I wish they’d make more detective flicks. Hollywood greenlights a new $150 million superhero movie every few months. But I doubt there is a single major detective film coming out next year.
I am not alone in appreciating private detective movies. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Detective Pikachu” were mega-hits.
Private detectives are brave, intelligent tough guys. But they are not leaders, followers, or joiners, so they don’t fit well as cops, soldiers, or organized criminals. Who doesn’t love a cool loner? Who doesn’t love Shaft?
I don’t know how revolutionary it was to have a strong black hero as the star of a major studio movie in 1971. But in 2021, “Shaft” just feels like a solid detective flick. John Shaft has much more in common with Sam Spade than Malcolm X.
Richard Roundtree is perfect as New York private eye John Shaft. There have been better detective movies. There has never been a more awesome detective character.
John Shaft gets hired by crime kingpin Bumpy Jones to track down his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy Jones is the head of drug sales and illegal gambling in Harlem. And the Mafia wants to move in on Bumpy’s turf. The unscrupulous Italians are using Bumpy’s baby as a bargaining chip.
Nobody is watching “Shaft” for the plot, which is unoriginal and far-fetched. We are watching it because John Shaft is so darn cool.
And interesting. Without being preachy, “Shaft” has some important things to say about the American black experience. John Shaft is willing to get paid handsomely by Bumpy Jones, but he has no desire to join his racket or sell drugs.
However, Shaft is just as turned off by his former friend Ben Buford. Ben Buford is now an angry black revolutionary and Shaft wants absolutely nothing to do with his group.
John Shaft knows darn well that he has a more challenging life because he was born black and poor. However, he never feels sorry for himself or doubts that he can overcome adversity by being tougher and smarter than white people.
Apart from giving more sophisticated handshakes to black people, John Shaft treats people of different races the same. Indeed, the closest thing he has to a friend is police Lieutenant Vic Androzzi.
There’s even an important scene where we learn that John Shaft has a positive working relationship with a sassy gay bartender in Greenwich Village. And why wouldn’t he? Shaft is a lover and a fighter, but never a hater.
“Shaft” came out half a century ago. But it feels even more old-fashioned than that. It’s a straight-forward, character-driven private detective flick. It’s a wonder why they don’t do more of these. Everybody likes detective movies, right?