19 June 2000 | Bobs-9
As an urban white kid in the 1970s, I just sort of ignored the Shaft movies. Too ethnic, too threatening the usual crap. Afterwards, they were just sort of forgotten. But the fictional character John Shaft, who was once a scary black icon for many white Americans, now seems to enjoy almost universal affection as an indelible part of American pop culture.
After all these years, I finally got around to watching all three Shaft movies for the first time, all in one weekend, from the new and excellent DVD editions. On buying these DVDs I noticed the video store clerk smiling at them, which prompted me to suggest that John Shaft is a bad mother
He immediately answered with the expected response: `Shut yo mouth.' We had a laugh over that, and it occurred to me that you could probably say that line on the Great Wall of China and still get the expected response.
These transfers look fresher and sharper than they probably ever looked on the big screen, even in the 1970s. A real treat! No extras aside from the trailers for all three films, which are certainly fun to watch, but the films themselves are so much fun, why complain? A lot has been said about the significance of the Shaft films, and their effect on the black and white communities and their perceptions of each other. I don't feel particularly qualified to address all that, but I will say that these are damn good thrillers by any standard. `Shaft' and `Shaft's Big Score' are gritty urban thrillers showcasing New York City circa 1970s, untamed and unapologetic. They involved dueling gangsters both black and white, hardass NYPD detectives, and of course super-cool, super-bad brother man Shaft caught in the middle, looking out for himself and his buddies. Watch them both back-to-back as I did, and you'll find yourself involuntarily speaking in 1970's slang by the time you're through. Yeah, it's a little cheesy, but so what? It's great fun too. `Shaft in Africa' is a radical departure, wherein Shaft becomes involved in cracking an international slave trading operation. This takes him from New York, to Africa, to Paris for a final confrontation with a James Bondian foreign villain played nicely by British actor Frank Finlay. The colorful locales (Ethiopia, Paris) and badass action make it a great finish to the Shaft trilogy, and needless to say, Richard Rountree brings it off to perfection. Anyone who enjoys the older James Bond films should enjoy Shaft in Africa, as they have a lot in common stylistically.
One more point: these films were made in the early 70's, which means that when Shaft `gets it on' with a lady, as he inevitably does, we do not see ten minutes of graphic sex. The camera moves away tactfully and we move on to the next scene, much in the style of the old James Bond films of that era, but with a bit more skin visible. The sex scenes are tame by today's standards, but the films were R-rated in their time, and the old trailers for them warn the moviegoer that if you are underage and want to see the film, `you gotta ask yo mamma.'