Shaft in Africa (1973)

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / Shaft Productions Ltd.
Released: 14 June 1973 (USA)
Running Time: 112 mins
Budget: $2,142,000
Rentals: US: $1,455,635 (at 1/3/1975) Foreign: $1,079,615 (at 1/3/1975)

shaft_in_africa_poster_01Director: John Guillermin; Writer: Stirling Silliphant (based on the characters created by Ernest Tidyman); Producer: Roger Lewis; Associate Producer: René Dupont; Original Music: Johnny Pate; Cinematography: Marcel Grignon (35mm, Metrocolor, Panavision, 2.35:1); Editor: Max Benedict; Casting: Irene Howard, Jose Villaverde; Production Designer: John Stoll; Art Director: José María Tapiador; Wardrobe: Frank Balchus; Makeup: Mariano García Rey; Unit Production Manager: Donald C. Klune; Assistant Director: Miguel Gil; Second Unit Director: David Tomblin; Sound: Peter Sutton, Hal Watkins (Mono); Special Effects: Antonio Molina.

Cast: Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Frank Finlay (Amafi), Vonetta McGee (Aleme), Neda Arneric (Jazar), Debebe Eshetu (Wassa), Spiros Focás (Sassari), Jacques Herlin (Perreau), Jho Jhenkins (Ziba), Willie Jonah (Oyo), Adolfo Lastretti (Piro), Marne Maitland (Col. Gonder), Frank McRae (Osiat), Zenebech Tadesse (The Prostitute), A.V. Falana (Ramila’s Son), James E. Myers (Williams), Nadim Sawalha (Zubair), Thomas Baptiste (Kopo), Jon Chevron (Shimba), Glynn Edwards (Vanden), Cy Grant (Emir Ramila), Jacques Marin (Cusset), Nick Zaran (Sadi), Aldo Sambrell (Angelo).

SYNOPSIS
John Shaft is hired to infiltrate a slave smuggling ring sourced in Ethiopia after an Emir’s son’s cover is blown whilst tracking the operation to Paris.

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Shaft (Roundtree) gets friendly with the Emir’s daughter, Aleme (McGee). (MGM)

NOTES

  • Stirling Silliphant wrote the screenplay set in Africa and concerning the use of Africans as slave labour in Europe. He produced a 91-page draft on 15 September 1972. A new 129-page shooting script was completed on 22 November 1972 with further revisions made through to 2 December.
  • Silliphant’s screenplay had been based on a real-life incident a year and a half earlier, which exposed the use of young blacks for salve labour. This had been outlined in a Newsweek article entitled Africa: But is it Slavery, when a truck crossing into France from Italy was found to hold around 30 Africans who were being smuggled into the country to take on menial work for very low pay.
  • Filming took placed between 11 December 1972 and late February 1973.
  • Filming locations include: Addis Ababa, Arba Mich, Harrar, Massawa, Eritrea in Etiopia; New York City, New York, USA; Paris, France; Spain.
  • Shaft uses the following firearms during the course of the film: (1) Luger P08 – After a hit-man is killed, Shaft takes his pistol and uses it throughout the rest of the film; (2) Star Z45 – One of Amafi’s men in the Paris apartment fires at Shaft with a Star Z45 submachine gun. After killing him, Shaft takes the gun and uses it for the showdown with Amafi; (3) Arminius HW-4 Snubnose – Shaft uses the Snubnose in the opening to fire at Oziot (Frank McRae), with a bulletproof vest stopping the bullets.
  • During shooting Roundtree received the sad news of the death of his grandmother, at the age of 103. He flew home especially to attend the funeral.

QUOTES
Shaft: Now wait a minute. Now I’m not James Bond. Simply Sam Spade.

Shaft in Africa - Richard Roundtree - Frank Finlay
Shaft (Roundtree) goes up against slave trader Amaffi (Finlay) in the finale. (MGM)

BOTTOM LINE
The film itself is well directed and perhaps the most consistent of the series. The slave trade plot is topical and the subject is handled well by scriptwriter Silliphant. It just doesn’t feel like Tidyman’s Shaft. The decision to take John Shaft out of his home turf and turn him into an international trouble-shooter proved to be the death knell for the series in the cinema. The obvious references to James Bond – hidden cameras in fighting sticks, multiple international settings and villains with no redeeming qualities – were handled with no little wit. The problem was it made the character even more of a cypher for the various action segments designed to show-off Roundtree’s athletic moves. As such it robs the character of the core of Ernest Tidyman’s creation – the black man who seamlessly operates in a white urban world.

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Shaft (Roundtree) involved in a stick fight as he in filtrates the slave traders network. (MGM)

REVIEWS
“We are now into the third instalment of John Shaft’s adventures. But if the original Shaft was Saturday night, the latest sequel, John Guillermin’s Shaft in Africa, has become by some benign process, inescapably Saturday afternoon… It is still good—quite surprisingly good—fairly violent and very sexy. But it is less daring, less ethnically sophisticated, more antiseptic, more comfortably middle-class.” – Roger Greenspun, New York Times

“Script, from the Ernest Tidyman character trove, is surprisingly good… McGee is Grant’s daughter with whom Roundtree eventually connects, though her character is most awkwardly interwoven in the script.” – Variety

 “The wisecracks are still dutifully tripped out, and Shaft himself is obliged to fill the gaps between the action by furnishing the myth of black potency. It’s surprising that Roundtree, like Connery in the Bond films (and the similarities between the two series don’t end there, in spite of Shaft’s protests that he’s no James Bond), manages to conduct himself with some dignity through all the surrounding debris.” – Time Out

 “A beautifully paced intercontinental thriller that is very watchable and good fun, even with its extraneous dollops of kinky and clinical sex… Like the original this sequel is ethnic rather than racist and is simply the stuff of entertainment.” – Judith Crist, New York Magazine

DVD
Region 1 (US) – 6 June 2000; Extras: 3 theatrical trailers.
Region 2 (UK) – 5 March 2001; Extras: As Region 1 release.

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