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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.
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...
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.
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.
`Shaft' takes the process a stage further. Both the star, Richard Roundtree, and most of the supporting cast, are black. White actors are only seen in comparatively minor roles. Although the film is centred upon New York's black community, it is not specifically an `issue' movie about racism in the way that `In the Heat of the Night' is. A black man is seen, for almost the first time, as not only the main focus of the film but also as a strong, confident man of action. The hero John Shaft, a black private detective, triumphs over white villains; there is even a mixed-race love scene between him and a white woman, something which Hollywood would tend to shy away from even today, and which must have seemed particularly shocking in the early seventies.
Unfortunately, when seen as a film rather than as a historical landmark, `Shaft' is not particularly good. The plot, which concerns Shaft's search for a gangster's kidnapped daughter and ends with him tangling with the Mafia, is routine private eye stuff. Richard Roundtree makes a cool, stylish hero, but the rest of the cast are not up to his standard. The direction also struck me as having been poorly handled, particularly the action scenes. The film seems to have been made on a low budget, and it shows. There are similarities to other `tough guy' detective films of the era, such as `The French Connection', `Bullitt' and the `Dirty Harry' series (all of which featured white protagonists) but all of those were much more professionally handled. Many of my criticisms of `Shaft' could, in fact, be made, with even greater force, against the `blaxploitation' genre is general. Nevertheless, those films pointed the way that later black actors were to follow. When we consider that the likes of Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Samuel Jackson have become major stars in all sorts of roles, not merely as action heroes, we realise that a debt is owed to films like `Shaft'. 5/10.
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.
OK--I realize this is of historical importance as being one of (if not the first) blaxploitation films to hit it big. It also WAS a huge hit in its day--some NY theatres were open 24 hours a DAY to get all the crowds in! However it has not aged well at all. The script is dull and the dialogue is just terribly dumb. Even the violence was boring...but it may have been extreme in its day. It was also slow-moving and contained some truly dreadful acting. Roundtree LOOKS the part--tall, masculine, muscular and super sexy--but the guy can't act. His delivery was wooden--of course the lousy dialogue didn't help. Only Gunn showed any life in his role. Also this movie has women used as sex objects in an appalling way. Shaft has a beautiful black girlfriend but has no trouble going to bed with a white woman he meets in a bar--and this is shown as a positive thing! I have no problem with her being white. It's just that we're supposed to think nothing is wrong with him cheating on his girlfriend--but there is! On the plus side there is Isaac Hayes' Academy Award winning title song (which is GREAT) and good use of NY locations...but I was bored and fighting to stay awake. A 1 all the way.
You know what ? Those are the reasons why I really like "Shaft" . It feels like a REAL LIFE story . Not every movie has to be an over the top spectacle for simple minded audience. For me less is more . I can hardly care for action hero when he's doing impossible stuff like jumping over the missile with a truck. Here the danger feels real . There is no villain . A simple bad guy with a gun can end your life and you have to be very careful . Shaft uses his muscles only when necessary . He prefers to outsmart his enemy , because violence can lead you as far. When he's fighting for life , you FEEL that he's fighting for life.
The movie captures the gritty atmosphere of 70's New York City . In this world everybody is walking a thin line between law and law of street . I also like that Shaft is a detective and the investigation actually plays important part through whole movie . Not to mention that characters here feel like they could exist in real life.
Richard Roundtree is great as the charming bad ass Shaft who is one foot in the world of black people and the other foot in the world of white people. He easily dominates the whole movie with his tough , confident and wise cracking personality. Women , both black and white are attracted to him (We get to see naked women – something you can't see in action movies anymore). The other actors give him solid support. I liked Charles Cioffi as Vic Androzzi and Moses Gunn as Bumpy.
The movie is worth watching for the delightful dialogue. Believe me – there is more tension in a scene when Shaft talks to Bumpy than in many car chases. The movie is very dialogue heavy , yet it's a true pleasure to listen how characters talk with each other . Most of the dialogue is quite humorous . You should prepare pen and paper to note .
The action scenes are nicely photographed . There is a great title song by Isaac Hayes (it won Oscar) and during the movie you can hear few other nice songs. "Shaft " is mostly entertainment , but it was also an important movie for black people. It's one of those rare movies where the black guy is a hero . The situation now changed , but long time ago it was a breakthrough movie . "Shaft" also captures really good the tension between white and black people back in the 70's.
I give it 7/10.
SHAFT was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the summer of 1971.
