A crime lord hires black private eye, John Shaft, to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.A crime lord hires black private eye, John Shaft, to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.A crime lord hires black private eye, John Shaft, to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.
The movie that kicked in the 1970s blaxploitation and changed the face of Hollywood forever!
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.
- Apr 27, 2003
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