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Shaft (1971)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
Movie Connections:
Shaft
> Shaft (1971)
> Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
> Shaft In Africa (1973)
> Shaft (2000)
Genres:
Action, Blaxploitation, Detective Film
Director:
Gordon Parks Gordon Parks
Starring:
Richard Roundtree Richard Roundtree
Moses Gunn Moses Gunn
Charles Cioffi Charles Cioffi
Christopher St. John Christopher St. John
Gwenn Mitchell Gwenn Mitchell

6.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: February 11, 2007
Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Shaft! Who's the man that would risk his neck for his brother man? Shaft! Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about? Shaft! They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother... ahem. Who doesn't recall that infamous theme song, and who hasn't heard of the infamous Shaft? Here's the movie where it all started, and it's also the movie that truly started the blaxploitation genre (even if it wasn't exactly the first).

The incomparable Richard Roundtree plays John Shaft, a private detective hailing from New York who doesn't take shit from anyone: not from the mafia, not from the neighborhood pimps and gangstas, and certainly not from the local police. In the film that spawned two sequels, one remake, and countless imitators, he takes a job from a Harlem drug-lord named Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) that consists of rescuing this kingpin's daughter from the mafia, who have kidnapped her in an effort to gain some leverage in their quest to reclaim Harlem for their own. Shaft isn't too happy about working for this drug-pusher, you dig, but he's also not a huge fan of an innocent woman getting kidnapped either. With the help of his buddy Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) and the black-power militia that Ben leads, Shaft will attempt to overthrow a swarm of mafia henchmen, keep the pigs off his back, and yes, find time to woo the ladies with his sexual prowess.

Alright, so I mentioned in my opening paragraph that this is the film that kick-started the blaxploitation genre, but it wasn't quite the first. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song had come out the year prior and done pretty well in theaters, and with that in mind, the producers of Shaft rewrote and recast it in order to turn it into more of a black-oriented film. The film did so well in theaters amongst both black and white audiences that it pulled MGM (who was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time) out of the red, and this success led to a slew of other, similar films which collectively would come to be known as the blaxploitation genre. The rest, as they say, is history.

So then, knowing how well the film did upon its release and what its place in history is, how well does it stand the test of time? The movie is older than I am, and save for an abundance of seventies-era lingo and a couple of household furnishings, it really doesn't feel dated at all, unlike a lot of other movies from the era. It's an action / detective story at heart, and honestly, that sort of thing never gets dated (just look at how long James Bond has been around, and Dick Tracy before him). The only other thing that would make this feel dated for today's viewers is the fact that it's very politically incorrect; this didn't bother me in the least, but it's a sad fact that the days in which you could slide racial slurs into casual conversation as was done in this film are long gone.

The film was shot on a shoestring budget (even by seventies-standards), but you couldn't really tell from looking at the movie itself. The supporting cast members are, for the most part, great in their roles, and then we have Richard Roundtree in the leading role. Aside from a minor role in What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, this was his debut in front of the camera, and this one role would solidify him as a leading man and this in turn led to a pretty successful acting career. That sort of thing doesn't happen with an "average" or "decent" performance, so it should go without saying that the man was great in his role here. The musical score is another point of interest: while we all know and love the Shaft theme, that wasn't the only highlight of the film as Isaac Hayes did a damned fine job with the musical side of things in this release.

The beauty of this film is that, while it was shot with a black audience in mind, it can be enjoyed regardless of your skin color or nationality. That is the mark of a quality film, and it's definitely worth a viewing for those who want to see where the blaxploitation genre started or for those who simply want to see a damned good detective flick. 9/10.
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