Sunday, July 6, 2014


"You liked it before, so he's back with more !"

    After the massive success of 1971's SHAFT director Gordon Parks returned with this followup once again featuring Richard Roundtree as the cool as hell black private eye John Shaft. Thanks to the box office receipts from the first movie, Parks here found himself rewarded with a much bigger budget that works both for and against SHAFT'S BIG SCORE. Released at a time when MGM was hemorrhaging money the original SHAFT was one of only two other movies released by the troubled company in 1971 that showed a profit (made for about $500,000 it eventually grossed around $13,000,000).

   Because of its low budget combined with Parks documentary style "live on the street" film making SHAFT had a marvelous urban gritty feel to it. In it Shaft was a true NYC man walking the streets, riding its subway & taxis and eating at a hot dog stand. As benefiting its more substantial budget ($2,000,000) SHAFT'S BIG SCORE has a much bigger scope to it with Parks shooting in widescreen and plus he moves the action out of the cramped confines of the bars and streets of Manhattan and into the upper middle class suburbs, high rise penthouses & ritzy nightclubs. In addition Roundtree has a car to tool around in this time (a 1972 Plymouth Satellite Sebring) and although we still get a couple of scenes inside Shaft's Greenwich Village apt., Parks seems want to turn him into more of a James bond type figure (which would come to full fruition in the non Parks directed SHAFT IN AFRICA from 1973).

  Screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) who's script for the first movie featured a nice compact plot line (Shaft's hunt for the kidnapped daughter of a mobster) here once again has a rather simple story (a missing $250,000.00 from a numbers racket), but adds multiple characters and story lines which makes for a somewhat convoluted viewing experience. Moses Gunn who was a magnificent presence in the original as gangster "Bumpy" Jonas returns here along with his bodyguard Willy (Drew Bundini Brown) although Shaft's policeman foil Lt. Androzzi (Charles Cioffi) is replaced here by Julius Harris (LIVE AND LET DIE) as Capt. Bollin. Also in the cast is Rosalind Miles from FRIDAY FOSTER and GIRLS FOR RENT. Gordon Parks also wrote the score this time, but SHAFT composer Issac Hayes returns with one song.

    The moving uptown Shaft investigates the death of his friend that's tied into a missing $250,000 from a numbers racket that the friend and his partner (Willy Taylor THE GUMBALL RALLY) were running out of a combination real estate office and funeral parlor with Shaft also being romantically involved with the friends sister. Also getting involved in the action is penthouse mobster Gus Mascola (JAWS 2) along with his muscle Pascal (Joe Santos from THE ROCKFORD FILES). Although understandably Parks wanted to move the character in a different direction, but taking away the inner city locations seems to dilute the films atmosphere a bit (who could ever forget that classic opening from the original) and the returning Bumpy and Willie are seemingly inserted in the plot just to make a tie in to the first movie. Although a fine actor and with a great presence Julius Harris's Capt. Bollin is a lesser substitution for Shaft's rapport with Cioffi's Lt. Androzzi from SHAFT.

    As the title character and the films center of attention (with which he commands) Roundtree's screen time is cut back here as compared to the first movie and each time he's absent from the screen we kind of fidget till he gets back with Parks taking some unusual detours such as with Mascola's clarinet playing mobster. The movie presents the entire world as being corrupt with even the police in on the numbers racket, although Shaft's desire to find the money is presented as morally just in that he wants to use it as his friend originally intended as to help a children's hospital. Roundtree would appear in the third (Park-less) entry in the series SHAFT IN AFRICA and would return for the somewhat underwhelming SHAFT TV series.

   Although most often credited with kick starting the whole 70's Blaxploitation explosion, at its heart the original SHAFT was a basic detective story and with SHAFT'S BIG SCORE Park's moved into a more action based theme (along with a healthy dose of sex & violence). To this end he does stage several excellent set pieces including Shaft posing as a window washer and busting in thru a penthouse window and best off all the truly awe inspiring final chase which moves from car/car to car/ helicopter and then on to helicopter/boat and finally ending with Shaft being pursued throughout a huge boatyard and dry dock by the helicopter. Breathtakingly shot and edited, its one of the great action set pieces from the 70's and is a great testimonial to Park's talent. Born in 1912 (he passed away in 2006) Gordon Parks led a fascinating life and was a true renaissance man, working as a world renowned photographer for Life and Vogue magazines and in addition was a composer and author of The Learning Tree and several books on photography.



  1. I enjoy all the Shaft movies, if only for Richard Roundtree - who attended the same University as me, albeit at different times. I worked with him one hot summer here - and he was a true professional - and open to telling some good stories while puffing on a cigar between takes. I'd like to see the TV series - though I understand it's a letdown just from going from R rated movies to 70's TV. Maybe MGM will gear up an on demand pressing of Shaft The Complete Series one of these days.

    1. Hi Craig,

      That a pretty cool story about Roundtree. I've heard he's a nice fellow. I saw the series years ago via a friends VHS copies and the thing that works against is that Shaft is presented as working ally of the police and not an outsider. I've like to see them again and would bet MGM is going to do them in their MOD program someday.