Cast & Crew
Drew Bundini Brown
Late one night, Cal Asby, an African-American insurance salesman and funeral parlor owner in Queens, New York, removes a large sum of money from his office safe and hides it in a coffin in the funeral home next door. Asby then calls an old friend, private detective John Shaft, and, telling him that he is in trouble, begs him to come immediately. Shaft agrees, and although he does not tell Asby that Arna, Asby's sister, is in bed with him, he does promise to ensure her safety. Just as Shaft drives up outside Asby's office, however, Asby turns on a lamp, triggering an explosion that kills him. Later, as firefighters are clearing up the wreckage, Shaft quarrels with African-American police captain Bollin, whom Shaft calls a "black honky." After Shaft stalks off, Johnny Kelly, Asby's partner, greets Bollin, who reveals he knows that Kelly was unhappy with Asby's plan to use company profits to establish a child care clinic in Harlem. Inside, Kelly examines the safe and discovers that the money is missing, much to his horror. The next day, Italian-American mob chieftain Gus Mascola arrives at his penthouse suite and learns that Kelly cannot repay the $250,000 that he owes for past gambling debts. Mascola, who fancies himself a refined gentleman, chastises his right-hand man, Andy Pascal, for his impatience and racism, yet instructs Kelly to obtain the money quickly. At Asby's funeral, Shaft runs into Harlem racketeer Bumpy Jonas and his bodyguard, Willy, with whom Shaft shares a mutual animosity although they have worked together previously. Shaft then escorts Arna and Kelly to the Asby home, which they discover has been ransacked. When the perpetrator runs out, Kelly blocks Shaft from chasing him while pretending to help. Suspicious, Shaft tells Arna that he wants to inspect Asby and Kelly's partnership papers, then warns Kelly that he will be protecting Arna. As Shaft is leaving, Bollin appears and asks him to come to the precinct. There, Bollin reveals that Asby and Kelly were running a numbers racket with the insurance and funeral parlor as profitable fronts, but as long as they kept their scam clean, without drugs or prostitution involved, he looked the other way. Now that Asby is dead, however, Bollin fears that Bumpy or Mascola will take over the Queens territory and increase the crime level. Although Bollin suspects that Shaft may be involved with one of the gangsters, he asks him to help, and Shaft coolly agrees. Upon leaving, Shaft finds one of the numbers runners and forces him to reveal where Kelly runs his operation. Meanwhile, Kelly is with his mistress, Rita, whom he slaps when she threatens to leave him. Kelly gets a phone call summoning him to a meeting with Mascola, and after he departs, Shaft arrives and Rita, seeking revenge against Kelly, flirts with him. While Shaft and Rita are having sex, Kelly talks with Mascola, who demands not only to be repaid but to be cut in as an equal partner on the numbers racket. Kelly is reluctant, telling the mobster that he is worried about Shaft's interference on Arna's behalf, but after Mascola promises to "take care" of Shaft, Kelly agrees to a 50-50 partnership. Kelly also informs Mascola that the money had to have been removed from the insurance office and put into the funeral parlor before the explosion, which Kelly had orchestrated. Later, Shaft goes over the partnership papers with Arna and explains that although her brother was involved in gambling, he was reinvesting in the community, unlike the greedy Kelly. He also tells her that Asby had agreed to buy Kelly out, and that Kelly was going to use the money to pay his debts. Shaft believes that Kelly instead killed Asby to gain control of the businesses and the numbers racket, as well as to retain the $250,000 to pay Mascola. As they are talking, two gunmen sent by Mascola arrive to murder Shaft but he outwits them and, after killing the assassins, takes Arna to hide at his apartment. Meanwhile, in Harlem, Kelly offers Bumpy a partnership in the Queens numbers game if he will help him break with Mascola. Knowing that the action will cause a major turf war, Bumpy agrees but demands a 60-40 split. At night, Shaft goes to Mascola's nightclub, which fronts for his gambling operations in the back rooms. Seeing Shaft at the club, Kelly, who is attempting to double-cross both Mascola and Bumpy, confronts Mascola, asking why Shaft is not dead. Mascola reveals that Shaft killed the two men he sent, and when he declares that their deal is off, Kelly lies that Shaft works for Bumpy and is there to muscle in on his territory. Infuriated, Mascola has his men beat Shaft badly, then orders him to tell Bumpy to stay in Harlem. Shaft relays the message to Bumpy, and as they are talking, machine-gun fire sprays Bumpy's office, prompting the racketeer to order Willy to assist Shaft in retaliating. The next day, Willy and Shaft, posing as window washers, enter Mascola's apartment and beat