Gordon Parks’ 1971 adaptation of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft was released on Blu-Ray in the UK on 2 October via HMV’s “premium Collection”. The release has led to modern viewers and critics re-appraising a film that these days is seemingly better remembered for its theme song.
Casimir Harlow at AVForums had this to say on 19 October: “…a surprisingly low budget, straightforward affair that doesn’t appear anywhere near as flashy and funky as it’s theme song would have you believe, instead riding high not only on Hayes’ lyrics but also on the swagger and sheer screen presence of Richard Roundtree, an underrated star.”
Chris Hick at FilmWerk : “Despite his lack of real acting ability, Roundtree dominates every scene with his sculpted afro, big moustache and cool clothes including raincoat length leather jackets. The action is violent and in your face and shot in a seedy New York virtually unrecognisable today which has an obvious parallel with the superior The French Connection, that was coincidentally made the same year; the pair of films having many similarities with the snowy dirty and cold mean streets of the Big Apple.”
Rob Simpson, writing for TheGeekShow says, “More so than any film, this can be credited for the popularisation of 1970s black cinema with its mix of street culture, social commentary, phenomenal music, action, and crime jam-packed into a massively entertaining and punchy bundle.”
I am hoping Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa will follow onto Blu-Ray soon. But the likelihood is if at all the trilogy will be re-released to coincide with New Line’s cinema release of the latest Shaft sequel next year.
Deadline.com is reporting that New Line, producers of the latest Shaft sequel – mooted by some sources to be titled Son of Shaft – have made a deal with Netflix to fund half the $30m budget in exchange for international rights. The deal reportedly means Netflix will be able to stream the movie just 2 weeks after its release.
The movie is due to begin production in December. Since it was announced that Jessie T. Usher would star and reports suggested the involvement of both Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree, no further announcements on casting have been made.
I am keeping track of all updates on this project here.
The original 1971 Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree and directed by Gordon Parks, finally gets its UK Blu-ray release on 2 October via HMVs excellent Exclusive series. The extras are identical to the Region 1 release in 2012 in that it also includes one of the seven TV Movies – Shaft: The Killing. The bonus here though is the art card print set.
It is being reported in Variety, that Samuel L jackson has been approached to reprise his role from 2000’s Shaft with Jessie T. Usher being lined up to play his son.
It’s the usual “sources tell us…” approach to reporting, so we’ll wait and see. The film is set to be directed by Tim Story from a script by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow.
UPDATE (19/8): A further report in Deadline states the title of the film will be Son of Shaft and that Richard Roundtree is also lined up to appear with production due to start before the end of autumn. Usher’s John Shaft III is reported to be an FBI agent and cyber expert whose methods will clash with the old school approach of his father.
Earthquake (1974; USA; Technicolor; 123m) **½ d. Mark Robson; w. George Fox, Mario Puzo; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. John Williams. Cast: Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Matthau, Ava Gardner, Genevieve Bujold, Lorne Greene, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Victoria Principal, Monica Lewis, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Lloyd Gough. Various stories of various people as an earthquake of un-imagineable magnitude hits Los Angeles. A triumph of special effects over characterisation and plot. Heston plays the square-jawed hero in his usual style. Performances are variable with Gardner and Gortner particularly guilty of hamming up their roles. The finale lacks any real resolution. Oscar winner for Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.) and Special Achievement Award for visual effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock). Additional footage shot for 160m TV version. [PG]
Shaft in Africa (1973; USA; Metrocolor; 112m) ∗∗∗½ d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant; ph. Marcel Grignon; m. Johnny Pate. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee, Neda Arneric, Debebe Eshetu, Spiros Focás, Jacques Herlin, Jho Jhenkins, Glynn Edwards, Cy Grant, Jacques Marin. P.I. John Shaft is recruited to go undercover to break up a modern slavery ring where young Africans are lured to Paris to do chain-gang work. Whilst the producers try to turn Shaft into a black James Bond, this still remains an enjoyable action thriller. Roundtree has considerable charisma and the plot concerning people trafficking is still topical. Followed by a TV series (1973-4) and then SHAFT (2000). 
