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I can. Because this is not only the greatest black-exploitation film ever, but also one of the best films of the 70's era. Richard Roundtree brings out Ernest Tidyman's John Shaft like no one else can (not even Samuel L. Jackson in the new shaft can compete) as the ultimate bad-a** who must investigate a kidnapping. One of the most memorable films ever made, especially by the Oscar winning song (and nominated score) by Isaac Hayes, which made his breakthrough as his funk thing grew. A+
This is not a great film, but it is one of the most important films in
The film suffers primarily because Parks isn't sure whether he wants to direct a 'relevant' black crime drama - for which he doesn't really have the money - or a film of the genre that became infamous as "blaxploitation", which had at that time not yet achieved definition. In other words, Parks is breaking new ground, and he wasn't sure exactly what ground he is breaking. So the film tends to amble, and sometimes even stagger, as it tries to define a goal for itself.
Nonetheless, this is the first film where a strong black man in a truly heroic role - without the props of white liberal social blather, and without being borderline criminal - is portrayed without excuses or apologies. Shaft is truly a hero of his time, part Sam Spade (& no jokes here, please), part James Bond - and all man - intelligent, fast to act, direct and always true to himself - he's nobody's "boy".
Although these qualities are in the script, the communication of the message depends entirely on Richard Roundtree - one of the truly great action actors of Hollywood history - hey, I'm a white boy, and I still want to be this John Shaft! he's that cool. The marginalization of this savvy and witty actor, due to the racism of Hollywood, is a real crime.
Well, for now, never mind; his performance alone carries this film, and makes it a treasure; and no matter how badly Hollywood marginalizes black action cinema, Roundtree's performance will continue to stand tall, for many generations to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shaft is a black private eye in the sleazy, downtown part of Brooklyn,
and of all the new gumshoes trying to fill the Marlowe shoes, he
probably comes nearest to the type of character devised by Dashiel
Hammett in "The Maltese Falcon" and sharpened by Raymond Chandler in
"The Big Sleep."
He is the kind of man of whom Chandler wrote: "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."
If Shaft is ever afraid, he does not show it He moves through city streets on foot with the slim grace of a panther He can hold his own with black man or white
To the white police detective who looks sardonically at him and comments: 'You ain't so black," Shaft is quick to pick up a white coffee-cup, hold it alongside the cop's face, and reply: "And you ain't so white either baby."
The mood of the film is set in the beginning when Shaft, striding along the pavements, is asked where he is going. "To get laid," he says without pausing At the end, almost the same situation recurs He is asked: "Where've you been, man?" and he says: 'I got laid. "
The real point about Shaft, however, is that though the character does happen to be a black man, he could just as easily be white, red or yellow Yes, some of the dialog would have to be altered if he were turned into a Charlie Chan, but that is not at issue There is a good deal of the Bogart characterization in Richard Rountree's portrayal, blended with a touch of the Paul Newman's...
It is an innovative effort, and serves as a snapshot of the times. Shaft, written by Ernest Tidyman, stands as one of the best modern detective dramas. Written and filmed at a time of extreme social unrest throughout the U.S.; the movie shows how Jon Shaft uses his private detective status and ethnicity to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a notorious Harlem kingpin. While the plot pieces of black militants, and a potential race war in New York City, may not be as relevant in 2001 as they were in 1971, the cast and crew do a good job to convey the importance of Shaft's mission. Shaft, indeed, is one cool cat. Not only is he a ladies' man, but he's also a man about town. He knows every iota of New York City, and uses his detective skills to the fullest. Ducking the city police, and handling his business with the crooks, Shaft plays it cool to the very end. Many people like to bundle the blaxploitation pictures into a neat little package; one to laugh at and check out the music score. Shaft proves there was more meaning to these films, and ends up as a classic display of substance with style.