him and Pascal. At night, Shaft hides in the funeral parlor, after which Kelly comes to search for the missing money. He learns from the janitor that Asby entered the coffin showroom with a paper bag, then returned empty-handed to his office, and so deduces that Asby hid the money in the coffin in which he was later buried. Taking two men with him, Kelly goes to the cemetery. When Shaft returns to his apartment, he discovers that it is being watched by the police and persuades Rita, who has left Kelly, to drive his car so that he can escape undetected. With her excellent driving skills, Rita outmaneuvers the police, then takes Shaft to the cemetery. Meanwhile, two of Mascola's hoods have alerted their boss about Kelly's actions, after which the mobster, Pascal and others take a helicopter to the cemetery. They arrive just after Kelly has raised the coffin and, holding him at gunpoint, make him put the money into a leather bag. Pascal shoots Kelly and his men but the gangsters are in turn held up by Shaft, who grabs the bag and Mascola. With Rita driving, they speed away, followed by Pascal, who has commandeered a car, and another hoodlum in the helicopter. Pascal eventually abandons his damaged vehicle, and after sending Rita to safety, Shaft takes Mascola to a marina, where he appropriates a speedboat. Shaft handcuffs Mascola to the craft, then navigates up the river as he attempts to elude the helicopter. The boat is hit by gunshots, however, with Shaft barely managing to get clear before the craft explodes, killing Mascola. After hiding the bag, Shaft clambers over the docks in a cat-and-mouse chase with both Pascal and the helicopter. Despite being injured, Shaft kills Pascal and then shoots the helicopter, setting it ablaze. It crashes to the ground in a ball of fire and the police soon arrive to investigate. Shaft, who has hidden his weapon with the bag, refuses to divulge the money's whereabouts to Bollin, but hints that it will be going to Harlem for the health clinic.
Drew Bundini Brown
Julius W. Harris
Melvin Green Jr.
Dan P. Hannafin
William C. Gerrity
Shaft's Big Score (1972)
While most of these films were produced on low budgets by small companies on the margins of the industry, the big studios also got in on the action. MGM bought a novel about a black private eye in New York by author Ernest Tidyman and quickly put Shaft (1971) into production with Gordon Parks, an acclaimed Life magazine photographer and author turned filmmaker, behind the camera. For the lead role of the tough, handsome John Shaft, they cast a virtual unknown: Richard Roundtree, who shot to stardom as the first cool African American action hero in a major studio film. The film crossed over to both black and white audiences and became a major hit for the studio, so MGM immediately ordered a sequel. "Although I had a feeling of 'been there, done that,' the studio promised me a temptingly bigger budget, and I gave in to the temptation" recalled Parks in his memoir A Hungry Heart. "We plunged in preproduction immediately."
Shaft's Big Score! (1972) brought back Roundtree as Shaft (complete with his slick wardrobe and trademark brown leather jacket) and Moses Gunn as Harlem mobster Bumpy Jonas, and author Tidyman, who had since earned an Academy Award for the screenplay The French Connection (1971), returned to write and produce. Julius Harris, a tall, striking black actor, got his first big break in as the investigating police detective, Captain Bollin, and went on to a busy career in the seventies in films like Super Fly (1972, directed by Parks' son), Black Caesar (1973), and the James Bond hit Live and Let Die (1973).
Isaac Hayes, who scored an Oscar® for his funky theme song and a Grammy for his score to the original Shaft could not be coaxed back for the sequel (though he did contribute the song "Type Thang"). The multi-talented Parks, who was also a composer in his own right, scored the film and wrote a handful of original songs (including the theme song, "Blowin' Your Mind") in addition to directing.
What begins as a revenge film -- Shaft goes looking for the man or men who killed his good friend, a funeral director and beloved local businessman who secretly ran the Harlem numbers racket -- lands him in the middle of a mob war as the syndicate tries to move in on the Harlem underworld. Between fistfights, shoot-outs, and other action scenes, Shaft is the ladies' man (a "sex machine to all the chicks," as Isaac Hayes says in the Oscar®-winning theme song,). "In the original, Shaft picks up a white girl in a nightclub and takes her home," noted co-producer Roger Lewis. "Yet to our surprise, black women objected to the scene in every theater we checked. They identified with Shaft and didn't want him playing around with white women." In the sequel, Shaft continues to flirt, seduce, and bed the beautiful women he meets in the course of his case, including the sister of the victim, but this time around they are all black women.
