SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS PUBLISHED 50 YEARS AGO TODAY

Dial Hardback (USA)

SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS by Ernest Tidyman was published in hardback in the US by Dial Press on 29 June 1972 and now celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.

In the book, Shaft is hired by a group of Jewish diamond merchants to find out what is causing the destabilisation of their business. Morris Blackburn, an ambitious trader, is in financial difficulties and using his right-hand man, David Alexander, to source his stock illegally and then cut the supply line. Blackburn is visited by Avrim Herzel, an old friend of his father, who claims to have developed a formula for manufacturing synthetic diamonds and wants his formula to be a gift to the world. Blackburn plans for the old man to teach him his methods, then secretly plots to kill him and use the formula for personal profit. But Herzel is also being sought by Ben Fischer and his Israeli Secret Service agents, having left his homeland with the formula. Also looking for Herzel is his daughter, Cara. When Shaft goes undercover at Blackburn’s store and Cara turns up looking for her father the various parties come together explosively.

Inspiration for SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS came from a 1968 New York Times report on the murder of three travelling diamond salesmen over a three-month period. In the report executive secretary Arnold J. Lubin spoke on behalf of New York’s Diamond Dealers Club expressing fear of “Syndicate” involvement.

Tidyman was pleased with his work on the novel and in a letter to James Lynch of the New York Times said, “I think it’s better than the first one but what the hell.”

The UK hardback would be published on 15 February 1973 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Paperback versions of the book would follow in the US through Bantam in June 1973 and in the UK through Corgi on 21 September 1973.

Dial Press Release (May 1972)

Shaft’s Big Score! turns Fifty

Fifty years ago, at 8 p.m. on 20 June 1972, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE!, the sequel to 1971’s ground-breaking SHAFT, received its Gala Benefit Premiere at New York’s Cinerama Theatre. The premiere was attended by members of the cast and crew, with Richard Roundtree also accompanied by his 103-year-old grandmother. The beneficiaries were the Studio Museum and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
New York Daily News ad on 20 June 1972.
The film would open to the New York public the following day at the Cinerama, as well as the 59th Street Twin #2 and the RKO 86th Street Twin #2. In the first five days, across these three theatres, the movie reportedly set house records for each, earning a total of $115,599.
Openings followed at the Miligram in Philadelphia on Thursday 22 June and The Roosevelt Theatre in Chicago the following day. A benefit Midwest premiere, attended by Richard Roundtree Moses Gunn and Kathy Imrie, was held at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Monday 26 June. The movie opened in Los Angeles and 56 other major cities on Wednesday 28 June and a 10-city promotional tour of cast and crew took place over a period of two weeks.
Variety, 5 July 1972

On 5 July, Variety reported the film had grossed $2,175,811 by the end of the second week following its New York opening and its first week on wide release. In total, the movie went on to gross close to $10 million at the US box office (with $4 million in domestic rentals) from a budget of $2,294,228. Whilst short of the earnings from the first movie, this was still impressive enough to guarantee another healthy profit for MGM. The film’s UK opening would follow on 10 August at the Empire in Leicester Square in London.

A Caribbean setting had initially been proposed for the sequel, with an outline from Joe Greene (aka B.B. Johnson) briefly considered before producer Roger Lewis submitted a full screenplay using the same location. However, that script was vetoed by Shaft creator and co-producer Ernest Tidyman, who felt it was weak and ultimately pushed forward his own original story. Tidyman’s script returned to the gangster roots of the original and was initially set in Chicago, as the production team had shown a desire to shoot there. But when it became apparent officials would not be enthusiastic to see their city portrayed in a bad light, the production was relocated to New York.
Richard Roundtree and Gordon Parks on location at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Queens, New York.

Most of the crew from SHAFT returned, with Gordon Parks again in the director’s chair and providing the music score (after Isaac Hayes could not agree on terms). The bigger budget enabled Parks to shoot in Panavision and include a protracted but dynamic chase finale involving cars, a speedboat, and a helicopter. This led many reviewers to compare Shaft more closely with James Bond – something the producers would pick up on and run with for the following year’s SHAFT IN AFRICA.