Gordon Parks' 'Shaft' may not have been the first blaxploitation movie but it was the most important and commercially successful of the initial batch, and it kicked open the door for other dynamic 1970s screen heroes like The Hammer, Coffy, Black Caesar, Foxy Brown and The Jones' (Black Belt and Cleopatra). In some ways it is one of the most conventional of the blaxploitation genre in the sense that all it really is is a black man (the charismatic Richard Roundtree) playing a part that up until then would have been played by a white one (Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, even Sean Connery). A super cool, hard as nails hero/anti-hero who is as handy with his fists as he is with the ladies. But of course, that is what made 'Shaft' so revolutionary and influential at the time. Personally my favourite blaxploitation movie is 'Superfly', released the following year and directed by Gordon Parks' son, but I can't deny that if you accept 'Shaft' for what it is, and not what it COULD be, it's difficult to fault, and still one of the coolest and most entertaining action thrillers of the 1970s, as good as 'The Getaway', 'Dirty Harry' or 'The French Connection' (the latter being also written incidentally by Ernest Tidyman who created the John Shaft character in a popular series of novels). The main reason 'Shaft' really works is because of the casting of virtual unknown Richard Roundtree, and the music score by soul legend Isaac Hayes. Roundtree probably had more potential than any black star of the period to cross over into major Hollywood stardom, but for some reason (typecasting, bad breaks) he faded away quickly, and ended up playing small character roles, usually cops, in cult favourites like Larry Cohen's 'Q' and William Lustig's 'Maniac Cop', and more recently bit parts in 'Se7en' and John Singleton's ill advised "remake" of 'Shaft' itself. Hayes' title theme is an utter classic, and one of the most recognisable and imitated pieces of music from the early 70s. Hayes had already released the brilliant 'Hot Buttered Soul' before this, but 'Shaft' made him a superstar, and even gave him a career as an action here himself for a while with 'Truck Turner'. I don't think overall Hayes' score for the movie is as consistently impressive as Curtis Mayfield's work on 'Superfly', but the main theme is still a sensational piece of music. Roundtree is backed up with a strong supporting cast, including Moses Gunn ('Rollerball') as Bumpy, a great baddie, Charles Cioffi ('Klute') as Androzzi, the cop who is frequently exasperated with Shaft's behaviour, and Muhammad Ali associate Drew Bundini Brown as Willy, a former childhood friend of Shaft who is now a black panther and disgusted with his decadent lifestyle. Also keep an eye out for a small bit by Antonio Fargas, who is best known as Huggy Bear in 'Starsky And Hutch' and also went on to appear as Pam Grier's brother in 'Foxy Brown', and as Doodlebug in 'Cleopatra Jones'. 'Shaft' is a movie that changed the face of Hollywood forever, and is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys 1970s movies, music or fashions.
I am an old-school man from Motown, and I was at the premiere showing in June of 1971 at the Palms Theatre. The impact and impression that is left in your mind dictates how one feels about anything. Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree, made it's mark on me then, and does now. From the opening scenes in the streets, to the end theme, when John Shaft came through the window...at the time, no Black man exercised such a strength of will and character as he did. the music score of Issac Hayes did/does/will be as timeless as the movie. The storyline was compelling, characters well-developed and colorful, the direction of Gordon Parks set a new standard, and even the fashion and wardrobe made a statement. Can you dig it?
John Shaft is a private detective in Harlem. He is hired by pimp and drug
dealer Bumpy Jonas to find Bumpy's daughter who has been kidnapped by an
unknown party. Shaft investigates the local Panther organisation but
ultimately finds that an Italian mob is trying to move in on Bumpy's
territory. With all parties at conflict Shaft must keep his cool to get the
Ay the start of a decade filled with cheap movies aimed at getting the black audience a product aimed at them in particular. Many of these were poor but Shaft stood out because it could have been a film in it's own right. The story is a normal detective movie with a black twist and that helps because it's not forced at all. The story is gritty and tough as befits the setting and the hero.
Shaft is tough but hadn't yet turned into 007 (as he did in Shaft's Big Score), this makes him tough but also keeps him down to earth. Roundtree handles himself sexily and looks great the film very much revolves around his performance and he holds the attention easily.
The film eventually gets into gun fights and an exciting conclusion but really this is all about mood and funk. And it delivers both.
Blaxploitation at it's best. A simple story with a twist done right.
That is Shaft. The concept of a black man as a cool ultra slick, lady
lovin' private detective. For once in the world of cinema the black man
was tops and unlike other genre entries this one clicked with people of
both colors. They had created a solid character in John Shaft that the
population took a shinning to. For once it wasn't something
exploitative being sold to a one-sided market audience exclusively.
