Monday 17 December 2012

Sequels to 'Shaft' (1972, 1973)

Shaft's Big Score!

'Shaft's Big Score'.  The score is money, or revenge, or possibly some sex.

'Shaft's Big Score!' has two things the original 'Shaft' lacks.  Firstly, an exclamation mark in its title.  Secondly, 'Shaft's Big Score!' has a helicopter in it.  That's the sum of its improvements and expansions.

You can tell the helicopter is a big deal.  The DVD's front cover shows John Shaft, his face showing urgency but not alarm, and behind him a looming helicopter.  One can reasonably spend 80% of the of the film in anticipation of a helicopter, wondering how and when it will explode (because any film with a helicopter on its cover or poster will, at the end, have a helicopter explosion - it's practically what these things are built for.  It's a wonder people still use them).

The film is otherwise very much like 1971's 'Shaft', but without the Isaac Hayes soundtrack.  'Theme to Shaft's Big Score!' imitates the earlier 'Theme to Shaft' in its potted biography interspersed with breathy 'Shaft's and 'John Shaft's, but comes across as a rip-off, like when Tennyson's 'Charge of the Light Brigade' proved so popular that he rushed out the near identical 'Charge of the Heavy Brigade'.  This film isn't really weaker than the first, or inherently worse, but the original was original, and this can't make that claim.

Just as 'Shaft' was adapted from Ernest Tidyman's novel of the same name, so this film is adapted from its second sequel (sadly skipping 'Shaft Among the Jews', which I'm reading at present, having found its title and cover too fascinating).  Once again, Shaft is on the trail of a weedy Caucasian with too little style and too many guns.  The baddie plays a clarinet in this one, and is after a large amount of money that's been hidden in a coffin, and was meant to be used to build an orphanage or somesuch.  The rest of the plot, a week later, is a bit of a blur, since I watched the Shaft trio in the space of three days, and this was comfortably the least amazing.

The action finale is where it's at, and was the only place from which I could draw a screen-capture that couldn't have come from 'Shaft'.  A chase with running, shooting, cars, speed-boat and that helicopter.  I certainly hope Jon Pertwee took the time to watch 'Shaft's Big Score!', as this sort of thing was right up his street - and may well have been the inspiration for the action part two of 'Planet of the Spiders'.  And does the helicopter explode?  Well I wouldn't want to spoil the end for you.

Shaft in Africa

'Shaft in Africa', or in fact, on a boat to France.

Now this is more like it.  Shaft is dispatched to Africa - mainly Ethiopia, but 'Shaft in Addis Ababa' doesn't sell the concept quite so well - and goes undercover to expose a people-trafficking operation run by a villainous and borderline-impotent white man (played here by Frank Finlay).

This is Shaft stripped down - without New York, or his usual allies, or his cool leather coat (which I envy, and was sad not to see here) - without any of his usual security.  Without his gun.  Shaft gets a dog, but it dies, so he has an overwhelmingly exciting wooden-pole fight with the man who killed it.

Until I saw this, the sole (and therefore best) people-trafficking film I'd seen was the maybe-kinda-racist 'Freight' (2010) in which my friend Jennifer Jordan played the career-defining role of 'Moldovian Woman 1', despite 'Moldovian' not being a real word.  'Shaft in Africa' knocks 'Freight' into a cocked hat, whatever that means, and is a far more interesting, exciting and emotionally involving depiction of this ongoing modern slavery.  It's depressing to think the problem was described so clearly in 1973 and is still going strong four decades later.

I'm inclined to say this film is just as good, and as socially aware as the original 'Shaft', and is a story worth telling.  Its status as a threequel and its lack of Oscar-winning theme tune have left it largely forgotten, but if you enjoyed 'Shaft', or enjoy Frank Finlay and want to see him talk about erectile disfunction and plan to shoot people and blow them up, this is certainly a film to investigate.

Have I tempted you to engage with either of these exciting motion pictures? Here they are on DVD, should you get the urge

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