Category Archives: Detective

Shaft

Directed by Gordon Parks
Produced by Joel Freeman
Written by Ernest Tidyman (novel & screenplay)
John D.F. Black
Starring Richard Roundtree
Music by Isaac Hayes & J. J. Johnson
Cinematography Urs Furrer
Editing by Hugh A. Robertson
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Warner Bros. (DVD)
Release date July 2, 1971 (USA)
Language English

Shaft is often hailed as one of the first Blaxploitation films that were made in the 1970s but I am not so sure if it really fits into that category. To me it seems more like a typical cop film set in New York, only with a black man as the hero of the piece. There is also the iconic Theme From Shaft by the late Isaac Hayes, which I guess sets it apart from the rest.

I enjoyed Shaft very much and thought it was very exciting. Compared to the blaxploitation films that followed this one seems very tame, as the sex scenes and violence are toned down, while the swearing is not as over the top as the later films. The plot involves the daughter of  a black crime boss being kidnapped by the mafia and Shaft having to rescue her in order to stop the potential bloodshed that a gang war in Harlem would cause. Richard Roundtree is very likable as John Shaft and gives a very laid back performance. Most of the acting is pretty good, especially when compared to later blaxploitation films.

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Murder by Death

Directed by Robert Moore
Produced by Ray Stark
Written by Neil Simon
Starring Eileen Brennan
Truman Capote
James Coco
Peter Falk
Alec Guinness
Elsa Lanchester
David Niven
Peter Sellers
Maggie Smith
Nancy Walker
Estelle Winwood
James Cromwell
Richard Narita
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Editing by Margaret Booth & John F. Burnett
Distributed by Columbia
Release date 23 June 1976
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States

Neil Simon’s Murder By Death is a spoof of all those mystery films (and novels) of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. At the time of its release Agatha Christie’s stories were undergoing a revival on the big screen as Murder On The Orient Express (1974) was released at around this time.

Murder By Death has a star-studded cast, with Truman Capote (the writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s) hosts a murder in which he has invited the world’s greatest detectives, among them Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) who is based on Charlie Chan. Whilst many may consider it to be politicall incorrect for Sellers to be playing a Chinese detective I find it to be OK, as he is parodying the Charlie Chan films from the 30s & 40s in which Warner Oland and Sidney Toler went yellow face to play the Oriental detective.

Also in the cast is David Niven and Maggie Smith whose characters are based on the society detectives from the Thin Man series of movies. James Coco’s Perrier is a spoof of Poirot, Elsa Lanchester’s Miss Marbles is of course based on Miss Marple, while Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond is based on Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon, as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart.

There are a lot of quick fire jokes and if you are a fan of detective films you will love this. Not all the jokes hit the mark but most of them are quite funny.