The Shaft Trilogy 1971-73 ***

Leaving aside John Singleton’s poorly imagined reboot, the three big-screen excursions of John Shaft are the Bonds of Blaxploitation cinema, plush, and brimming with attitude. Played by Richard Roundtree, John Shaft gets the girls, kills the baddies, wears the latest threads and does everything a man could want to do. Gordon Parks’ 1971 original features a no-nonsense script from French Connection writer Ernest Tidyman from his own novel. The street-life of NYC is captured with vibrancy, even if the kidnapping plot is slightly stale, but things get notably ramped up in Shaft’s Big Score (1972) with the private dick getting involved in a turf war that leads to an exhilarating dockland chase. Shaft in Africa (1973) take Shaft back to his homeland on the trail of a sex-ring; what’s notable about the series is that the plotlines position Shaft as a righter-of-wrongs in a way that’s rather PC for modern times; even if his clothes and treatment of women are dated, Shaft would be a great a vengeful hero for today’s era , a quality Singleton singularly failed to capture. These films were frequently edited for television; it’s nice to see them in their raw glory on streaming services.


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