Shaft in Africa (1973; USA; Metrocolor; 112m) ∗∗∗½ d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant; ph. Marcel Grignon; m. Johnny Pate. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee, Neda Arneric, Debebe Eshetu, Spiros Focás, Jacques Herlin, Jho Jhenkins, Glynn Edwards, Cy Grant, Jacques Marin. P.I. John Shaft is recruited to go undercover to break up a modern slavery ring where young Africans are lured to Paris to do chain-gang work. Whilst the producers try to turn Shaft into a black James Bond, this still remains an enjoyable action thriller. Roundtree has considerable charisma and the plot concerning people trafficking is still topical. Followed by a TV series (1973-4) and then SHAFT (2000). 
Shaft’s Big Score! (1972; USA; Metrocolor; 105m) ∗∗∗½ d. Gordon Parks; w. Ernest Tidyman; ph. Urs Furrer; m. Gordon Parks. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown, Joseph Mascolo, Kathy Imrie, Wally Taylor, Julius W. Harris, Rosalind Miles, Joe Santos, Angelo Nazzo, Don Blakely, Melvin Green Jr., Thomas Anderson, Evelyn Davis, Richard Pittman. Shaft investigates the murder of a friend and gets mixed up in a feud between gangsters. Follow-up to SHAFT benefits from a higher budget, which is notably apparent in the protracted chase finale where Roundtree is pursued by villains by car, boat and helicopter. This set-piece is the highlight of a movie that comes close to matching the original. Most of the same crew returned and the snow-filled winter streets provide some excellent photographic scenes for Parks and his cinematographer Furrer. Roundtree is the epitome of cool as Shaft, whilst Mascolo makes the most of his role as a Mafia boss with a sense of style. Followed by SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973). 
Shaft (1971; USA; Metrocolor; 100m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Gordon Parks; w. Ernest Tidyman, John D.F. Black; ph. Urs Furrer; m. Isaac Hayes. Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell, Lawrence Pressman, Antonio Fargas, Arnold Johnson, Shimen Ruskin, Joseph Leon, Victor Arnold, Sherri Brewer, Rex Robbins, Camille Yarbrough, Margaret Warncke. Black private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime lord to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter. From the opening shots of Roundtree’s Shaft strutting his way through Midtown Manhattan to the closing sequence of the daring rescue the film oozes style. Although relatively slow paced by today’s frenetic standards, but is punctuated by occasional bursts of violent action. With Isaac Hayes’ funky theme playing over the credits a movie icon was born. Based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman. Oscar Winner for Best Song. Followed by SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! (1972), SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) and a series of seven TV Movies (1973-4). An updated sequel followed in 2000. 
SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE – PART ONE: BEFORE AND AFTER (10 February 2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 32 pp)
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Coloured by Alex Guimares
Cover by Matthew Clark
Cover Colours by Vinicius Andrade
Blurb: After a high profile case that put him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight and out of danger. Shaft takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he initially thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger all about, John Shaft is the cat that won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.
David Walker returns to Shaft for a second comic book series. This one will run to four issues (compared to the six for 2014/15’s Shaft: A Complicated Man).
Walker’s second story takes place some two months after the events of Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft. His use of first person narration allows the reader into Shaft’s mind as he explains the events in his life that created the violent monster that lies within him over a reprise of the rescue of Beatrice Persons (daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons) from the Mafia in Tidyman’s original novel. The voice Walker gives Shaft remains true to the character we read and learn about in Tidyman’s books, but where Tidyman would merely reference these events Walker chooses to explore their effect on Shaft’s psyche, thereby adding significant depth to his character.
Walker has a strong understanding of the John Shaft of the books and for fans there are some nice nods to that series here. But the main set-up for this story is Shaft being hired to find an up-state couple’s young gay son – Mike Prosser, who has come to New York in search of adventure. Walker does not shy away from Shaft’s homophobic attitude (very clear in Tidyman’s novels), but cleverly uses it as a way to get Shaft to look inwardly at his personal motivations and prejudices. His only lead is another young gay man, Tito Salazar, who Shaft rescues from a beating by a group of bigots outside the famous Stonewall Inn.
