Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
It is as inevitable that the sun will rise that, if a movie makes a studio a ton of money, there will be a sequel. Such as it was with Shaft. Ernest Tidyman's black private dick (who was hit with all the chicks) was brought to life by director Gordon Parks and embodied by Richard Roundtree, and the soundtrack by Isaac Hayes sold enough to keep MGM once again from the jaws of bankruptcy. Not to mention that Tidyman had just won an Academy Award for his screenplay of The French Connection.
Tidyman had only written one novel with Shaft, so this time around he had to base his script on the movie version, with some characters reappearing. The major influence, as it was also a major influence a number of action movies in the early 1970s, was The French Connection, which featured one of the most iconic car chase scenes in movie history. Pressure was on for every movie, big or small, to at least try to equal it or, if possible, surpass it.
The good news for Parks was that, since Shaft had made quite a lot of money, he wasn't stuck on a shoestring budget this time around. Bad news is that he had a falling out with Isaac Hayes, so Parks had to do the soundtrack himself. It's good, but it doesn't have the same feeling as Hayes's did, and thus we don't have anything to start the movie like the images from the first. Still, again, that is made up for by one of the best car, boat and helicopter chases of the 1970s.
When Shaft's friend Cal Asby (Robert Kya-Hill) is murdered and $250,000 goes missing Shaft starts to investigate. His suspicion falls on Asby's partner Johnny Kelly (Wally Taylor), who had a bad habit of running up gambling debts with mob boss Gus Mascola (Joseph Mascolo). To further complicate things Mascola is at war with Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), and Kelly hopes to use the ongoing conflict to try to slip away with the money Asby hid somewhere - if he can find it.
Shaft's Big Score! is much more in line with action films of the 1970s rather than incorporating any sort of major social message. The first Shaft didn't exactly push racial politics of the time except where it fit the plot, and this time around we get a cut-and-dry story of a detective, the mob, desperate men and corrupt cops. Throughout it all Richard Roundtree is still fun to watch, and it is great they brought Moses Gunn back even if he isn't a central villain this time around. Parks and Tidyman even brought Jonas's thug Willy (Drew Bundini Brown) back for some comic relief, although the promised confrontation from the first film still doesn't happen.
The other bad guys aren't as interesting. Wally Taylor and Joseph Mascolo do what they can, but the roles are about as two-dimensional as they come. Same with Shaft's women; none of them are anywhere near as memorable as Linda from the first one, even Arna (Rosalind Miles), Asby's sister, whom Shaft is dating.
Besides Roundtree, the centerpiece of Shaft's Big Score! is the last 20 minutes, that starts off as a car and helicopter chase, adds a speedboat and then finally is Shaft versus helicopter and Mascolo's enforcer Pascal (Joe Santos) as the mob tries to get their hands on the money. It may sound a bit much, but it features some great stunt driving and flying, and is one of the more memorable chase scenes from the time. Parks knew what his audience wanted to see and, when handed the money, delivered.
Shaft's Big Score! is a solid '70s action film, and I don't think there was ever any expectation it was going to be as much of a cultural touchstone as the first movie. Parks exited the series at this point, though Roundtree came back for one more sequel before the series was retired until John Singleton tried to resurrect it with Samuel L. Jackson nearly 30 years later.
Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
Time: 104 minutes
Starring: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Wally Taylor, Joseph Mascolo, Rosalind Miles
Director: Gordon Parks
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