Criterion release of Shaft scheduled for June

Criterion has announced that Shaft will receive its Criterion Collection physical media release (Spine #1130) on 21 June. The title will be available in two forms – a 3-disc 4k and Blu-Ray combo and a 2-disc Blu-Ray set. The Special Features include:-

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Alternate uncompressed stereo soundtrack remastered with creative input from Isaac Hayes III
  • In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and two Blu-rays with the film and special features
  • Shaft’s Big Score!, the 1972 follow-up to Shaft by director Gordon Parks
  • New documentary on the making of Shaft featuring curator Rhea L. Combs, film scholar Racquel J. Gates, filmmaker Nelson George, and music scholar Shana L. Redmond
  • Behind-the-scenes program featuring Parks, actor Richard Roundtree, and musician Isaac Hayes
  • Archival interviews with Hayes, Parks, and Roundtree
  • New interview with costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi
  • New program on the Black detective and the legacy of John Shaft, featuring scholar Kinohi Nishikawa and novelist Walter Mosley
  • A Complicated Man: The “Shaft” Legacy (2019)
  • Behind-the-scenes footage from Shaft’s Big Score!
    Trailers
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Amy Abugo Ongiri
  • New cover by Bill Sienkiewicz

Shaft deserves a “boutique” blu-ray release

Having celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year I was disappointed that SHAFT did not get a celebratory collector’s edition Blu-ray release. With so-called “boutique” distributors such as Criterion, Indicator, BFI and Arrow pushing out high-quality releases of both classic and lesser-known titles with superb packaging, a host of extras and commemorative booklets, it is hard to understand why iconic movies like SHAFT have not received such respectful treatment. Licensing of releases would appear to be one reason. In the US, Warner, who hold the distribution rights to SHAFT and its sequels, has focused primarily on vanilla releases for older titles through its Warner Archive arm – and the 1970s Shaft trilogy is no exception. In the UK, the better known Warner Archive releases have been given superior packaging through HMV’s Premium Collection, but for SHAFT this has only gone as far as adding a few art cards and a slip case.

Image 1 - Shaft (hmv Exclusive) - The Premium Collection [15] Blu-ray

Here in the UK, Indicator is the leading distributor of collectable releases. I have bought a number of their titles and even their Standard Edition releases are packed with extras and are beautifully presented. Their Limited Edition titles add a hefty booklet containing essays, interviews and production information, along with a superb collection of stills. These are real collectables for serious movie fans, collectors and students.

For example, one such title, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, was packaged in a sturdy box with beautifully reproduced poster artwork. The box contained an 80-page book, which included: cast and crew details; a production overview by Sheldon Hall; a re-production of 1978 and 1979 Photoplay articles including on-set interviews; a 1978 Daily Mail interview with Robert Shaw; a location report culled from a number of sources including material by cinematographer Christopher Challis and uncredited script doctor George MacDonald Fraser; and a selection of contemporary reviews. All this was illustrated with artwork, production stills and a copy of the press release. Five sturdy art cards were included with photographs from the set. Then on the discs themselves (there are two) were the following extras:
– High Definition remasters
– Extended version with original mono audio, and alternative stereo and 5.1 surround options (126 mins)
– Limited edition exclusive presentation of the original theatrical cut, with mono audio (118 mins)
– Audio commentary on the extended version with film historians Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin (2020)
– This Is a Giant Movie (1978, 21 mins): archival location report by Channel Television featuring interviews with producer Oliver A Unger, and actors Edward Fox and Carl Weathers
– Tour de Force (2020, 24 mins): actor Angus MacInnes recalls his early film role
– From Žabljak with Love (2020, 28 mins): the making of the film as told by construction manager Terry Apsey, stuntman Jim Dowdall, grip Dennis Fraser, chief hairdresser Colin Jamison, and chief make-up artist Peter Robb-King
– A Life Behind the Lens (2020, 33 mins): a tribute to the acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Challis, featuring interviews with fellow directors of photography and camera crew Dennis Fraser, Oswald Morris, John Palmer and Sydney Samuelson, as well as archival footage of Challis
– The BEHP Interview with Ron Goodwin (1999, 89 mins): archival video, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated composer in conversation with Linda Wood
– A Show of Force (2020, 26 mins): a look at the different versions of Force 10 from Navarone
– Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
– Original trailers, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material

Now, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is an enjoyable movie, but it does not have the level of cultural significance of SHAFT. If Indicator or Criterion managed to get licensing rights to SHAFT they would no doubt provide a release that would do justice to the film’s legacy.

