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Author: Jackson Booth-Millard from United Kingdom
25 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Many years before this original version I had seen the John Singleton/Samuel L. Jackson remake version, I knew about the name of the leading actor, the iconic theme song, and it was featured in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, so I was looking forward to it. Basically John Shaft (Golden Globe nominated Richard Roundtree) is an African American private detective, he seeks out the gangsters in the Harlem neighbourhood, the New York City borough of Manhattan, and on assignment he gets into a fight with a couple of them in an office, it ends with him throwing one out of the window, the other reveals that uptown gang leader Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) wants to meet him. After a meeting at the police station, where he lies to Lieutenant Vic Androzzi (Charles Cioffi) and his superior about the fight, Shaft is allowed to return to the streets for 48 hours, he arranges to meet with Bumpy, the gang leader reveals that his daughter has been kidnapped, he wants to hire the detective to safely return his daughter, but this will not be easy with the escalation of the race war, i.e. blacks against whites, Shaft being a target himself, and of course Bumpy cannot be trusted. Shaft assumed Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) was a target, and not himself, together they find where the daughter Marcy Jonas (Sherri Brewer) is being held and confirm that she is alive, they end up in a gunfight and Shaft takes a bullet in the shoulder, but he recovers and tells Bumpy that his daughter is fine and that backup will be needed to get her out of the hotel she is in safely. The plan becomes like a military operation, Ben's men all dress as hotel staff to avoid arousing suspicion, to create a distraction an explosive is thrown into the room and the disguised men deal with the Mafia members, in the end Marcy is successfully rescued and taken out of the hotel where the arranged transport is waiting, as the others get away Shaft calls Vic in a phone booth, then simply walks away. Also starring Gwenn Mitchell as Ellie Moore, Lawrence Pressman as Sergeant Tom Hannon, Victor Arnold as Charlie, Rex Robbins as Rollie, Camille Yarbrough as Dina Greene, Margaret Warncke as Linda and Joseph Leon as Byron Leibowitz. Newcomer and ex-male model Roundtree as the black stud private eye who works his way through both gang activity and women is well cast, this works well for promoting equality for black people during a turbulent time for them, as a police and gangland story, and an interesting enough kidnap rescue plot, and of course the theme song (number 38 on 100 Years, 100 Songs) and original music by Isaac Hayes, who I know better as Chef from South Park, is fantastically funky, a watchable Blaxploitation crime thriller. It won the Oscar for Best Song for "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (also nominated the Golden Globe), and it was nominated for Best Music for Isaac Hayes, it was nominated the BAFTA for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score. Good!

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Can You Dig It?

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
2 March 2014

Probably had Shaft not won an Oscar for its theme as the Best Original Song it would be barely remembered as one of the first of the black exploitation films that seem to explode out of Hollywood. The late Sixties after the Civil Rights Revolution, Hollywood discovered that black people were a neglected audience, that A. was not happy with how it was previously portrayed and B. would pay to see more than just films that starred Sidney Poitier.

It's an average action/adventure film when you come right down to it, but that is not to say that star Richard Roundtree didn't create an interesting character. John Shaft is a private detective who even police lieutenant Charles Cioffi knows to give a free hand to as he's into sources of information the cops don't have access to.

Something that Harlem drug kingpin Moses Gunn is also aware of when he hires Shaft to locate his kidnapped daughter. Gunn isn't exactly telling Shaft the whole truth about the circumstances. But Shaft catches on quickly enough that this is all part of a three party struggle for the control of Harlem between Italian gangsters, black militants and Gunn's own crew.

There's a nice explosive climax in the end as the daughter's fate is in Shaft's hands. Enough action to satisfy any junkie.

And of course there's Isaac Hayes's score with the theme and it's a type of song that never got the Academy recognition before. I don't one like that has since. But in terms of the film itself, the score perfectly captures the mood.

Can you dig it.

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One of the original Blaxploitation films

Author: david-sarkies from Australia
1 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I heard a bit about this movie, and from what I know it is supposed to be a cult movie, so when I saw it in the video store I decided to hire it out to see what it was all about. Basically Shaft is described as being one of the Black Exploitation movies. Basically it is a movie where all of the main characters are Negros and white people are only cast when either necessary or to fill the role of the bad guys. In the case of this movie there are really no clear cut good or bad guys.

Shaft is about the Negro detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree). Shaft is basically a very tough guy that intimidates but isn't intimidated. He is also what is described in the opening song (which won composer Isaac Hayes an Oscar) as a sex machine. He only sleeps with two girls in the movie though, and one of them is his woman, but they do both comment on his prowess.

What is interesting is that all of the characters are basically thugs. None of them have any really redeeming traits and are simply trying to bully each other into submission. This isn't just focused on the Negroes in the movie, but everybody acts as bullies, from the Anglo police officers to the Italian Mafia. It is just that Shaft's bullying is more effective than others.