But look I'm getting sidetracked. Shaft isn't this huge epic struggle of the black man through the generations. It's a solid, satisfying picture that gets by on pure character. Shaft. The black private detective has endlessly been imitated, but never duplicated since. With much of the character's success having to be attributable to Richard Roundtree, a perfect fit for the material. He wasn't so much playing a character named John Shaft, but rather he was John Shaft. Perhaps to the detriment of his career, I still can't watch a movie with Richard Roundtree in it without thinking of Shaft. The plot is on auto pilot - you've seen it before - maybe even done better - but this movie has Shaft and that's all there is to say.
Okay so there's a huge pile of films from the late 60's and early 70's that haven't worn well--- "Easyrider" leaps first to mind, but after seeing "Shaft" on TCM, we've got a new contender. I realize this is one that started the onslaught on our racial consciousness and while it's better than "Superfly," "The Mack," "Shaft in Africa," "Cleopatra Jones," et al, it's a shock to see how tacky things were 36 years ago. The hip lingo is horribly dated, the incessant reminders that us Caucasians are hopeless honkies is irritating and yeah, there's the wardrobe. I can't help it, it's distracting seeing middle aged guys wearing plaid suits with wide polyester ties (Starsky & Hutch fashion icon Antonio Fargas even has a cameo as a sidewalk informant) wearing laughable hats. Why did they have to throw in Shaft verschtionking a barfly when he's got a loyal (and far classier) woman back at the ranch? The plot is incredibly simplistic and is an ominous indicator of the even worse things to come in the Blaxploitation genre. Alright then, what's right? The late Gordon Parks could construct great complex exterior shots and draw out a fairly credible performance by the inexperienced Richard Roundtree. He could have been a whole lot worse. The best actor here is Moses Gunn (seen to better advantage in "Ragtime"). Ignoring Issac Hayes' title track lyrics that asks the rhetorical question, "who's the big Black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks?" (yeesh... but I'm just talking' about SHAFT!), the soundtrack is pretty decent. So there's a lot to be embarrassed about for those involved but there's also some redeeming qualities to the movie. I rate it a 3 for 10.
I first saw this movie three years ago with a bunch of friends. We laughed
ourselves to death, and it was the start of a budding interesting in
watching poorly made films as a death sport (Trust me, the worse they are,
the more they are a battle with your own mortality). In any event, we had a
ball laughing at the time capsule elements of the film; the hair, the
clothes, the dialogue, and above all as many puns on the name Shaft as we
could think of ("Uh oh! The police want Shaft! H'yuck!"). Watching the
film now I find it rather interesting; as far as bad movies go, there are
movies that are infinitely worse, and as far as good movies go, there are
movies that are infinitely better.
Unlike a lot of poor blaxploitation movies I've seen, this one has a decent plot, some interesting characters, and a slick look, as directed by Gordon Parks. They seem to have a pretty good idea how to make a movie. Sure they characters say stuff like "Don't jive me!" but c'mon that was the time. I guess then this film was cutting edge in its own way.
The character of Shaft fascinates me. Here's a character who uses women without remorse and without consequences, treats his one friend like a jerk, uses people, and helps out a ruthless gangster because the price is right. He's also one of the coolest characters ever presented on screen (The comparison to James Bond is actually pretty apt). I love it when a protagonist defies conventions, and man, if ever a character did, it was Shaft.
Still the plot, involving a black mobster whose daughter is kidnapped by the Mafia starts strong but loses steam by the end. The white villains are faceless (A nice change from racist Hollywood movies, but still), and while the film begins with some excellent twists, nothing suprising or very exciting happens in the last half hour. I kept expecting some characters with very questionable loyalties to double cross Shaft, but they never do. The film ends with a raid on an apartment, but the ramifications with the mob, the men who help Shaft, or the police are never shown. In a way, it works cause the film does things the way it wants, but still it's not a very satifying end to things.
I guess now older, wiser, and a tad (Just a tad, perhaps even as much as a smidge) more mature, I can appreciate Shaft as a decent crime flick, with a great (I probably should say "right on") protagonist. And yes, it is campy and out of date, but that adds to the fun. Still, I think it's a better film that I used to give it credit for. Or maybe "shaft" jokes just aren't as funny to me as they used to be.
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