Here is a potential schedule of extras I have drawn up for such a release:
– 4k scan and remaster.
– A 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix. Not sure if this is possible. The current Warner release is in DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 and SHAFT’s sound is notoriously poor. A clean-up job and remix would be expensive and maybe even impossible.
– Audio commentary with Richard Roundtree and/or suitable film historian.
– Soul in the Cinema: Filming SHAFT On Location (1971, 11 mins). A short behind-the-scenes documentary focusing on the directing of Gordon Parks and the musical score by Isaac Hayes. This was included in the Warner release.
– A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy (2019, 45 mins). A look at the Shaft franchise in the 1970s including input from Richard Roundtree and a number of film historians and fans, including new Shaft author David F. Walker. This was included in Warner’s Blu-ray release of Tim Story’s 2019 film SHAFT.
– Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000, 91 mins). An intimate look at the life and career of Gordon Parks a true Renaissance man who has excelled as a photographer, novelist, journalist, poet, musician and filmmaker.
– Gordon Parks – Conversations With Black Filmmakers (1990, 20 mins). Interview with Alex Haley.
– Richard Roundtree speaks at SIU, Carbondale, Illinois (2018, 64 mins).
– Newly commissioned profile of Richard Roundtree (New, 45-60 mins). This would be newly shot material.
– Newly commissioned profile of Shaft author Ernest Tidyman including a history of Shaft in print. (New, 30-45 mins)
– Soul Man: Isaac Hayes (2000, 60 mins). BBC documentary. This Close Up special profiles the singer and actor whose Oscar-winning music for SHAFT captured the social, sexual and racial revolutions that were sweeping America in the early seventies. Candid interviews with Hayes, and contributions from colleagues and friends, paint a portrait of one of soul music’s most enduring icons
– Isaac Hayes performing “Shaft” at the 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2002, 5 mins)
– Isaac Hayes winning an Oscar® for “Shaft” (1972, 3 mins).
– Deleted Scenes. If these still exist. We know scenes were shot of Marcy Jonas’ kidnapping and a scene at Ellie Moore’s boutique. These are believed to have been included in the original US TV broadcast in the mid-1970s.
– Original trailer, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery.
– PDF material:  Ernest Tidyman original script; John D.F. Black final shooting script; Production material inc shooting schedule, production design drawings, etc.; Movie Pressbook.
– Commemorative Booklet. Essays; Interviews; Article re-production; Production Notes; Cast & Crew detail; Review Extracts.
– Art cards.
– Movie poster.

Hopefully, sometime soon Warner will look to their “boutique” piers and  SHAFT will get the Blu-ray release it truly deserves.

UPDATE 15/1: No sooner had I posted this than I was made aware that there is a planned Criterion Collection release of SHAFT in a new 4k scan sometime this year.  Artist Bill Sienkiewicz confirmed he was working on the art for the release. So wishes do come true!

 

The original Shaft movie celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Exactly fifty years ago today (on Wednesday 23 June 1971) SHAFT premiered in Detroit (the Palms Theatre). Reports originally promoted a dual premiere with Chicago (The Roosevelt Theatre), but that opening actually took place one week later on 30 June. The Roosevelt ran showings from 8:45am through to midnight and the film reportedly grossed $108,000 in its first week in that theatre alone.

Detroit Free Press, 9 July 1971.The film premiered on the east coast in Baltimore on Thursday 24 June 1971 and in Los Angeles (amongst other cities) on Friday 25 June at the Fox theatre. Gordon Parks and Richard Roundtree attended the St. Louis premiere on the same day. In New York there was a benefit screening at 8pm on Tuesday 29 June at the DeMille Theatre (in aid of the widows of seven police officers slain during the year) before its opening on 2 July at both the De Mille and the Playhouse. SHAFT became a huge success across the USA as it went into a staggered wider release across 120 cities from 2 July.

Gordon Parks (second left), Gwenn Michell (centre) and Richard Roundtree (third right) at a screening of SHAFT in Atlanta.