The studio bumped the budget up by more than $1 million over the original film and Parks spent it on more impressive production values and an action-packed finale. There's a careening car chase through the city to the waterfront, a speedboat chase, and a helicopter that hounds Shaft to the climactic shootout in a Brooklyn shipyard. It's downright lavish compared to the original Shaft, but Parks keeps it rough and gritty with his New York locations and urban atmosphere.
The film didn't replicate the blockbuster status of Shaft but it was a success in its own right. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the polish that Parks brought to the film: "The quality shows. This time director Gordon Parks uses Panavision, surrounds his hero with a talented cast, and pours on the special effects."
Roundtree returned to play the character in one final sequel, the 1973 Shaft in Africa, and in a short-lived TV series, before moving on to a long career on the screen, including roles in the landmark TV mini-series Roots and David Fincher's Seven (1995). But to many fans, he will always be the man, John Shaft.
By Sean Axemaker
"Black Films Are In, So Are Profits," George Gent. The New York Times, July 18, 1972.
"A Hungry Heart," Gordon Parks. Atria Books, 2005.
"Voices in the Mirror," Gordon Parks. Doubleday, 1990.
Shaft's Big Score (1972)
Once this baby starts kicking, it ain't gonna stop, so nobody get cute!- Shaft
The working title of this film was The Big Bamboo. The picture was a sequel to the hit 1971 film Shaft, which also was directed by Gordon Parks, featured a screenplay by Ernest Tidyman and starred Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn and Drew Bundini Brown. A sequel to the high-grossing Shaft was announced by M-G-M as early as May 1971, before Shaft's July 1971 release. The May 1971 New York Times news item announcing the sequel noted that producers Roger Lewis and Stirling Silliphant had signed B. B. Johnson to write the screenplay, although Johnson was not mentioned in any other contemporary sources and it is unlikely that he contributed to the completed picture.
In July 1971 tradepapers, it was reported that Lewis was completing the sequel's screenplay. In a July 23, 1971 Daily Variety article, Lewis was quoted as stating that the second film would be set in and shot on location in Jamaica, and that he would have "a black adviser to go over his screenplay," which he hoped would establish the "Shaft" character as a "black James Bond." Tidyman receives sole onscreen screenwriting credit, however, and the extent of Lewis' contribution to the completed script has not been determined. Although an August 11, 1971 Variety news item announced that actress-singer Lena Horne was being approached to play Shaft's mother, neither Horne nor the character appears in the film. A December 15, 1971 Variety news item reported that the filming location had been switched from Chicago to New York.
As with the first Shaft film, Shaft's Big Score! was shot entirely on location in New York City. According to an April 1972 Motion Picture Herald article about the production, shooting locations included the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Manhattan and the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens. The article also noted that many of the crew members from the first Shaft film worked on the sequel, and that stunt coordinator Marvin Walters performed many of Roundtree's stunts.
According to the July 1972 Washington Post review, composer Isaac Hayes, who won an Oscar for Best Song for his "Theme from Shaft," refused to write the score for Shaft's Big Score! because M-G-M "declined to pay Hayes as much as he demanded." Although Hayes did contribute one instrumental number to the film, the score was written by Parks, himself a noted composer.
Tidyman, who wrote several original novels featuring the Shaft character, wrote a book version of his screenplay for Shaft's Big Score!, which was published as a paperback under the same title by Bantam Books. According to contemporary articles, Tidyman delayed publication of the novelization because he was angered that Silliphant and Lewis, his partners in Shaft Productions, Ltd., would share in the royalties, as would M-G-M. Tidyman argued that the novel was not merely a novelization but a "complete and individual novel based on a character I created," according to a May 1972 Variety article. Although the exact resolution to the dispute has not been determined, the paperback was published on July 3, 1972, according to a Variety news item, to tie-in with the film's opening.
Shaft and Shaft's Big Score! were re-released on a theatrical double bill in 1973, according to an M-G-M pressbook located at the AMPAS Library. Although a 1972 July Newsweek article reported that Tidyman's contract with M-G-M called for three more screenplays featuring the Shaft character, only one more theatrical film in the series, 1973's Shaft in Africa, was produced. For more information about the series, please see the entry above for Shaft.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1972