Richard Roundtree is John Shaft – one bad mutha’, shut your mouth! – a suave, leather-clad NYC private eye in this groundbreaking cinematic ode to a new kind of urban hero, a box-office smash and the first major Hollywood studio film to feature a black crime fighter character in the leading role, propelled by Isaac Hayes’ awesome, percolating, Grammy and Oscar-winning score that helped define ‘70s cool.
“Forty years of gumshoe noir collided with black power in this 1971 action classic.” – J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
John Shaft (Roundtree, in his movie debut) is a tough, no-nonsense detective and debonair ladies’ man who doesn’t take guff from anyone – black militants, white gangsters, corrupt cops, the Harlem mob. You name it, he’ll shut it down. But when Shaft is hired by Harlem crime boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn, Rollerball) to rescue his kidnapped teenage daughter, our hero finds himself pushed to the edge as he’s caught smack in the middle of an all-out war between feuding factions of the underworld. Can Shaft handle the action? One guess! Shot on location on the streets of Harlem, Greenwich Village and Times Square, Shaft is a tough and gritty time-capsule of New York City in the 1970s, and a major cinematic milestone. Starring a black leading man, a primarily black supporting cast, and directed by legendary filmmaker Gordon Parks (whose 1969 film, The Learning Tree, was the first major studio film directed by an African American filmmaker), Shaft broke down Hollywood barriers and killed it at the box-office, launching the Blaxploitation genre of the ‘70s and inspiring two sequels and two remakes. And who can ever forget that funk-tastic Isaac Hayes score and title song, extoling the virtues of sex machines, complicated men and cats who won’t cop out? Can ya dig it? (Dir. by Gordon Parks, 1971, USA, 100 mins., Rated R)