Just because Shaft is a bully, it does not mean he is stupid. He does not go bursting into a room full of armed men unless he is sure that he can win. He doesn't run away either, but rather he remains calm and collected, and then turns the tables on his opponents.

I guess Shaft takes the human race as it comes. They are little more than thugs trying to best each other, either through brute force, charisma, or intellect. In the end, it always comes down to might means right, and that is not always the physical side, for elections are little more than popularity competitions, and the most charismatic will generally win.

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Excellent Soundtrack

Author: Uriah43 from Amarillo, Texas
8 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The NYPD is hearing rumors about something big about to happen in Harlem and they're worried. Meanwhile, two thugs from Harlem are looking for a private detective named "John Shaft" (Richard Roundtree). A scuffle breaks out in Shaft's office and one of the thugs is thrown out of the high-rise window. Not long afterward a black crime boss named "Bumpy Jonas" (Moses Gunn) and his bodyguard, "Willy" (Drew Bundini Brown) come to see Shaft seeking to hire him to locate Bumpy's daughter who has been kidnapped. This is when the complications start. Anyway, this film features gangsters from Harlem, the mafia, black militants and the NYPD who all want to see John Shaft for one reason or another. It has an excellent soundtrack and there is plenty of action to keep most people entertained throughout. The acting is also pretty good with Richard Roundtree putting in an excellent performance along with that of Drew Bundini Brown to a lesser extent. In short, this film is as exciting today as it was when it first came out 42 years ago and is quite possibly the best "blaxpoitation" film there is. Definitely above average.

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The emergence of Blaxploitation cinema

Author: christhegeek from United Kingdom
25 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Shaft is not the first Blaxploitation but it is the most accomplished and most memorable. A workaday script is launched into cultural orbit by the charismatic performance of RIchard Roundtree and the unforgettable theme by the late Isaac Hayes. The importance of this movie is not that it was hugely successful (although it was), but that it was produced and performed by a crew and cast that was predominantly black. It proved that there was a significant audience for movies that represented black culture on its own terms and treated the audience with respect. Importantly, Shaft isn't a wholly sympathetic character: Through the prism of the 21st Century he could be construed as both misogynist and racist (see his treatment of the female characters and the portrayal of the Italian mobsters) But he is also loyal, brave resourceful and charming. This complexity is one of the strengths of the movie. The sequels lack the energy of the original and suffer from diminishing marginal returns and Roundtree was never as good again. He didn't need to be, most actors never achieve the level of charisma even once. Nor do they have the chance to create what is a truly iconic role. Samuel L Jackson in the remake certainly failed to. Here's a link to an animated review of this movie.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The 1970's were a BAD time!

Author: Sean Bender from Canada
27 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What a ridiculous movie. Black private eye walks into bar and white chick almost drops her drink cause he's so sexy and then goes back to his bed for a quick roll in the sack to an Isaac Hayes soundtrack. How absolutely stupid and offending to everybody. One of the things that annoyed me the most was the terrible acting and how Richard Roundtree would laugh out loud for the most stupid reasons during the film and one of them was typically about how he was going to get laid while the honky detective wasn't. HA HA HA , so funny, HA HA HA.

Very interesting to watch such a stupid film that made such a splash when I was just a kid and to see what a total piece of garbage it was.

This movie reminds me of the times it was made in... the 1970's. It was one of the worst eras for American cars and film.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Hasn't aged well but still entertaining with a good deal of 70s cool

Author: TheMarquisDeSuave from Worcester, MA
5 November 2007

The original version of "Shaft" always surprised me whenever I watched it, because its not what I expected at all. Those looking for an over-the-top "Dolemite" style camp fest (or even one of the film's sequels) will be quite disappointed. The original "Shaft" is a much more low key and minimalist film. There's no sequences of flashy pimps acting badass or anything along those lines. In fact, if the lead character himself wasn't black, this would simply be an extraordinary if enjoyable 70s cop thriller. It hasn't aged very well and the first half is all setup and rather slowly paced. Still, I love 70s action films like this so I wasn't bothered at all.

The film is a classic for several reasons. First, the lead performance by Richard Roundtree is iconic and still just as cool today. Hes tough and sexy, yet remains likable throughout. Hes a quintessential anti-hero and I'm shocked he didn't really crossover to become a major Hollywood player. His portrayal showed a lot of promise. Also, the photography of vintage NYC adds a sense of gritty realism missing from a lot of these films. Of course, one can't forget to mention Isaac Hayes' legendary score, which actually plays even better than the film itself nowadays. "Shaft" may be a bit dated, but its still quite entertaining to watch if you know what you're getting going in. (7/10)

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The "black style" of film-making is born

Author: ray-280 from Philadelphia
13 October 2007

In what is easily one of the most important films ever made, and an excellent film in its own right, Director Gordon Parks, who at the time, along with Ossie Davis and Melvin van Peebles were the only three well-known minority directors, brings the "black style" of film-making to the mainstream with Shaft, a crime-drama whose characters happened to be black.

