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3.0 2
Director: Gordon Parks

Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Gwen Mitchell


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Richard Roundtree cuts a startlingly new and powerful heroic figure as John Shaft, "the cat who won't cop out, when there's danger all about" in Gordon Parks' seminal action film, Shaft. John Shaft is a black private eye with a small office near Times Square. On his way there one day, he gets pumped for information by Lt. Victor Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), a


Richard Roundtree cuts a startlingly new and powerful heroic figure as John Shaft, "the cat who won't cop out, when there's danger all about" in Gordon Parks' seminal action film, Shaft. John Shaft is a black private eye with a small office near Times Square. On his way there one day, he gets pumped for information by Lt. Victor Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), a friend of his on the police force, about something big going down in Harlem involving black crime kingpin Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn). Shaft can't help him and leaves, only to just miss being waylaid by two of Bumpy's strong-arm men at his office, one of whom ends up dead on the pavement eight floors or so below. Squeezed by the cops, who are holding a potential manslaughter arrest over his head, Shaft contacts Bumpy, who reveals that his teenage daughter, whom he's always kept away from his business, has been kidnapped. There's been no ransom demand and no clue as to who did it, and he wants Shaft to find the culprits, insisting that he start with a group of Harlem-based black militants led by Shaft's onetime friend Ben Buford (Christopher St. John). No sooner does he find Buford, holed up in a decaying part of Harlem, however, than his friend's comrades are mowed down by submachine gun fire, and Shaft and Buford barely escape. With Shaft angry and out for blood, everyone is forced to come clean -- Bumpy knows that it's the Mafia that kidnapped his daughter, as they want in on the Harlem drug trade that he controls; they're holding her somewhere else outside of Harlem, where his men are no good to him, which is why he wanted Shaft to hook up with Buford. Androzzi tells Shaft that a dozen Mob trigger men from out of town have been spotted in Greenwich Village. He doesn't know why they're there, but he does know that if fighting breaks out between Bumpy's men and the Mafia, it's going to look like a race war, and the whole city could erupt. Shaft doesn't like the way he's been manipulated, but he sees Androzzi's point -- he links the trigger men to the kidnapping and finds the girl, but loses her again, getting shot in the process. Even though he's wounded, Shaft heads for a final confrontation with the kidnappers, supported by Ben's friends in an armed assault on the building where they're holed up.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
"Who's the black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks?" asks Isaac Hayes in his chart-topping theme song to this early "blaxploitation" classic. That's easy: We're talkin' 'bout Shaft -- John Shaft, an ultracool P.I. who brought the archetypal hard-boiled detective to the ghetto and transformed him into a baaaad dude, 1971-style. In the screenplay adapted by Ernest Tidyman from his own novel, Shaft (Richard Roundtree in a star-making turn) undertakes his toughest case: rescuing the kidnapped daughter of Harlem crime boss Moses Gunn in an attempt to stave off full-scale gang warfare. His unlikely allies include white cop Charles Cioffi and black militant Christopher St. John. Exhilarating, blood-soaked action sequences staged by director Gordon Parks, along with Roundtree's memorable characterization of this hip new hero, made Shaft the year's sleeper hit and brought blaxploitation into the mainstream. Three decades later, it still stands head and shoulders above most other films in the genre.
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Gordon Parks' Shaft was something startlingly new and unexpected when it appeared in 1971 -- indeed, it was unique with its lead character, a tough, aggressive, attractive black man, played with great charisma by Richard Roundtree. Up to that time, the only black leading men in any Hollywood studio films had been genial, articulate personalities who were acceptable to moderate white audiences: Sidney Poitier most recently, and James Edwards in a few from the late '40s to the early '60s. Richard Roundtree, however, played John Shaft as a character who didn't care whether whites found him acceptable or not -- he was angry, proud, and fiercely sexual, but also displayed intelligence and street smarts of a kind that were a new mix on the screen. Certainly MGM had never released any movie like Shaft before, not only in the persona of its lead character but also in its in-your-face urban setting and the immediacy and urgency of its script's politics. Shaft had more violence -- not to mention talk of violence and the threat of violence -- than had ever been seen in any major studio film with a modern setting, apart from a few war movies, and the violence and threats of violence all took place within the ethos of racial politics and hatreds that were put right in viewers' faces. Even more startling for a movie from MGM is that the film presented the black point of view as the norm, the point of reference, in most of these arguments in Shaft -- this from a studio that 34 years earlier wouldn't let Fritz Lang, when he was directing Fury, cast black actors as anything other than railway porters and shoeshine boys. Even whites who weren't sympathetic to the black point of view had to see the movie for its vibrant use of real locations in an action context. New York City didn't look remotely as good here as it did in the studio's previous major use of its streets as a film setting (in 1949's On the Town), but its streets and buildings and alleyways pulsed with excitement in Shaft. The fact that the movie also had a good mystery at its core, coupled with the newness of the images and the setting, made Shaft a seminal action thriller, more bracing and involving at the time than the bigger-than-life antics of Roger Moore's James Bond. The film also spawned a new screen genre, the "blaxploitation" (or black exploitation) movie; other producers and directors quickly started grinding out crime movies and action thrillers with ghetto settings and black heroes at their center. Few had scripts that were remotely as good, and none had the benefit of Isaac Hayes' pumping, pulsating score (including the Oscar-winning "Theme From Shaft") or Richard Roundtree's ultra-cool performance, which may explain why Shaft was the only movie in this vein to spawn two proper, successful sequels and a television series. Shaft ended up being the most popular movie that director Gordon Parks ever made, but his work was more diverse than that, as demonstrated by his only prior film, the delicate period drama The Learning Tree.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
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Special Features