The artwork here is by Dietrich Smith (taking over from Bilquis Evely). Smith’s style is less precise than Evely’s but he creates a great feel for the period and the streets of New York and Alex Guimares’ colouring is much more bold. In the first series Walker and Evely were keen to capture Shaft as Tidyman had described him (notably without the moustache that became synonymous with the character from Richard Roundtree’s portrayal on the big screen). Here, Walker and Smith wisely transition him to Roundtree’s familiar image and Smith does a great job in capturing Shaft’s iconic look.
This is an intriguing read and It will be interesting to see where Walker takes his story over the next three issues. Based on this first issue Shaft: Imitation of Life promises to repeat the success of Walker’s exceptional first series.
My book, to be published by McFarland and now titled The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series has a provisional publication date of 30 November 2015 and can be pre-ordered from McFarland or through Amazon on both sides of the pond. The book will contain a Foreword by new Shaft author, David F. Walker. Here are the Amazon links…
I’m hoping the recent resurgence of interest in the character (David Walker’s comic book series and novella and New Line’s announcement of a new Shaft film) will generate interest in my book.
Whilst I still await delivery of Shaft #5 a preview of the final instalment of David Walker’s series, due out on 13 May, has been posted on Google Books. The cover artwork uses a publicity photo of Richard Roundtree as its basis. Not sure if the scan on the right is the official Cover A.
The blurb reads: The critically acclaimed comic book debut of Shaft comes to a violent end in a hard-boiled climax of retribution, revenge, and betrayal. The first big case of private detective John Shaft’s career has come with a high price. Shaft has it all figured out, but the bodies haven’t finished dropping, and there are still scores to settle. With the ghosts of his past looking over his shoulder, and his enemies in his sights, Shaft makes his final play.
SHAFT #1 (3 December 2014, Dynamite Entertainment) ∗∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Bilquis Evely
Coloured by Daniela Miwa
Cover A by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Ivan Nunes
I’m not a regular reader of comic books – I own a handful of graphic novels and compilations of such newspaper comic strips as James Bond, Garth and Modesty Blaise – but being a huge fan of Shaft I was excited to hear about the launch of this series. It is not widely known that Tidyman himself did plan to launch a daily Shaft newspaper strip in 1972/3, but failed to secure interest from the syndicates. I will be covering this in a chapter of my book The Complete Guide to Shaft. David Walker’s new comic book series, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment, is therefore the first representation of John Shaft in comic form.
David Walker is also a Shaft fanatic and he has done Ernest Tidyman’s creation justice with this “origins” story set before Tidyman’s first novel. Walker calls on the snippets of Shaft’s history referenced in the books – his Harlem foster parent childhood, his service in Vietnam where he also boxed – and built them into a re-introduction to the character for a new readership. The plot is geared around a boxing match, which Shaft is expected to throw. When Shaft refuses he incurs the wrath of the fixer, Junius Tate who works for Harlem gangster Knocks Persons and Italian gangster, Mr. Sal. We are also introduced to Shaft’s former mentor, Bamma Brooks, who now works as Tate’s strong arm man.
This issue is primarily designed to set up the circumstances leading to Shaft becoming a private detective and does an admirable job of this. The art work by Bilquis Evely is beautifully detailed, notably the snowy street scenes. She has made Shaft’s likeness close to Tidyman’s description in the novels rather than base him on Richard Roundtree. Walker’s script and lettering is economical and wonderfully captures the essence of Tidyman’s John Shaft, whilst delving deeper into his psyche. All this makes for a first issue offering great promise for the series ahead.
As a bonus readers can download via a QR code the first few chapters of Walker’s prose novella, Shaft’s Revenge, which is set between Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft Has a Ball. The remaining chapters will follow over the next five issues and the full book will be published in Spring 2015. Walker also suggests and eclectic playlist featuring artists as diverse as Curtis Mayfield and AC/DC.
