Shaft (1971)

shaft poster 1971 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Solid and influential detective thriller


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Shaft

Studio:  MGM/Shaft Productions

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Blaxploitation

Release Date(s):  June 25, 1971 (Premiere)/July 2, 1971 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

shaft gangsters richard roundtree

Everyone’s gunning for Shaft!

John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is a cool cat detective who doesn’t take any crap from the criminals or the police.  When he is contacted by a Harlem gangster named Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) about his missing daughter Marcy (Sherri Brewer), Shaft finds himself in the target of mob and evading the police who are investigating the crimes popping up around Shaft.  Shaft will get the job done…one way or another.

Directed by Gordon Parks, Shaft is an action-adventure blaxploitation film.  The film was a box office success and won an Academy Award for Best Song (“Theme from Shaft”) and a nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score.  The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2000.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film and Shaft’s Big Score! (Criterion #1130).

shaft cops charles cioffi richard roundtree

I don’t trust you…but you are a frenemy

Shaft was an explosion.  With a mega popular song, the movie got more attention that the average movie and exposure means money…and money means opportunities.  Shaft helped shape a genre for better or worse, and it is one of the better entries in the blaxploitation genre because at the time it was so undefined.

The story is a solid detective story, and like the standard detective series, Shaft is caught in the crosshairs.  The people that Shaft can “trust” are untrustworthy, and the people who are on Shaft’s side are considered militants by outsiders.  While many detectives handle this with coolness, Shaft takes it to a new level.  He’s playing everyone.  Despite being shot, it never feels like Shaft is in too much immediate danger.  He’s created too cool to fail.

Richard Roundtree holds the movie together.  He’s got the toughness and he’s got the cockiness to play up the humor in the script.  Most of the other players in the movie are second fiddle.  Roundtree is presented as the uber man.  Everyone wants to be him…and in true blaxploitation style, the white people who know Shaft are threatened by him as a result (and also secretly want to be him).  It is weird and dated, but it works in context of the movie.

shaft ending richard roundtree

Shaft’s coming in hot!

The movie is slick.  It could easily have looked low-budget.  While it isn’t the biggest budget (some of the set shoots aren’t the most expensive looking sets), but in general, it is shot with style and the old-school gritty New York City also adds into it.

Shaft is a classic in the world of action and film.  Today, it is almost a parody of itself (like Black Dynamite), but when it was released, Shaft was something new and different.  It was a type of detective we haven’t seen and an underrepresented culture.  It had wide appeal, but it was important to those who saw it because it was a big budget action movie with a Black lead…and I’m just talking about Shaft…Can you dig it?  Shaft was followed by Shaft’s Big Score! in 1972.

Related Links:

Shaft (2000)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response