Aerial shot of 42nd Street with just the sound of traffic. Then, just as the iconic wah-wah guitar riff to The Greatest Theme Song in the History of Cinema kicks in, John Shaft (Roundtree) steps out of subway in a turtle-neck and the coolest leather coat you’ve ever seen. He walks with a confidence that can only be explained by a funky soundtrack and a huge libido until he finally utters the movie’s opening line: “UP YOURS!”
That’s basically the review. The rest of the movie is pretty much more of the same except that he switches to an entirely implausible black leather outfit at the halfway point. The titular private dick is hired to track down the kidnapped daughter of the wonderfully named gangster, Bumpy Jonas (Gunn). He pronounces it “Bump-eh”. While it’s great fun, there’s a tad too much early-‘70s misogyny along the way. But, as people have written academic papers on why that is, it’s best we steer clear of that in a 400-word review [So probably best not to have mentioned it then – Ed]. Other than that, we probably need to point out that this was the one of the first Blaxploitation movies and was the one whose mainstream breakthrough led to the explosion of the genre. If there was no Shaft, there’d be no Blacula (1973). Imagine that. Shaft itself managed two sequels and a spin-off series.
If that sounds like your bag, then you’ll want this Blu-ray if only so you can hear Isaac Hayes’ theme played in endless high-quality loops when you leave the menu on. Among the bonus features we’ve not only got the obligatory trailer but also the trailers to both sequels. Strangely enough they’re hilariously funny and tell us that if we want to see these movies, we should ask our ‘momma’. The documentary Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location is, at 10 minutes, not exactly essential but we do get Isaac Hayes in the studio playing an embryonic version of that theme. But the real curiosity is an episode of the short-lived series of TV movies in which Rountree reprised his role. We can’t honestly say that The Killing is particularly compelling but it’s fascinating to see how it was watered down into a sort of Shaft-lite for the telly. No naughty words and he even wears a V-neck at one point. Very smart.
So, if you’re a fan of this sort of caper, worth owning. He may not be Prince Mamuwalde but, at the end of the day, he’s a complicated man who no-one understands but his woman… Shaft!
Extras: Behind-the-scenes Documentary: Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location, Shaft: The Killing (1973 TV Episode), 3 Theatrical Trailers
SHAFT (1971) / DIRECTOR: GORDON PARKS / SCREENPLAY: ERNEST TIGYMAN, JOHN D. F. BLACK / STARRING: RICHARD ROUNDTREE, MOSES GUNN, CHARLES CIOFFI, CHRISTOPHER ST. JOHN, GWENN MITCHELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW