The third and final episode of the original Shaft trilogy is a little less classy without the direction of Gordon Parks, but it’s a hell of a fun sequel. After you’ve done one chapter that’s a good variation on the first one, might as well get crazy and fly off to another continent for part 3. You know Shaft has really earned his black James Bond stripes when he gets to go on an international adventure.
Early in the movie Shaft comes home to his building and somebody tells him some Africans are looking for him. He sees a guy in an African robe and ducks out of the elevator and seems proud of himself as he goes unmolested into his apartment. He hits his punching bag once and struts in but before he can relax the door is kicked down and there’s that huge African dude ready to beat his ass.
Next thing you know Shaft has been imprisoned, tormented, tested, and forced to go on a mission to Africa to uncover a modern day slavery ring. I would kind of expect Shaft to be a righteous, Afrocentric type of dude, but their plan to guilt him with America’s heritage of slavery doesn’t work. He doesn’t give a shit. (But he’ll learn.) Shaft learns some language, an accent, customs and fighting style and goes undercover so he can get inside the slavery ring and bust that fucker open.
While SHAFT honestly wasn’t an exploitation movie, this one almost dips into the world of the old softcore pornos. Not that it’s particularly graphic, but it keeps setting up goofy reasons for Shaft to get laid. He has two beautiful Shaft girls. First is Vonetta McGee (the ’70s Beyonce), daughter of the African leader who hires him. He convinces her she has to have sex with him before her scheduled female circumcision, to know what she’ll be missing. Sure enough she immediately decides to keep the clitoris after all. Then there’s the white girl, Neda Arneric as the villain’s nymphomaniac girlfriend. The bad guy doesn’t seem to appreciate her, he makes her give him a blowjob in the car and acts about as excited as if a doctor was making him cough. But she has a thing for the black men her man enslaves, we know this because she has an orgasm watching shirtless black men do road work. She gets sent to seduce Shaft (and get it on tape – there is a Shaft sex tape out there, people) and says “Oh my GOD!” when she sees his, uh, namesake. She seems to join his team, then in the very next scene gets a knife in the chest.
Arneric, who was 20 at the time, was real good looking, and is shown naked. In 2000 she was elected to Serbian parliament.
Director John Guillermin was less of an artist than Parks, more of a workman. He’d been around since ’49 making comedies and Tarzan movies and shit, and later did THE TOWERING INFERNO and the ’76 remake of KING KONG. The real strong addition to the team though is composer Johnny Pate. This is a guy who did arrangements for Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and he has a pretty great instrumental album called Outrageous that was re-released last year by Dusty Groove. This is a unique trilogy musically speaking because they never re-use the theme song. Each movie has a different composer and style and yet each score is equally awesome. And as of today SHAFT IN AFRICA is my favorite. It has the percussion, bass groove and wah wahs you hope for in a blaxploitation score but also the most overwhelming, knock you on your ass funky horn section of any major theme song. There’s really no way to put it into words so you’re just gonna have to hear it:
And that’s just the theme for Shaft to go jogging and then catch some kids stealing his hubcaps – just wait until you hear the theme for him flying into Africa. There’s also a macho vocal song by none other than the Four Tops, who ask Shaft rhetorical questions like “Are you man enough? Big and bad enough? Are you gonna let ’em shoot you down? When the evil flies, and your brother cries, are you gonna be around?” They ask him “is it in your heart to care?” Basically the Tops are challenging John Shaft to step up his game, to take it to the next level, by proving he is more than just the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks and all that. Yeah he’s man, but is he man enough? And the only way he can be man enough is if he is willing to be there to help his African brothers who are being exploited by the fucking Europeans again.
I love this movie, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the African fighting stick they gave Shaft. See, it has a hidden compartment in the top with a camera, but I could’ve sworn the guy also told him it had explosives in it. I waited the whole movie and when he never used it to blow anything up. I had to go back and check the scene again and sadly all he said was that the camera had 36 exposures. And I mean that’s cool too, but you know, when you’re expecting the stick to be used as a grenade launcher or something it’s a bit of a let down. So I offer this as a warning, please be aware that the stick does not have explosives in it, and you will enjoy this movie.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.