Director Gordon Parks witnessed for himself the round-the-block queues on Broadway in New York as he told Roger Ebert back in 1972: “Ghetto kids were coming downtown to see their hero, Shaft, and here was a black man on the screen they didn’t have to be ashamed of. Here they had a chance to spend their $3 on something they wanted to see. We need movies about the history of our people, yes, but we need heroic fantasies about our people, too. We all need a little James Bond now and then.”

Ad in the Evening Standard, 20 November 1971.

It was not until Friday 19 November 1971 that the movie opened in the UK and reportedly broke box office records at the Ritz in Leicester Square, London, having grossed $5,428 in its first three days. By July 1972, the movie had grossed more than $18 million against a budget of $1.1 million and is attributed with saving MGM from bankruptcy.

Whilst by no means perfect, the film (based on Ernest Tidyman’s novel published the previous year) is rightly regarded as a landmark in cinema history. SHAFT opened Hollywood up to black filmmakers, actors and technicians and an explosion of “Blaxpolitation” movies dominated cinema for the next two or three years. Largely unknown male model/actor Richard Roundtree’s, who gave a superb muscular performance as John Shaft, became an overnight star. SHAFT was recognised at the 1972 Academy Awards, with Isaac Hayes’ theme winning the Oscar for Best Song and his soundtrack also nominated. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Ad in the Baltimore Sun, 20 June 1971, promoting the east coast premiere attended by Gordon Parks and Richard Roundtree.

The success of SHAFT led to two immediate sequels – SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! (1972) and SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) as well as a short-lived series of seven TV movies (1973-4). The franchise was revived in 2000 by director John Singleton with Samuel L Jackson playing Roundtree’s nephew – later established, in Tim Story’s misguided 2019 continuation of the series, as his son. Roundtree would reprise his role in both films.

Whilst today the hype around the film’s original release may seem a long way away, recent events have demonstrated that the social and civil issues that inspired the creation of a black hero who was his own man, respected in both white and black communities, remain relevant and therefore so is the character of John Shaft.

Here in the UK, the 50th anniversary is being celebrated by screenings of SHAFT at a number of Everyman theatres across the country on Monday 28 June at 8.45pm.

EDITED ON 28 JUNE: Thanks to Michael Coate for further and some corrective information on premieres and openings. A link to Michael’s article on the 50th Anniversary is given below:

TV Movie Review – SHAFT: THE KIDNAPPING (1973)

Life Between Frames: Worth Mentioning - The Cat That Won't Cop OutSHAFT: THE KIDNAPPING (TV) (1973, USA) ***
Action, Crime, Drama
net. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); pr co. MGM Television; d. Alexander Singer; w. Allan Balter. William Read Woodfield ; exec pr. Allan Balter; pr. William Read Woodfield; ass pr. Dann Cahn; ph. Michael Hugo (Metrocolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Johnny Pate, theme m. Isaac Hayes; m sup. Harry V Lojewski; ed. George Folsey Jr.; ad. Bill Ross; set d. Richard Friedman; cos. Norman A. Burza, Sylvia Liggett; m/up. Jack Wilson, Billie Jordan; sd. Robert J. Miller, Hal Watkins (Mono); b/cast. 11 December 1973 (USA); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 74m.

cast: Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Eddie Barth (Lt. Al Rossi), Paul Burke (Elliot Williamson), Karen Carlson (Nancy Williamson), Nicolas Beauvy (Matthew Potter), Greg Mullavey (Beck), Timothy Scott (Hayden), Victor Brandt (Leo), Frank Marth (Sheriff Bradley), Philip Kenneally (Deputy Walter), Erik Holland (Deputy Daley), Frank Whiteman (Deputy Milton), Stephen Coit (Mr. Tolliver), Jayne Kennedy (Debbie), Richard Stahl (Potter), Joe Petrullo (Cab Driver), Robert Casper (Bank customer), Rudy Doucette (Police Officer (uncredited)).

