Directed by Samuel Fuller. Starring Burt Reynolds, Arthur Kennedy, Barry Sullivan, and Silvia Pinal. Unrated.
Somewhere in Sudan, an American gun runner and con artist named Caine (Burt Reynolds) is stranded and looking for a way out of the port town he ended up in. Long story short, he eventually lands a job working out on a boat for a professor who specializes in marine biology, with hopes that he can steal the boat sooner than later and take it to who-knows-where. But when Caine is made aware of the fact that the professor is conspicuously searching for sunken treasure in shark infested waters, he uses intimidation to force himself into the situation, declaring himself a partner of the professor and insisting that he's entitled to half of whatever he finds. The professor's female assistant is thrown into the mix, double-crosses ensue, and at some point the characters find themselves underwater, face to face with man-eating sharks.
The behind the scenes stories of the film's troubled production are certainly much more interesting than the film itself. A stuntman was killed on camera by a shark, so the producers decided to exploit his death and capitalize on it by more or less promoting the tragedy as an attraction. Also, director Samuel Fuller lost the rights to the film, and the same producers decided to butcher Fuller's cut of the film in order to put more of a focus on the sharks and market it as some sort of "animal attack" movie rather than a thriller - even Fuller's original title of CAINE was nixed in favor of its current title. Fuller's subsequent requests to have his name removed from the film were denied. I'm not sure how Fuller's original version played out, but anyone who's seen the current cut of this film can probably attest to the fact that it's a fucking mess.
Hidden somewhere underneath the awful pacing, annoying score, etc., are a couple of memorable moments and lines of snappy dialogue, but for the most part there's not a whole lot to say about this movie. It's a sluggish film in which nothing really significant happens in the plot until over an hour in. In the time leading up to that, Burt Reynolds befriends a young cigar-smoking boy (Fuller's ode to himself?) who helps him con people, he has an affair with the professor's female assistant, there are a couple of really awkward-looking fight scenes, and we get some overlong underwater diving sequences. All of the characters are very bland, forgettable, and - especially in the case of Burt's character - unlikable.
Make or Break: For once I'm going with a "Break", and that would be the opening scene of the film, where a diver is attacked and killed by a shark. There are two noteworthy shark attack scenes in the film - one at the beginning and one towards the end - and I don't know which of these scenes, if any, contains footage of the stuntman being legitimately killed, but the reason why I'm going with this scene as a "Break" is because it does nothing to initially grab your attention, and it fails and setting any sort of pace whatsoever. Sure, there's a guy getting killed by a shark, and had the scene been filmed and edited well it would have been somewhat effective, but it's unfortunately not the case.
MVT: I have to give it to the shark attack scenes. Despite the unfortunate and tragic events that took place while filming these scenes, it's rare - especially in this day and age when filmmaking is a lot safer and less barbaric - to see something as dangerous as an actor or stuntman tussling with a live shark.
This is only the second Samuel Fuller movie I've seen; the first one (WHITE DOG) was given the Criterion treatment, and this one was released by Troma - opposite ends of the DVD distribution spectrum. Surprisingly, the Troma release of SHARK is actually pretty decent. Of course you get the overwhelming amount of shameless self-promotion on Troma's part, but there's also a section of bonus content dedicated to Sam Fuller, including an interesting interview with someone who talks about how and why filmmakers such as Fuller were blacklisted once upon a time, and Lloyd Kaufman's personal memories of meeting Fuller.
If you're a Fuller or Burt completist, keep this low on your list of priorities, Otherwise, skip it.
P.S. I originally intended on posting a review for Enzo Castellari's SHARK HUNTER, but was unable to give it a fair assessment due to unforeseen issues with the copy that was provided to me by Netflix. However, I did manage to watch over an hour of the film, and found what I saw of it to be quite amazing for a number of reasons, namely the amazing De Angelis brothers' disco score and Franco Nero's unbelievable blonde wig. Perhaps one day I'll have the opportunity to watch the entire film and review it, but until then Mike di Donato sends his regards.