Behind-the-Scenes Documentary: Soul In Cinema: Filming Shaft on location; ; Shaft: The Killing (1973 TV Episode); 3 Theatrical Trailers

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Richard Roundtree Shaft
Moses Gunn Bumpy Jonas
Gwen Mitchell Ellie
Christopher St. John Ben Buford
Charles Cioffi Lieutenant Victor Androzzi
Camille Yarbrough Dina Greene
Lawrence Pressman Sgt. Tom Hannon
Dominic Barto Patsy
Ed Bernard Peerce
Donny Burks Remmy
Edmund Hashim Lee
Tony King Davies
Al Kirk Sims
Joseph Leon Byron Leibowitz
Robin Nolan Waitress
Shimen Ruskin Dr. Sam
Lee Steele Blind Vendor
Dennis Tate Dotts
Adam Wade Actor
Alan Weeks Gus
Eddie Barth Tony
Jon Richards Elevator Starter
Antonio Fargas Bunky
Tommy Lane Leroy
Drew Bundi Brown Willy
Margaret Warncke Linda
Rex Robbins Rollie
Arnold Johnson Cul
Damu King Mal
Sherri Brewer Marcy
Victor Arnold Charlie

Technical Credits
Gordon Parks Director
Joseph G. Aulisi Costumes/Costume Designer
Martin Bell Makeup
John D.F. Black Screenwriter
Lee Bost Sound/Sound Designer
Robert Drumheller Set Decoration/Design
Joel Freeman Producer
Urs B. Furrer Cinematographer
Emanuel Gerard Art Director
David Golden Producer
Isaac Hayes Score Composer
Isaac Hyes Songwriter
Hugh A. Robertson Editor
Ernest Tidyman Screenwriter
Ted Zachary Asst. Director


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Shaft 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I always see this movie as a great Harlem detective story. Shafts pulsate with street-level lingo and a deep sense of conviction you can help but admire. In the great tradition of detective movies Shaft is clearly a hard-bitten loner who spars with friends and foe alike, then gets just what he wants from everyone. Even though "Shaft" was an MGM release it was clearly intended for the black audience Hollywood had always ignored. The attitude of Shaft is what set it apart - it made no effort to court the white audience at all. John Shaft kept his mouth shut for nobody, and wasn't interested in carrying a civics lesson or being an ambassador from an alien race. He was openly promiscuous, keeping at least a couple of steady women on his string, and taking in the occasional admiring prostitute. He talked dirty, told white cops where to get off, pushed around the toughest of the black mobsters, and made mincemeat of adversaries both black and white. A year before "The Godfather," the Mafia of Shaft consisted of fairly accurate Italian goombah types Shaft had no trouble letting loose with the ethnic slurs either. In other words, "Shaft" was a fresh dose of reality, in 70s parlance, 'telling it like it is.' This script showed no influence of studio influence, whatsoever. Shaft has a good New York look. The overall atmosphere is great, a mixture of dingy, claustrophobic hotel rooms and neglected city streets. A lot of the action appears to take place around Times Square, which was quite a different place in 1970 - much rougher, much more rundown. Shaft must hold the record for the number of movie marquees on view in one film I'd guess it was filmed in late Summer-Early fall with what's playing in downtown Manhattan. Roundtree fills out the role believably while the surrounding cast work well together, even if the stereotype line is occasionally breached. Several nice moments in the script carry the film over its dull passages, all leading up to a great ending.
ChandlerSwain More than 1 year ago
"Shaft" as a soundtrack album is a cool entertainment experience; as a film it is less so. Directed by famed photographer Gordon Parks in a frustratingly plodding fashion and with curiously little feel for his urban settings, the film is further handicapped by a tepid script by Ernest Tidyman (from his own novel) that is a patchwork of all the tired plot devices already done to death by the era's television crime dramas. (Mannix, anyone?) Richard Roundtree plays tough private eye John Shaft as fashion model; walking down the street in his leather jacket, he looks cool (being underscored by Isaac Hayes' music helps), but the second he opens his mouth he sounds like a prissy fusspot, with his "heated by-play" with police detective Charles Cioffi coming across as amateurish and embarrasing. The plot, involving the kidnapping of the daughter of a Harlem gangster, (played by the usually reliable Moses Gunn, who in this case simply looks weary) plays out by-the-numbers until it's not-so-thrilling climax. The film's reputation, built on a breakthrough portrayal of a black protagonist who won't take any crap from "the Man" is unwarranted (compare any scene in this film to the thrilling moment in "In the Heat of the Night" when Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs slaps the face of a Southern White powerbroker-a seminal moment in racially cowardly Hollywood) as Shaft merely seems like a guy who's cranky with everyone, regardless of race, and in need of a good night's rest. (Listening to the lyrics of Haye's iconic theme song, one suspects the inspiration for Shaft might be Chester Hime's classic detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones,but to little effect.) The film is credited with the explosion of Blaxploitation cinema in the early 1970's (this is ignoring the previous year's "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and earlier films by Melvin Van Peebles), but the film is actually only responsible for a pair of unfortunate sequels. The DVD is grainy but that perfectly reflects the original theatrical experience. Extras include an interesting short of Gordon Parks directing scenes from the film, and a smashing short of Hayes and his musicians seemingly improvising parts of the score before the camera that is worth the price of the disc alone.