What set Shaft apart was that the film was shot by black people, and for a primarily black audience, where whites were treated only as welcome guests of the action. The characters, most notably Shaft (Richard Roundtree), could easily have been written as whites, but since they were written as black, they did not "act white." The film was a forerunner to what is now commonplace on networks like UPN, where shows like Martin present African-American culture much the way shows like Barney Miller did with white culture.

The theme song, historic itself, sent this film over the top in the best way possible. We all want to be Shaft at least once in our lives.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

It's OUR turn now, Man!

Author: Gavno ( from Mad City, Wisconsin
13 October 2007

At the time SHAFT was released, it was a startling film... and watching for the first time, it crossed a social line, and there was no going back.

Walls and conventions were crumbling in all of the arts. The biggest play in Broadway's history, the precedent breaking and iconoclastic Rado, Ragni and McDermott production "Hair", was playing in a dozen cities at once to sellout crowds. In the post Blacklist period, Joe McCarthy and HUAC were dead, and once again the films, books, and plays had a social message and tried hard to reflect the world as is really is. Sex and dirty words came springing triumphantly out of the closet, and it was anything goes.

On TV, Bill Cosby was costarring with Robert Culp in the breakout dramatic series I SPY. Dianne Carroll had her own integrated series, JULIA. Even in outer space Nichelle Nichols provided a Black presence as the competent communications officer Lt. Uhura aboard the Starship Enterprise in STAR TREK.

It was the time for Black talent to make it's presence known.

America was used to (and probably a bit bored with) the film noire private eye flicks we'd been watching since World War Two. They usually were based in New York City, and they were usually vehicles for hard boiled WHITE private dicks like Alan Ladd or Robert Mitchum. They were pure fantasy and they spun fantastic tales about a mythical underworld and thugs who came straight out of Dashiel Hammett novels. They were fun, but they never had the taste of reality, especially for Black audiences; there were virtually NO Black people in them, anywhere. The shadowy world of the private eye never rang true.

The first time I saw this film was in a theater with a totally Black audience. The effect on us was electrifying.

From the first fade-up when the lead guitar cranked up that Issac Hayes theme, SHAFT grabbed your attention! Tall, handsome Richard Roundtree in his leather coat, striding thru the big city traffic like a cowboy on horseback riding thru a herd of cattle... confident, comfortable, at home. This is HIS world, HIS city, and he OWNS it ALL... flip the finger to a cabbie who dares to honk at him! This isn't the film noire world of nightclubs, nondescript gangsters, and Dooley Wilson as the men's room attendant anymore... it's the REAL New York City, complete with the crowds, the traffic, the Harlem drug scene, Black revolutionaries, hip little bistros with Gay bartenders, and in the background an undercurrent of rising aspirations; of a Black man, running his OWN detective agency, and more important getting the RESPECT for his position from a White NYC police department detective.

Sorry Bogie... we still love ya, and tho Sam Spade was cool, there's no place for him in the world of John Shaft. Sam's day is over.

John Shaft isn't a lowly, subservient Steppin Fetchit darkie fumbling his way around in the White man's world, he's his OWN MAN... and he's big, bad, and bold enough to DEMAND that kind of respect! SHAFT was a detective for a new age... his message and image were aimed at Black Americans who were no longer content to be second class citizens who sat quietly in the back of the bus.

Today, SHAFT may seem commonplace and a bit boring. That's because this film, so explosive and revolutionary when it came out, did it's job and made the entire concept of a Black private eye seem completely plausible.

It's one of the best Blaxploitation films (as the genre came to be known). Well written and produced, even tho now it's a period piece, it can still hold it's own.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Peek at the 70s

Author: Wendy Darling from Atlanta, GA
22 March 2000

Yesterday here in Atlanta -- a city that's home to quite a few black men who still dress like the guys in Shaft -- a theater about a block from me ran a showing of Shaft in conjunction with an exhibit of Gordon Parks' photography at a local museum. The audience was about 80 percent black and loved it -- as did I. As the movie played, people were singing along and yelling out the lines in the movie. It was pretty clear that for the blacks in the audience, this movie was something special and probably had been since it first came out.

For me, though, the best part of the movie was the peek you get at the total seediness of New York in the early 1970s. Cities were so ugly back then and NY was probably one of the absolute ugliest. From the 20-times-painted-over rowhouses to potholed streets to tacky, neon-wrapped storefronts and hookers, the NY of Shaft seems real down to the last bit. You can smell it, feel it, know just what it was like. Watching it last night, I realized why my German grandmother moved out of NY in 1979 -- her apartment, which once had been in a "poor" neighborhood turned into the kind of ghetto shown here and the entire city became a giant cesspit. Thank got NY has turned around since then.

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