Shaft (1971)

Synopsis: The Hard-Hitting Original That Started It All.

“Hotter than Bond. Cooler than Bullitt,” movie posters proclaimed. John Shaft was indeed a shut-your-mouth detective to reckon with, a fact emphasized from the film’s start by Isaac Hayes’ Academy Award-winning Best Original Song and Oscar-nominated score.

Richard Roundtree plays the smart, tough, confident lead, a private investigator whose hunt for a kidnapped woman puts him in the middle of feuding syndicates. Gordon Parks directs from a screenplay that Ernest Tidyman (that same year’s Oscar winner for The French Connection) co-scripted from his own novel. John Shaft is an icon of change from an era of change. Today, Shaft still tells it like it is.
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Shaft (1971) 6.5

I’ve known for years that ‘Shaft’ is a considered a ’70s classic. However, exploring so-called “blaxploitation” films hasn’t been very high on my list of priorities; I’ve seen a few over the years, but I have yet to see all of the important ones. Couple that lack of eagerness with the uninspiring quality of the ‘Shaft’ DVDs and, although I stumbled upon them frequently in el-cheapo dust bins, I was never compelled to take the plunge.

Lately, though, I finally got my hands on most of the series. For free. So I quickly got around to finding out what the fuss had been about all these years.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed with the first one, the one that started it all. Perhaps it’s due to years of built-up expectations combined with a reputation that is difficult to live up to, but I thought that the film was only a passable film noir/action number – in my mind, it was nothing exceptional at all. Maybe it simply hasn’t aged very well – and that it was fantastic fun at the time. Or, possibly it became legendary at a time when such films could survive scrutiny.

As for me, all I see is a flawed cubic zirconia: the story is appealing, but it’s relatively generic – offering nothing we haven’t seen on the silver screen before. Furthermore, the acting is outrageously bad at times (even by familiar actors playing important secondary characters!), and the action sequences were poorly conceived and sapped any energy that should have leapt off the screen. Plus which, the soundtrack, while an award-winner, didn’t impress me as much as I imagined that it would; even though I like r&b music AND Isaac Hayes, I found it (at times) too corny and not-at-all memorable.

In fact, why ‘Shaft’ is considered a classic is beyond me. Is it because it was a surprise box office hit? Is it because of how much Isaac Hayes’ award-winning score is appreciated by critics and the public alike? Is it because there hadn’t been many films of the “soul cinema” genre prior to this one? I don’t really know, and reading about it hasn’t really illuminated matters any. All I know is that, considering everything that is being said about the film, now that I’ve seen it I feel a little bit shafted.

One response to “Shaft (1971)

  1. Pingback: 42nd Street Forever: The Blu-ray Edition | thecriticaleye·

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