A banker’s wife is kidnapped, and the kidnappers insist that Shaft deliver the ransom. But complications arise when, on the way to the drop point, Shaft is stopped by an overzealous deputy who won’t listen to a word he says. This was the first shot episode (broadcast fourth) of the Shaft TV Movie series and it is little more than standard TV fare. However, its individual  elements lift it above other more modest entries in the TV series and it is a pretty good introduction for TV audiences to a more family friendly John Shaft. TV at the time was not ready for the Shaft seen on the big screen, so compromises were made with the character’s abrasiveness, salty language, violent approach to detection and his wooing of the opposite sex. These elements were dialled down. To compensate the producers extracted footage from the chase finale in SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! and repurposed it here to introduce Shaft to a TV audience. This provides a dynamic opening , which a TV budget could not match for the rest of the story. Shaft’s shootout with the bad guys at the story’s conclusion is low-scale compared to the imported opening. Nevertheless, Roundtree shows glimpses of his big screen persona and has an athletic presence throughout.

Film Review (re-watch) – SHAFT (2019)

After more than a year, I decided to give the new Shaft another go. Whilst I enjoyed it more, I still can’t get past its faults and haven’t changed my opinion that it was a wasted opportunity…

SHAFT (2019, USA) **½
Action, Crime, Comedy
dist. New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. (USA), Netflix (UK); pr co. Davis Entertainment / Khalabo Ink Society / Netflix / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros.; d. Tim Story; w. Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow (based on the character created by Ernest Tidyman); exec pr. Kenya Barris, Richard Brener, Marc S. Fischer, Josh Mack, Ira Napoliello, Tim Story; pr. John Davis; assoc pr. Antoine Jenkins; ph. Larry Blanford (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Christopher Lennertz; m sup. Trygge Toven, Dave Jordan; ed. Peter S. Elliot; pd. Wynn Thomas; ad. Jeremy Woolsey, Brittany Hites (additional photography); set d. Missy Parker; cos. Olivia Miles; m/up. Kimberly Jones, Shunika Terry; sd. Sean McCormack  (Dolby Digital); sfx. Russell Tyrrell; vfx. Nicole Rowley; st. Steven Ritzi; rel. 14 June 2019 (USA), 28 June 2019 (UK – internet); cert: 15; r/t. 111m.

cast: Samuel L. Jackson (John Shaft), Jessie T. Usher (JJ Shaft), Richard Roundtree (John Shaft, Sr.), Regina Hall (Maya Babanikos), Alexandra Shipp (Sasha Arias), Matt Lauria (Major Gary Cutworth), Titus Welliver (Special Agent Vietti), Method Man (Freddy P.), Isaach De Bankolé (Pierro ‘Gordito’ Carrera), Avan Jogia (Karim Hassan), Luna Lauren Velez (Bennie Rodriguez), Robbie Jones (Sergeant Keith Williams), Aaron Dominguez (Staff Sergeant Eddie Dominguez), Ian Casselberry (Manuel Orozco), Almeera Jiwa (Anam), Amato D’Apolito (Farik Bahar), Leland L. Jones (Ron), Jalyn Hall (Harlem Kid), Sylvia Jefferies (Once Beautiful Woman), Whit Coleman (Butch Lesbian Girl), Chivonne Michelle (Baby), Tashiana Washington (Sugar), Philip Fornah (Jacked Dude), Laticia Lee (Cocktail Waitress (as Laticia Rolle)), Ryan King Scales (Male Secretary), Tywayne Wheatt (Portly Doorman), Kenny Barr (Cop (Thomas)), Mike Dunston (News Anchor), Jordan Preston Carter (5-8 Year Old JJ), Nyah Marie Johnson (5-8 Year Old Sasha), Joey Mekyten (5-8 Year Old Karim), Sawyer Schultz (Mike Mitchell), Esmeree Sterling (Cute Bartender), Jose Miguel Vasquez (FBI Employee), Gabriel ‘G-Rod’ Rodriguez (Goon), Keith Brooks (Drunk Disorderly Man), DominiQue MrsGiJane Williams (Beautiful Woman), Michael Shikany (Older Man in Mosque), Lucia Scarano (Lady in Line), Greta Quispe (Employee), Heather Seiffert (Hostess), Charles Green (Hallway Man), Dorothi Fox (Old Lady Neighbor), Adrienne C. Moore (Ms. Pepper), Shakur Sozahdah (Worshiper).

JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there is no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that is both professional and personal. This belated fifth film in the Shaft series is a misguided attempt to blend comedy with violent action. Although the comedy only occasionally strays into being too broad, the whole tone – mixing what could have been a serious story about drug smuggling with the generational gap in father/son relationships – is just off. Jackson does what Jackson does and for the most part does it well. Usher struggles to find the right level of performance, whilst Roundtree almost saves the movie with a neat cameo in the finale. Ultimately, however, it is difficult to buy into what Story is selling. Whilst it may please the popcorn crowd in search of mindless entertainment with its flashy visuals and hip dialogue, it will almost universally disappoint fans of the original movies through its lazy story-telling and its looking down on the Shaft legacy. Most of the movie was shot in Atlanta, doubling for New York.

Shaft Trilogy released today on Blu-Ray in UK

Today sees the release of the original Shaft trilogy on Blu-Ray (as well as DVD) in the UK. This mirrors the Warner Archive release in the USA on 21 May 2019.  The set includes Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973).  The Shaft disc includes the short documentary Soul in the Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location as well as the 1973 TV Movie Shaft: The Killing and trailers for all three films.

This follows last month’s UK Blu-Ray and 4K release of Tim Story’s Shaft (2019).

McFarland offer 40% off Popular Culture Books until 17 May

McFarland & Company - WikipediaI received the following e-mail from McFarland promoting a 2-week 40% discount offer on popular culture books, which will include my titles The World of Shaft and The Songs of Genesis:

Dear Author:

From our founding in 1979, McFarland has championed serious scholarship about popular culture. Longtime customers remember the classics like Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies!—how many of you own the original hardcover in yellow cloth binding? Today, popular culture studies is perhaps our best-known line, with more than 2,000 books about horror and science fiction film, old time radio, biographies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, current television series, theatre, dance…whatever your interest, you’re sure to find it here. To express our appreciation for readers old and new, we’re offering 40% off ALL titles about popular culture through May 17 with coupon code POP40.

We wanted to fill you in so you can spread the word or take advantage of it yourself.  The sale will be shared on McFarland’s website and social media sites first thing on the morning of Monday, May 4…we welcome your likes/shares/retweets.

Thanks!
Adam Phillips
Sales Manager
McFarland

“Shaft” the original novel is 50 today

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft. The book introduces us to black private eye John Shaft as he is hired by Harlem crime lord, Knocks Persons, to locate and rescue his kidnapped daughter who has been grabbed by the Mafia to force Persons to relent in a turf war. Shaft was a brilliant creation – a tough and uncompromising character making his own way in life. The book was very popular and was quickly picked up by MGM for its movie rights – Tidyman having circulated galley copies to studio execs and producers. One such producer, Philip D’Antoni, hired Tidyman to adapt Robin Moore’s book for The French Connection, for which Tidyman ultimately won an Oscar.

Macmillan’s US hardback publication of “Shaft” with a cover by Mozelle Thompson.

Shaft, the movie, was directed by veteran photographer Gordon Parks with Richard Roundtree charismatic in the title role and Isaac Hayes providing a memorably funky score. The rest is history, of course. The movie became a box-office smash and helped to create many new opportunities for black people in the film industry. Two sequels followed (Shaft’s Big Score! in 1972 and Shaft in Africa in 1973) as well as a series of seven TV movies (1973-4).

Tidyman went on to write seven Shaft novels in all but killed his character off in 1975’s The Last Shaft. Despite this, he did try to revive the film series in the late 70s, but could not get the necessary interest in post-Star Wars Hollywood. Of course, two further sequels followed in 2000 and 2019, both titled simply Shaft. Samuel L Jackson played Roundtree’s nephew/son and Jessie T Usher Jackson’s son. Roundtree had cameos in both movies.

Shaft, the novel, had its latest re-publication back in 2016 through Dynamite Entertainment, who also hired David F Walker to write two comic books and a new novel, Shaft’s Revenge. However, Dynamite lost interest due to disappointing sales, despite the critical acclaim this new output garnered. Plans to republish all of Tidyman’s novels seem to have been shelved, so we may have to wait for rights to be freed up again before we see any further reprints.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate and appreciate what Ernest Tidyman brought to the world of crime fiction and cinema on 27 April 1970.

Tidyman holding Oscar at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 44th Annual Award, No. 337. (photo: Sheedy and Ling)