Plot: A criminal has turned informant on a powerful mobster, giving the authorities the evidence they need to put a dent in organized crime. Of course, such a witness risks retaliation from those who don’t want him to speak out, so his life is in great danger until the trial. A failed sniper assassination convinces police to raise his protection, but when he is taken to the courthouse to testify, a hitman infiltrates the bodyguards, rolls a grenade into his path, then narrowly escapes. John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) happened to be on the scene with two of his friends, one of whom was killed in the explosion, so he takes a personal interest in the case. Meanwhile, the killer (Clu Gulager) tries to get back to his normal life, which includes his beloved family. But as time passes, his wife starts to suspect he was involved in the tragic event, which leads to some potential drama, even as he tries to cover his tracks and evade capture. Can Shaft track down this slippery criminal or is this master crook too much even for him?
Entertainment Value: This is the seventh and final telefilm in the Shaft series, so The Murder Machine closes out Shaft’s television adventures. And who better for Shaft to go toe-to-toe with in the finale than Clu Gulager, who plays a master of disguise hitman with high level criminal skills. Gulager makes a great villain, using a wealth of tricks to stay ahead of the law, from hidden caches to disguises to hilarious interactions. The scene where he pretends to be drunk and stumbles up the apartment is just classic, a real highlight of this one. Richard Roundtree returns of course, as does Eddie Barth, who stuck around for all seven telefilms. I was a little nervous he might not survive the entire run, as he brought a lot to this series. Sid Haig makes a very brief appearance as well, while Fionnula Flanagan turns in solid work as the killer’s conflicted wife. Another solid cast in this one, but Gulager really shines and brings a villain with some depth, a proper bad guy to send off the series with. The Murder Machine shows Shaft’s kinder side at times, how he is a great friend and just a good all around guy, so it was a nice way to wrap things up. I found this to be a fun, 70s cop show style finale to Shaft’s telefilm adventures, a fitting and worthwhile conclusion.
No nakedness. Shaft keeps the ladies in the friend zone for most of these telefilms and that continues here. No blood. The grenade assassination is a fun scene, but all the carnage happens off screen, as you’d expect from a 70s network television movie. A little gun play and some fighting pops off, but not all that much. But, Shaft does bust out a potato rifle, which is pure awesome. The dialogue in this one is passable, with Gulager giving us most of the memorable moments. I talked about the scene earlier where he stumbles up to the apartment and it is hilarious, Gulager is so fun in this sequence and it is one of the movie’s brightest scenes. Shaft has some good lines as well, but Gulager really steals the show most of the time. I do wish we could have gotten a little more of the Shaft/Rossi relationship in this finale, but they do have a couple bonding scenes at least. I don’t think there’s much craziness here beyond Gulager’s sometimes wild presence, but I do think Shaft’s makeshift potato rifle was a real winner. So a couple of insanity points, for the road.
Overall Insanity: 2/10