This time around,his second feature brought out his talent for capturing an image and his personal insight of life on the streets and in the ghettos to bring to the screen a hard-hitting,gritty,and edgy to the core crime-drama thriller based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman,who wrote the screenplay along with screenwriter John D.F. Black and produced by Sterling Silliphant and Roger Lewis. Its also to note out that this film introduce audiences to the world Richard Roundtree in the title role,who was a former Ebony male-model before he made his mark as an actor in motion pictures and SHAFT was basically the jumpstart from the beginning and set the tone for others blaxploitation films of the 1970's to follow. The plot,about a private detective hired by a Harlem mobster(Moses Gunn)to find his missing daughter who goes through the infiltration of the mob before finding and rescuing the girl is solid entertainment that doesn't disappoint and keeps the audience in check with hard-hitting suspense and tense action throughout. Although there several obvious racial tensions throughout the film,director Gordon Parks keeps these tensions in check who keeps his focus mainly on the humanistic elements of the character. It is also to note that the depth that goes beyond the image of the super-slick,tough as nails detective is showing other sides of his personality. At the time SHAFT was released in 1971,its studio,the great MGM was facing bankruptcy,and the studio bosses at MGM figured that SHAFT would make a lot of money. Well,it did. And did execeptionally well making it one of the highest grossing box office films of that year and one of the top five box office gross films of 1971 and it helped keep MGM in business. It is also to note that composer Issac Hayes,made history as well by being the first African-American in history to win the Academy Award for Best Musical Score,which to goes to note one of the most famous scores in music history.
This fist and guns opera features some passable acting , noisy action sequences , though no too much , and results to be quite entertaining . It's an intriguing film , plenty of thriller , suspense , kinky sex and much of the action centers around 125th Street in Harlem . Nice interpretation from Richard Roundtree , though Isaac Hayes auditioned for the title role , producers cast Roundtree , but were so impressed with Hayes that they asked him to write the now legendary score to the film . Violent , raw script in which the action keeps things moving along by Ernest Tidyman (French connection). The Ernest Tidyman novel which was the basis for the film is about a black detective and not a white one . It was rumored to be written as just another detective movie , with a white detective in the lead , but , after the success of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) , the film was rewritten and recast as a blaxploitation movie . Special mention for soul musical score that still resonates by Isaac Hayes who won an Academy Award . The picture was professionally directed by Gordon Parks , but it has a lot of violence , profanity and adult subject matter . The result is a strong entry for action buffs , plus creating the blaxploitation sub-genre . It's followed by two inferior sequels with similar players : ¨Big score¨ (Gordon Parks) with Moses Gunn and ¨Shaft in Africa¨ (John Guillermin) with Vonetta McGee and a recent version (2000 , by John Singleton) with Samuel L. Jackson and cameo by Richard Roundtree as Shaft's uncle .
The best part of the film was the opening sequence when Shaft casually walks across the New York road avoiding cars.....a few moments of good timing.
It does perhaps have a modicum of interest for its historical or social value.
Shaft (1971) has been called the first blaxploitation flick, screw that and it's derogatory connotations (think Sergio Leone vs the majority of "Spaghetti" Westerns as a reference point), its actually not only a great PI film, directed by Gordon Parks (acclaimed photojournalist for Life magazine ) but also shot in a very noir-ish style by Urs Furrer. Between the eye of the director and the skill of the cinematographer the film looks beautiful. The shots of Manhattan, The Village, Harlem circa 1970 are gorgeous. It's sleazy Times Square/42nd Street at fin d'une époque, before Disneyfication eradicated it all.
Establishing shot, an aerial view of 7th Avenue Manhattan looking North towards Broadway and Times Square. A cacophony of traffic blares skyward, we look down upon madly scintillating 42nd Street theater marquees, classic Hollywood product, Lancasters The Scaphuters, Redfords's Little Faus And Big Halsey competing with triple X features He And She, School for Sex and The Wild Females, this ain't Busby Berkeley Territory anymore. Isaac Hayes' soul and funk-styled iconic theme song begins to pulsate the title appears over a subway entrance as leather clad Shaft glides up to the trash littered gum stained sidewalk and jaywalks his way across the main stem. This title sequence segues into the beginning of the story when Shaft is alerted by Marty the blind news stand paper seller that two cats were looking for him.
Shaft is based on an Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black screenplay from a book by Tidyman. The dialogs are all spot on in 70's hip jive. It's co-produced by Stirling Silliphant (who wrote late classic noirs, 5 Against the House, Nightfall, The Lineup and also neo noir -ish In The Heat Of The Night).
What's sad is Shaft gets right what practically every Mike Hammer, the quintessential NY P.I, based film neglects, and that is a real feel for the gritty noir, on location, underbelly side of New York City. (save Allen Baron's 1961 Blast Of Silence, and Armand Assante's I, The Jury(1982)) and even the latter doesn't spend near enough time in the streets
Shaft is a very plausible re-imagining of the classic private eye flick. The P.I. was always about cool this go round it is about back COOL. Richard Roundtree is perfect as the suave hip protagonist John Shaft, a good detective, grudgingly getting genuine respect from all.
