up on that injunction, Universal. In 2008, GREAT WHITE is, at most, a curio.
I recently exchanged emails with Severin's Carl Daft, and he gave me this update on The New Beverly flap and the possibility of GREAT WHITE ever receiving a commercial release in the United States:
The only contact with Universal came from The New Beverly Cinema and they received a letter back citing the injunction itself whereby it was agreed that GREAT WHITE would never be shown again in the U.S without the prior written approval of Universal. And in this event Universal were not prepared to give that written approval to allow us to screen the film at The New Beverly. They also cite that the injunction stands in other territories but without naming which territories. Since getting wind of Universal’s position the company we were going to license the title from have got cold feet and now there is no deal to be done in the U.S, even if we were prepared to take on the risk. The film is of course out in Scandinavia without any problems and I am hopeful that we can strike a deal for UK rights to the movie and release it there without any fuss.
So there you have it: GREAT WHITE, starring James Franciscus and Vic Morrow, is safe for Scandanavia and nowhere else. This is unfortunate, as there's a Tarantino/Castellari interview in the can for an eventual DVD.
And we still love you Mr. Castellari. In fact, I would rather watch 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS over the happy-go-lucky Walter Hill film THE WARRIORS any day of the week.