There is a great interview with David Walker writer of the new Shaft comic book on the Comic Alliance website. In the interview Walker covers the history of the character and his plans for both the comic books and new prose. Walker has been commissioned for six issues but has sufficient material for twenty four. He also has a desire to adapt the first Shaft novel.
Also on the site are the below example panels minus the dialogue and prose. This is the first glimpse of artist Bilquis Evely’s excellent work. As Walker points out in the interview the physical depiction of John Shaft is based on Ernest Tidyman’s description and not Richard Roundtree.
SHAFT (1971, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., USA, 100 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Mono, Cert: 15, Crime Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Moses Gunn (Bumpy Jonas), Charles Cioffi (Vic Androzzi), Christopher St. John (Ben Buford), Gwenn Mitchell (Ellie Moore), Lawrence Pressman (Tom Hannon), Victor Arnold (Charlie), Sherri Brewer (Marcy), Rex Robbins (Rollie), Camille Yarbrough (Dina Greene), Margaret Warncke (Linda), Joseph Leon (Byron Leibowitz), Arnold Johnson (Cul), Dominic Barto (Patsy), George Strus (Carmen), Edmund Hashim (Lee), Drew Bundini Brown (Willy).
Producer: Joel Freeman; Director: Gordon Parks; Writer: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black (based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman); Director of Photography: Urs Furrer (Metrocolor); Music: Isaac Hayes; Film Editor: Hugh A. Robertson; Art Director: Emanuel Gerard; Set Decorator: Robert Drumheller; Costume Designer: Joe Aulisi.
Gordon Parks’ ground-breaking crime thriller stars Richard Roundtree as Ernest Tidyman’s iconic tough black New York private detective, John Shaft.
Shaft is hired by Harlem crime lord, Bumpy Jonas, to locate and rescue his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy tells Shaft he suspects she has been abducted by black revolutionaries, led by Ben Buford, when really she has been snatched by the Mafia as part of a turf war. When Shaft realises he has been set-up by Bumpy to enlist Buford and his men he ups his price before linking up with Buford to plan a rescue.
It is easy today to underestimate the impact of SHAFT today when black action heroes are commonplace, but in 1971 Parks’ film was a revelation. From the opening shots of Roundtree’s Shaft strutting his way through Midtown Manhattan to the closing sequence of the daring rescue the film oozes style. With Isaac Hayes’ funky theme playing over the credits a movie icon was born.
The bleak New York winter of 1970/1 helped provide a gritty urban backdrop to Parks’ realisation of Ernest Tidyman’s novel. In his first starring role Roundtree has such an incredible charisma he instantly makes the role his own brilliantly sparring with the police and gangsters alike. Moses Gunn is also commanding as Bumpy Jonas (renamed from Knocks Persons in the novel as a nod to real life Harlem gangster of the ‘20s and ‘30s Bumpy Johnson). Charles Cioffi is the epitome of world-weariness in his portrayal of Lt. Vic Androzzi, whilst Ben Buford is portrayed by Christopher St. John, but is less imposing than the more intellectual version seen in the book.
The film has a slow pace by today’s frenetic standards, but is punctuated by occasional bursts of violent action. Parks’ lack of experience comes through with the aforementioned pacing problems. The editing could also be tighter in certain scenes – although the rescue finale is well-judged. However, his visual eye is evident throughout in the way he captures New York in social decay. The bare tenements and littered streets come sharply into focus against the harsh winter backdrop.
The film’s greatest achievement, though, was the legacy it created, enabling new talent to thrive in a Hollywood that hitherto had been a largely white domain.
Two sequels – SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! (1972) and SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) and a series of seven TV-movies (1973-4) followed. John Singleton attempted to re-launch the franchise in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson as Shaft’s nephew (also named John Shaft) and Roundtree reprising his role in little more than a cameo appearance.