May 18, 2019

SHAFT Triple Feature: You’re Daaamn Right
Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John. Directed by Gordon Parks. (1971/100 min).
Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Joseph Mascolo, Wally Taylor, Julius Harris, Joe Santos. Directed by Gordon Parks. (1972/105 min).
Starring Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee, Neda Armeric, Frank McRae. Directed by John Guillerman. (1973/112 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😺

I belong to an online forum where we often discuss classic films. Someone once posed this question: What were some of the most influential or culturally significant films of the 1970s? Since she wasn’t necessarily asking for the best ones, it’s an excellent question and tougher to answer than one might think. But any legitimate discussion would have to include the original Shaft.

Released in 1971, Shaft almost singlehandedly invented blaxploitation. In that context, the film was arguably as influential as The Godfather and transcended the genre to become something of a cultural phenomenon in its own right. So of course, a couple of sequels quickly followed, as well as a short-lived TV series (which I wasn’t aware of). Shaft has been released on Blu-ray before, but now all three films are available in a 3-disc set.

The only street that doesn't have a Starbucks.
Though certainly a product of its time, Shaft is the one true classic of the franchise. The plot is nothing to write home about – it doesn’t even have a primary antagonist – but as an exercise in audacity and style, director Gordon Parks scores a bullseye. Isaac Hayes’ iconic, infectious theme sets the tone right away, while Richard Roundtree exudes confidence and all-around badassery throughout the film (he's a damn fine dresser, too), arguably making John Shaft the coolest private dick to hit the screen since Bogart donned a fedora.

Who's the window washer that's a sex machine to all the chicks?
Released only a year later, Shaft’s Big Score! is sorely missing a few of the elements that made the first film a classic. Most would likely agree that Haye’s soundtrack was a huge part of the original’s success. Here, director Parks scores the film himself. While the music is reminiscent of Hayes' work - right down to the new theme song - it isn't nearly as memorable. It also looks like John Shaft has-since moved up in the world, therefore doesn’t seem quite as streetwise. However, this one does have a better story, where Shaft investigates the murder of a friend at the hands of a greedy brother who's in-debt to the mob. Though not as fresh or original as Shaft, it’s certainly enjoyable and has a lot of action, including an exciting car/boat/helicopter chase during the final act.

"Sooo...I see your Schwartz is as big as mine."
The law of diminishing returns plays itself out with Shaft in Africa. Director John Guillerman and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant clearly have no idea what to do with the character they’ve been handed, turning Shaft into a black James Bond (complete with gadgets). Roundtree is good, but the story - which has Shaft recruited to infiltrate an African slavery ring – is ridiculous and completely contrary to everything that made the original unique. Just like The Bad News Bears should never have gone to Japan, John Shaft has no business ever leaving New York City. The naked stick-fight, however, is an unintentional comic highlight.

The sequels are new to Blu-ray and also available separately. But unless you already have Shaft, this Blu-ray triple feature is the obvious way to go. The original is a classic and essential viewing for any ‘70s-era movie buff. Roundtree’s charisma and great action make Shaft’s Big Score! a worthy sequel. Shaft in Africa may be a complete misfire, but you can’t complete a trilogy with two movies, can you?

SHAFT – “Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location” (10 minute vintage featurette); Shaft - “The Killing” (an episode from the short-lived series, also starring Roundtree); Trailers for all three films

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