Can you dig it?
Bring It Home is designed to showcase cinema’s criminally overlooked and deservedly esteemed delights (newly available on DVD). But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep it funky—and who’s funkier than my man John Shaft, out now on a two-disc set with all three of the landmark blaxploitation flicks bearing his name?
Don’t think the baad detective belongs in such lofty company? Well, in 2000—the same year that John Singleton’s flaccid Sam Jackson-starring remake limped onto screens—our Library of Congress deemed the original adventure of the man no one understands (but his woman) to be “culturally significant,” selecting it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Ya damn right.
In his 1971 debut, with Gordon Parks Sr. directing Ernest Tidyman’s adaptation of his own book, Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is called upon to battle the leader of the black mafia. But all isn’t as it seems as eventually Shaft finds himself fighting alongside his enemy against the white mafia, which has kidnapped the crime boss’ daughter. Shaft’s Big Score! (also Tidyman and Parks, 1972) finds the honky hater defending a fallen friend’s widow from a bunch of hoods moving in for the friend’s ill-gotten gains. The original Shaft movies are the African-American equivalent of Philip Marlowe stories: gritty, noirish urban-detective yarns.
With screenwriter Stirling Silliphant and director John Guillermin, though, the tone shifts, letting Shaft become a sort of black James Bond. Shaft in Africa (1973) sexed up this bad mother (watch your mouth!) almost beyond belief, with classic smooth one-liners like, “No ride camel. Me ride ass.” Here the stone-cold lothario travels to exotic African plains to go undercover in a slave-trade ring and bust it wide open.
Whether you like your Shaft with just a hint of cheese or with it oozing out all sides, you know this bigger-than-life mutha was a one-man major event in movie history.