Sunday, March 9, 2014

535. SHAFT (1971)

Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Gordon Parks
Written By: Ernest Tidyman, John D.F. Black, from novel by Ernest Tidyman
Main Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell
Click here to view the trailer


"He's a black private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks - talkin' bout Shaft!" I had never seen any adaptation of "Shaft" (not the 1971 version, not the 2000 version starring Samuel L. Jackson), but I still knew what it was all about because the John Shaft character is a pop culture icon and it's Richard Roundtree who initially brought him to life. Read on...

The plot is cookie cutter stuff, with the sole purpose of showcasing the title character and his exploits. John Shaft is a private detective who is approached by a Harlem mob boss. It seems that the boss' daughter has been kidnapped and he wants Shaft to find her. He pays whatever it takes (in this case, $50 per hour, plus expenses) and puts the bloodhound that is John Shaft on the case. John follows the leads and inadvertently gets himself mixed up with a group of Black Panther like street warriors. Shaft ends up befriending the group  and getting them a gig helping him solve the case. Along the way, Shaft takes little respites to make sweet lovin' to the ladies (he IS a sex machine to all the chicks, ya know), despite having a girlfriend. There's also the matter of Lt. Androzzi of the police, who wants Shaft's help...or else. There's a definite love/hate relationship (mostly hate) between the two.

Seriously, "Shaft" reminded me of a porno. Hear me out - you had a plot that was merely in place as fodder for the main character (even though it wasn't a particularly BAD plot, it was still just a vehicle for the character) and therefore, you could take the time to do what the film's main focus was, which was showing off the star/character. Hell you even had a few token sex scenes to really hammer home my theory that "Shaft" was just a brilliantly executed, much less explicit porno. However, I have to say I liked it. I honestly wasn't expecting too much from this, but I'll be damned if the birth of blaxploitation didn't impress the hell out of me. I watched this one with my wife, because like me, she had heard many things but had never seen a lick of Shaft movies. I remember warning her before it even started, that if she got bored or didn't like it, she could bail. She ended up staying for the whole picture and she actually liked it too. In fact, the two of us really got into it and I'd call this a successful Saturday night at the movies.


Roundtree was great too and one has to wonder why he never went further with his acting career. The franchise would grow to produce two more Shaft pictures, including "Shaft in Africa" (or as I call it "SHAFRICA"), which just sounds awful! A few more thing worth mentioned: the Issac Hayes score which is easy to fall in love with and yes, I was singing it for the remained of last night, more than likely annoying my wife to death. What about that apartment? I've been taught by the movies that private detectives live in run down little dumps, with barely a hook to hang their hat on, but not John Shaft. I totally loved the set that was his apartment and it's definitely one of the coolest pads in all of cinema, complete with a spiral staircase (it's like screwing yourself into the ceiling!). Lastly, I wanna' mention that line that was initially delivered by the white girl that Shaft sleeps with - "close it yourself SHITTY!". I have to wonder if that was an ad-lib/flubbed line from the girl that became an onset joke and then incorporated into the script. My wife and I laughed harder every time the line was delivered (three times) and HOWLED when it was the line that closed the film! Speaking of the closing, was it just me or was the ending a bit rushed? It was down to having only like five minutes left and Shaft still hadn't even come flying through the window to save the girl. I kept wondering if my disc was somehow defective and if my copy would even have an ending. But it all got wrapped up nice & quickly and we were sent home happy.

Honestly, it was gritty enough for me to like it, but a little too amateur for me to give really high marks too. Definitely better than "Sweet Sweetback..." and definitely makes me wanna' see more blaxploitation, which is why I should watch "Superfly" soon, huh?

RATING: 6.5/10  Shocked that this was THAT good and definitely one to thank THE BOOK for, as I would have never seen it otherwise.


Little Big Man (1970 - Arthur Penn)
The American Friend (1977 - Wim Wenders)
Breaking Away (1979 - Peter Yates)
India Song (1975 - Marguerite Duras)
Don't Look Now (1973 - Nicholas Roeg)

Note: We'll be moving right from these and into the three from Sam Fuller, which should tide me over for a couple of weeks.

March 9, 2014  10:48pm


  1. Uh errmm..(or however you spell that)
    Read it with a dismissive bored tone.
    So cultural icon,, check.. important in it's time.. yer yerr.. Certainly deserving of a place in the book, but...

    OK, I've been more bored by action movies than this one,, I seem to remember it passing at a reasonable pace. but it still held no real interest. Come on.. he's a sexist asshole with a liking for guns, fast cars and shooting people..(obviously he has minuscule genitals).
    Just can't be bothered saying much about it..

    1. But couldn't your description of Shaft also be applied to Michael Caine's character in "Get Carter". He's a womanizer, who likes big guns, fast cars and kills more than his fair share.

      Sure, "Get Carter" is a lot more well made than "Shaft", but I didn't mind it that much. I went in expecting nothing and got something.

  2. I find myself between you and Ray on this one. Sure, I don't think Shaft is the kind of person to emulate, but it was still fairly enjoyable to watch his exploits. I still found it more interesting as a look into a culture and time period than as a film in its own right, though.

    1. The film in it's own right, like I said, is sort of cheap. But as you say, the time period and cultural stuff is quite interesting. I had a lot of fun with it too, but certainly understand anyone who doesn't like it.


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