Shaft’s Big Score! (1972; USA; Metrocolor; 105m) ∗∗∗½ d. Gordon Parks; w. Ernest Tidyman; ph. Urs Furrer; m. Gordon Parks. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown, Joseph Mascolo, Kathy Imrie, Wally Taylor, Julius W. Harris, Rosalind Miles, Joe Santos, Angelo Nazzo, Don Blakely, Melvin Green Jr., Thomas Anderson, Evelyn Davis, Richard Pittman. Shaft investigates the murder of a friend and gets mixed up in a feud between gangsters. Follow-up to SHAFT benefits from a higher budget, which is notably apparent in the protracted chase finale where Roundtree is pursued by villains by car, boat and helicopter. This set-piece is the highlight of a movie that comes close to matching the original. Most of the same crew returned and the snow-filled winter streets provide some excellent photographic scenes for Parks and his cinematographer Furrer. Roundtree is the epitome of cool as Shaft, whilst Mascolo makes the most of his role as a Mafia boss with a sense of style. Followed by SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973). 
Shaft (1971; USA; Metrocolor; 100m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Gordon Parks; w. Ernest Tidyman, John D.F. Black; ph. Urs Furrer; m. Isaac Hayes. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell, Lawrence Pressman, Antonio Fargas, Arnold Johnson, Shimen Ruskin, Joseph Leon, Victor Arnold, Sherri Brewer, Rex Robbins, Camille Yarbrough, Margaret Warncke. Black private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime lord to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter. From the opening shots of Roundtree’s Shaft strutting his way through Midtown Manhattan to the closing sequence of the daring rescue the film oozes style. Although relatively slow paced by today’s frenetic standards, but is punctuated by occasional bursts of violent action. With Isaac Hayes’ funky theme playing over the credits a movie icon was born. Based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman. Oscar Winner for Best Song. Followed by SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! (1972), SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) and a series of seven TV Movies (1973-4). An updated sequel followed in 2000. 
SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE – PART ONE: BEFORE AND AFTER (10 February 2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 32 pp)
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Coloured by Alex Guimares
Cover by Matthew Clark
Cover Colours by Vinicius Andrade
Blurb: After a high profile case that put him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight and out of danger. Shaft takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he initially thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger all about, John Shaft is the cat that won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.
David Walker returns to Shaft for a second comic book series. This one will run to four issues (compared to the six for 2014/15’s Shaft: A Complicated Man).
Walker’s second story takes place some two months after the events of Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft. His use of first person narration allows the reader into Shaft’s mind as he explains the events in his life that created the violent monster that lies within him over a reprise of the rescue of Beatrice Persons (daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons) from the Mafia in Tidyman’s original novel. The voice Walker gives Shaft remains true to the character we read and learn about in Tidyman’s books, but where Tidyman would merely reference these events Walker chooses to explore their effect on Shaft’s psyche, thereby adding significant depth to his character.
Walker has a strong understanding of the John Shaft of the books and for fans there are some nice nods to that series here. But the main set-up for this story is Shaft being hired to find an up-state couple’s young gay son – Mike Prosser, who has come to New York in search of adventure. Walker does not shy away from Shaft’s homophobic attitude (very clear in Tidyman’s novels), but cleverly uses it as a way to get Shaft to look inwardly at his personal motivations and prejudices. His only lead is another young gay man, Tito Salazar, who Shaft rescues from a beating by a group of bigots outside the famous Stonewall Inn.
The artwork here is by Dietrich Smith (taking over from Bilquis Evely). Smith’s style is less precise than Evely’s but he creates a great feel for the period and the streets of New York and Alex Guimares’ colouring is much more bold. In the first series Walker and Evely were keen to capture Shaft as Tidyman had described him (notably without the moustache that became synonymous with the character from Richard Roundtree’s portrayal on the big screen). Here, Walker and Smith wisely transition him to Roundtree’s familiar image and Smith does a great job in capturing Shaft’s iconic look.
This is an intriguing read and It will be interesting to see where Walker takes his story over the next three issues. Based on this first issue Shaft: Imitation of Life promises to repeat the success of Walker’s exceptional first series.
My book, to be published by McFarland and now titled The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series has a provisional publication date of 30 November 2015 and can be pre-ordered from McFarland or through Amazon on both sides of the pond. The book will contain a Foreword by new Shaft author, David F. Walker. Here are the Amazon links…
I’m hoping the recent resurgence of interest in the character (David Walker’s comic book series and novella and New Line’s announcement of a new Shaft film) will generate interest in my book.