Plot: John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) might be a bad man, but he also has a big heart and likes to help out those in need. When he learns that one of his old girlfriends Diana (Ja’net Dubois) has fallen onto hard times, he decides to see if he can help her get back on her feet. As it turns out, things have gotten so bad for Diana that she has taken to the street to work as a prostitute, but Shaft doesn’t judge her, instead he wants to see her turn things around. She is of course hesitant to leave the life, as she is in debt to her pimp and has no real options outside of hooking, though Shaft assures her he can help and lines up a receptionist position for her. But Diana’s chance at a better life only serves to enrage her pimp Sonny (Michael Pataki), who insists he owns her and won’t let Shaft mess with his business. The two men have a fiery confrontation and soon after, Sonny is found beaten to death. Shaft is arrested for the crime, since he threatened Sonny just before his death, but of course, Diana knows he is innocent. But when she disappears, it looks like Shaft might end up behind bars…
Entertainment Value: This is the second Shaft telefilm and while the first one, The Executioners, felt like a cop show ensemble that happened to include Shaft, this one puts all the focus on everyone’s favorite private dick. Shaft is the lead and the narrative puts him in the middle of all the action, while also adding back more of the blaxploitation feel from the movies. This is still network television, so it is toned down, but racial tension runs higher and there’s more of an emphasis on street culture, whereas The Executioners was more of a police procedural. The confrontation between Sonny and Shaft gets quite heated and includes some racial slurs from both sides, which was unexpected from a made for television movie. So it was a welcome shift here, to bring Shaft back closer to the texture of the movies, even though things still feel reigned in and cleaned up. Richard Roundtree is fun to watch as always, with great presence and some fun one liners. He shows off the tough guy side of Shaft and the caring, gentle side, so it’s a solid performance. The cast also includes Michael Pataki as a sadistic pimp, as well as Eddie Barth, Ja’net Dubois, and Leonard Frey. While not as cop show driven as the first Shaft telefilm, this one still has some of those fun cop show elements, which I think add to the entertainment. In the end, The Killing is a lot of fun and veers closer to the movie roots, while playing it safe enough for a television audience.
No nakedness. This is 70s network television, after all. No blood either, just some mild violence in a few scenes. A little shoot out action and some quick fisticuffs, but nothing graphic or out of control. The dialogue is fun, with Shaft on point with his one liners and tough guy talk, as well as some general cop show lingo at times. Also have street tough banter and as I mentioned before, some heated racial exchanges. Both Shaft and Sonny use racially charged insults, building immense tension between them and showing Shaft in a moment of losing his cool. He’s normally so together and controlled, so seeing him fly off the handle a little was interesting, I think. So not a wealth of big ticket or overly memorable lines, but solid cop show talk and of course, Shaft being Shaft. On the crazy side, this one has a little more edge than The Executioners, but never goes off the full blaxploitation deep end. One scene that I loved was Shaft making his own homemade pizza and while that isn’t insane, it was a fun, memorable scene. I’m scoring a point for the pizza scene, no regrets.
Overall Insanity: 1/10