I love movie milestones. Whenever movies do something that prior films have seldom or never done before, I naturally take curiosity in them. A good example of this is the 1970s genre of blaxploitation films. These movies featured African-American actors in major roles and were made by African-Americans for African-Americans. It was a big step in filmmaking as well as race relations. In recognition, the United States Library of Congress’s National Film Registry has archived a few of these as representative examples, including Shaft from 1971.
I will say that the film overall is just an OK one. It’s not bad, though. Richard Roundtree as the title character of John Shaft, a black private investigator in Harlem, can certainly act. When Shaft is asking around or is not too busy, he’s a pretty cool smooth-talker, especially with the ladies. When things get rough, Shaft instantly becomes tougher. You don’t want to mess with this guy when he points a gun at you and tells you what to do.
As for the story, it’s nothing unique. A black crime boss named Bumpy Jones, played by Moses Gunn, asks Shaft for help. Bumpy’s daughter has been kidnapped, and Bumpy, feeling that the police would not be the best option, decides to come to a private eye instead. Shaft accepts the request and, during his investigation, comes across two competing crime rings. Apparently, the presence of a black mob is growing in Harlem, but the white mafia wants to take the territory back.
From start to finish, the movie alternates between moments that captured my attention and moments that felt somewhat dull. There are only three actions scenes in the whole movie, and they’re all fairly quick scenes. The climax isn’t too bad, even if the suspense builds up to a quick action sequence. The dialogue can be interesting to hear sometimes, because it’s not entirely dull. Aside from this, I enjoyed the brief lovemaking scenes. Whether Shaft is getting intimate with his black girlfriend or having an affair with a white woman, it’s cool to see Shaft as a “sex machine” (a phrase heard in Isaac Hayes’s “Theme From Shaft”).
Even so, I will always remember this movie for its racial significance. Shaft proves that black actors are just as capable as white actors in playing good guys or bad guys. I already felt this way the moment I first saw Shaft in his office, because he’s as likable as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Plus, when Shaft goes up against white villains, the color difference never comes to mind. It’s just a fun romp with good guys versus bad guys, and that’s the most important thing. For all of these reasons, Shaft is definitely a cool brother in my book.
Anthony’s Rating: 6/10