The original and hippest version of Shaft
cruised onto cinema screens in 1971. John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is an African-American private eye who has a rocky relationship with cops, an even rockier one with Harlem gangsters, and a healthy sex life. The script finds Shaft tracking down the kidnapped daughter of a black mobster, but the pleasure of the film is the sum of its attitude, Roundtree's uncompromising performance, and the thrilling, Oscar-winning score by Isaac Hayes. Director Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree
) seems fond of certain detective genre clichés (e.g., the hero walking into his low-rent office and finding a hood waiting to talk with him), but he and Roundtree make those moments their own. Shaft
produced a couple of sequels, a follow-up television series, and a remake starring Samuel L. Jackson, but none had the impact this movie did. --Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Shaft's Big Score is the first sequel to the super-hip 1971 original. When a pal of detective John Shaft is murdered in a bombing, New York's coolest private eye finds himself caught in the middle of a power struggle between black and white gangsters over the numbers racket in Queens. Directed by Gordon Parks (who does a brief cameo as a croupier in an illegal casino) and written by Ernest Tidyman (both of whom made the original Shaft), this film lacks the pacing of its progenitor. Roundtree is at his best when he's questioning a woman he's just met about a suspect while at the same time beguiling her into the sack (ah, those lazy, crazy days of the sexual revolution). The finale--a shootout in a cemetery, followed by a car-boat-helicopter chase through Queens and up the Harlem River--is preposterously drawn-out: Shaft, impervious to machine-gun fire, winds up tripping, spraining his ankle, and limping while running from the chopper; two shots later, he's sprinting like a halfback. Look for late Muhammad Ali trainer Drew Bundini Brown as a wise-cracking mobster. --Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
Shaft in Africa, the second sequel to the original hit, foreshadows itself early on when Shaft, asked to go undercover in Africa to halt a modern-day slave trade, claims that he's not James Bond but strictly Sam Spade. Bond, however, is the operative model here, with John Shaft masquerading as an Ethiopian to infiltrate the slave business and bring it down. Yet everyone he encounters seems to know who he is and wants to kill him--but the string of dead bodies he leaves in his wake across two continents proves that no one is able to stop everyone's favourite hip private eye. Written by Stirling Silliphant, the film is long on action set pieces that are filmed with more energy than the previous movie, Shaft's Big Score. Given contemporary practices involving smugglers of illegal Chinese and Mexican immigrants, the plot isn't all that far-fetched. Roundtree, as usual, is the picture of unflappable cool--but don't get him mad. --Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
The hard-hitting Original that started it all.
"Hotter than Bond, Cooler than Bullitt," movie poster proclaimed. John Shaft was indeed a shut-your- mouth detective to reckon with, a fact emphasized from the film's start by Isaac Hayes' Academy Award winning Best Original Song and Oscar nominated score.
Richard Roundtree plays the smart, tough, confident lead, a private investigator whose hunt for a kidnapped woman puts him in the middle of feuding syndicates. Gordon Parks directs from a screenplay that Ernest Tidyman (that same year's Oscar Winner for The French Connection co-scripted from his own novel. John Shaft is an icon of change from an era of change.
Shaft's Big Score!
You can't say the mob wasn't warned about John Shaft. "He's a bad dude", a racketeer cautions them. Now Shaft himself will deliver that message in a way New York City's wise guys understand.
Richard Roundtree reunited with the director (Gordon Parks) and screenwriter (Ernest Tidyman) of 1971's trend-setting film Shaft for Shaft's Big Score!, the second of Roundtree's three movie portrayals of the street smart, leather jacketed private investigator.
This time Shaft runs afoul of the underworld as he investigates a friend's murder. But the players are about to be played in this sexy, hard-edged thriller. You liked it before, so he's back with more, SHAFT'S BACK IN ACTION!
Shaft In Africa
Go ahead. Slug, drug, kidnap and leave John Shaft buck-naked in a sweltering hellhole. It's still no deal. If you want to recruit this tough-minded Manhattan detective for an overseas assignment , you'd better use a language he understands. One that offers a fat up-front fee. And a drop-dead gorgeous accomplice.
Richard Roundtree returns as the indomitable Shaft, who poses as a slave, unmasks the leader of an Africa-to-Europe slavery cartel and, for good measure, mixes his business with amorous pleasure involving a beautiful princess (Vonetta McGee). The cool-fire impact of Roundtree's performances endures: the actor won the 1993 MTV Movie Award for Lifetime Achievement for his work in the three Shaft thrillers.