Plot: Shaft was a pop culture smash, inspiring countless movies and helping to launch blaxploitation into the stratosphere. Richard Roundtree was the embodiment of cool, a private detective with skills and charisma. Not to mention a theme song that is just about as bad ass as music can be. While Shaft would have three theatrical film adventures, his story didn’t end there. A series of telefilms were produced that brought back Roundtree and put Shaft back on the street, though these were met with lukewarm receptions. The network television venue was never going to allow the kind of grit or harsh street culture of the theatrical films, but people seemed to expect that and as such, the telefilms met substantial criticism. I found the series to be solid fun, removed from the comparisons to the movies, these telefilms are brisk 70s cop show style tales with our charismatic lead in the middle. Roundtree is present in all seven and aside from the first one, is at the center of all of the action. So don’t be concerned these are just cop stories with Shaft in a minor role, as that isn’t the case. Eddie Barth also shows up in all seven and while the telefilms are episodic, the relationship between Shaft and Lt. Rossi provides a nice bridge across all seven installments.
While Roundtree and Barth are the constants, these movies cycle in some impressive cast members throughout the series. I think the villains chosen are especially solid, giving Shaft some suitable foes to contend with. In this series, Shaft tangles with Darren McGavin, Clu Gulager, Tony Curtis, Robert Culp, and Michael Pataki among others, a pretty good lineup, if you ask me. The supporting casts are sprinkled with stars as well, so each one of these movies boasts a more than solid assortment of talent. While Shaft is the star, these movies don’t follow the blaxploitation roots of the characters, leaning more on his detective skills. This means the movies have a lot of 70s cop show tropes and conventions, which I appreciated, but I understand why some might not. Some of the stories open up a little and have more of that street cred from the theatrical series, which is nice, but not frequent. The narratives follow cop show guidelines, but Roundtree elevates them with his charisma and presence. The great casts don’t hurt either, of course. Some are a little wilder than others, but I found each one to be a solid, 70s cop show style fun. Below are links to full reviews of each telefilm.
- The Executioners– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/15/the-executioners-1973/
2. The Killing– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/16/the-killing-1973/
3. Hit-Run– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/17/hit-run-1973/
4. The Kidnapping– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/18/the-kidnapping-1973/
5. Cop Killer– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/19/cop-killer-1974/
6. The Capricorn Murders– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/20/the-capricorn-murders-1974/
7. The Murder Machine– https://marcfusion.com/2017/10/21/the-murder-machine-1974/
Final Thoughts: As a fan of blaxploitation cinema, I can relate to those who found these telefilms to be a toned down, inferior take on Shaft. At the same time, I think it was kind of delusional to expect them to be on that same level, given that they were crafted for network television. Within the television standards & practices of the era, I think these movies did what they could and at times, did push the boundaries a little. I was glad to watch Shaft back in action, even if it was a little watered down, as Roundtree was still on his game here and really elevated the series. So maybe it isn’t blaxploitation, but it is solid fun with an iconic character, which is enough for me. Warner Archive’s Shaft: The TV Movie Collection assembles all seven telefilms, in one neat, concise package, so it is easy to check these out for yourself.