Moses Gunn is incredibly good as tough crime boss Bumpy Jonas showing quite a bit of range as he pleads with Shaft to take his case. Charles Cioffi as Androzzi Shaft's NYPD detective cop buddy holds his own and runs interference between Shaft and the department. Drew Bundini Brown is Bumpy henchman Willy, Christopher St. John is Ben Buford a former hood rat friend of Shaft who is now a black militant, Antonio Fargas is great as streetwise Bunky. Character actor Lee Steele plays a blind news vender. Shaft is a Neo Noir New York City wet dream, it hits on all cylinders, check it out. 10/10
What a great song! As a blaxploitation, the story isn't half bad. It puts race front and center without the noble black man trope. It is violent. It's not exactly realistic. It is a stylized hard-boiled detective story in a black world. It is low budget action. There is quite a bit of filler. The pacing does have the 70s meandering quality. It makes up for it with a lot of attitude. That's what Roundtree brings. The man exudes attitude. It's also cool to see the gritty 70s NYC streets.
'Shaft', directed by the great Gordon Parks, does it first and leaves for succeeding generations to do it better, Later on, in 'Devil in a Blue Dress', we see Easy Rawlins as a more fully developed Bogart-like characterization. But one can easily make the case that this film broke the ground for the African American male in the private eye genre.
The 'Bad ------' as a mythic heroic figure has been with us for a long time. He is found in folklore as High John De Conqueror and another figure who is sung about in blues songs named Stag-o-lee. 'High John' laughs a lot and is playful and somewhat happy-go-lucky, but when you cross him he will not hesitate to go for his guns. 'Stag-o-lee' does not clown around. He just goes for his guns and send you straight to - 'hush yo' mouth - '! All my life I heard tales about this 'Bad ------'; mostly from my folks when talking about a relative or an Uncle who was wrapped less tightly than the rest of us. He usually possessed a hair-trigger temper and was not adverse to beating down half a dozen burly whites before being torn in half and thrown into the Mississippi River. You could also slap a nickle off his fingertip and lose your life in the process. Richard Wright attempted to write about this personality type in his novel 'Native Son', but choked when it came to having his protagonist confront white males as representatives of the White Power Structure. This is what a real 'Bad ------' cuts his teeth on. A subtler version of this character is known as Ananzi the Spiderman, who shares attributes with the Greek hero Odysseus; but looming behind them all is one of the baddest 'Bad ------' types who ever lived, Shaka Zulu, but this is not the time or the place to discuss HIM. Meanwhile, truth was proving to be stranger than fiction as a myriad of 'Bad ------' types were being generated out of the Civil Rights Movement and the Revolution for Black Self Determination. Perhaps most prominent among these figures were Muhammud Ali and Malcolm X.
This is not to discount the fact that Gordon Parks could be easily classed as a 'Bad ------' in his own right. This becomes quite evident in one of his autobiographies, 'A Choice of Weapons'. But it is important to understand how 'Shaft', along with Melvin Van Peebles 'Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song' and 'Superfly' came out of the highly charged cultural upheavals of the sixties and seventies. The impact of 'Shaft' depends to a certain extent on understanding it in context with its times and is definitely enriched should you have lived through the period as I have done.
This period of cultural foment is so highly charged nobody seems to notice that one of the characters; Bumpy Jonas' daughter, actually has not one line of dialog in 'Shaft'! She is the object of the search and rescue mission conducted by private eye John Shaft and yet besides some moaning and sobbing, we find out absolutely nothing about her.
The truth is Gordon Parks' 'Shaft' lacks an exposition or at best an inciting incident where we see the actual kidnapping of Marcy; Bumpy Jonas' daughter. Since we're making comparisons between John Shaft and Sam Spade, it would not have hurt him to have an attractive Gal Friday holding down the fort at the office. The lovemaking scene between Shaft and his main squeeze probably would have also gone better near the beginning of the movie. It would not have hurt also to show Bumpy's gang attempting to rescue Marcy unsuccessfully before hiring Shaft and then bringing in Isaac Hayes' theme music. It is also a mystery why the hit men after Shaft don't have a photograph of him or physical description of some kind to go by as they seek him out. I also think the first confrontation between Shaft, Bumpy's daughter and the mob should have probably been all dialog.
What redeemed this film for me was the convoluted and well thought out Endgame that Shaft and his cohorts execute upon the kidnappers. When Shaft successfully pulls this off and gives the Police Lieutenant Vic Androzzi his High John De Conqueror laugh, I still feel a palpable thrill. After that, he strides off too cool for school as Isaac Hayes' Oscar winning Theme Music takes us into the credits.