Warner Archive just released the one, the only, the original Shaft (1971) and its two sequels in a 1080p HD Blu-ray package that’s so much fun it should be illegal. The ultra-cool Richard Roundtree, a suave actor who made his mark as private eye John Shaft in Gordon Parks‘ 1971 movie, is a sight to behold as is the treatment of the three films in the triple feature release.
“Number one, it put me on the map . . . To this day that film still works . . . I was blessed.” – Richard Roundtree
Roundtree, who made his film debut as John Shaft in 1971, doesn’t exaggerate when he says the movie still works. I watched the movie and its sequels with my mother, a die-hard fan of 1970s cinema, and neither of us could get enough of the iconic character. Shaft is loaded with action as the detective travels through Harlem and to Italian mob-controlled neighborhoods to find the missing daughter of a black mobster. Richard Roundtree’s suave depiction is legendary in part due to his performance and in part due to the fact that Shaft allows for “the first convincing portrayal of a black private eye,” as Roger Ebert noted in his review of the movie, “Shaft as portrayed by Roundtree belongs in the honored tradition of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and company.” That’s all true and the main reason you want more when the end credits roll. So you turn to the special features in the Blu-ray release, which include a behind the scenes documentary: Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location (SD); Trailers for all three Shaft films (SD); and Shaft: The Killing, a 1973 episode from the series starring Roundtree, which aired from 1973 to 1974. By the way, Shaft: The TV Movie Collection is also available at the Warner Archive Collection.
Shaft was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film is widely considered as a prime example of the Blaxploitation genre. While it is no doubt significant, however, it is also terrifically entertaining from its fantastic opening sequence on forward. It’s actually one of my favorites – a shot of the bustling NYC streets from high above. You hear nothing but street sounds – cars and horns and the hustle of people as they move about city life. Suddenly the camera approaches street level and pans across several theater marquees until – just before we see a subway station from where Roundtree emerges – we get the bright red “SHAFT” coming at us as the first note of the iconic theme begins. Great stuff!
Following the success of the 1971 film, Richard Roundtree, director Gordon Parks and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman reunited for a sequel, Shaft’s Big Score! (1972). This time John Shaft is caught in the middle of a gang war after dear friend Cal Asby is murdered. Finding Asby’s killer and loads of cash his dead friend hid drives the action in this outing to entertaining effect through a fantastic chase scene at the end. You don’t need CGI, all you need is Richard Roundtree who wins by sheer coolness. As a 1972 reviewer noted, he is more James Bond than Bogart in this one.
Worthy of mention in Shaft’s Big Score! is the return of Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas from the original movie. While the entire supporting cast in all movies are fun to watch, Gunn is particularly enjoyable in as the head of a crime family adversary who later joins forces with Shaft to bring down a crime syndicate. I can’t get enough of Gunn’s memorable voice.
John Guillermin, who excelled at action adventure fare like personal favorite The Towering Inferno (1974), took the helm for Richard Roundtree’s third and final starring appearance as John Shaft in the 1970s with Shaft in Africa (1973). Here we see Shaft kidnapped into going to Africa to help stop a trade ring who enslave young African men for hard labor. While the New York City detective is not too keen on the idea at first, he manages extraordinary feats undercover in this implausible, but highly entertaining movie. I didn’t think I would like this one as much as I did, but Roundtree is simply that good.
You may have heard there’s a new Shaft around, the nephew of John Shaft from the 1970s, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Richard Roundtree appears in this remake as the original Shaft as is appropriate. Both actors make terrific detectives and are worth the price of admission. But if you’re a fan of John Shaft, you really shouldn’t go without watching the first three movies and the man who made the character the legend that he is. This Warner Archive Blu-ray trilogy is the way to go. You will dig it. And I can’t wait to watch these movies again.
Thank you to Warner Bros. Entertainment’s self-described peon, Matt Patterson for the review copy of the Shaft Triple Feature. The good time had cannot be repaid and I’m thrilled to coolify my collection substantially. Be sure to follow Warner Archive on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news on their valued classic releases. Also, their weekly podcast is fantastic.