Moses Gunn

Shaft’s Big Score!

shafts_big_score1972

MGM/Warner Bros.

Directed by Gordon Parks

Produced and Written by Ernest Tidyman

There’s no way to accurately describe exactly how much of a huge impact the original “Shaft” had when it hit movie screens back in 1971. I was too young to see it back then but I know that my mother and father went to see it at least three times. And they weren’t the only ones. The original “Shaft” is acknowledged as being one of the true classics of blaxploitation cinema, it’s also simply a damn good urban detective story. And it’s the movie that saved MGM from bankruptcy. Thanks to the direction of Gordon Parks, the legendary soundtrack by Isacc Hayes, the tough, hard-boiled screenplay by Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black all wrapped around the slick coolness of Richard Roundtree, “Shaft” is a movie of cultural and cinematic significance that gave the world the first true black action hero.

shaft2

SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! Isn’t the same league, unfortunately. Oh, it’s well worth watching and you won’t be wasting your time. It’s just that of the three original “Shaft” movies, it’s the weakest. Both “Shaft” and “Shaft In Africa” are much better stories with better characters and motivations but we’ll deal with that when I get around to reviewing them.

SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! Starts out with John Shaft getting a call in the middle of the night from a friend who’s in trouble. Trouble enough to get the man blown to bits by a bomb in his office. Shaft’s friend had a quarter of a million dollars that was supposed to go toward the building of a child care clinic in Harlem. The money didn’t get blown up so that means that somebody has it and Shaft means to find out who and avenge his friend’s death.

The logical suspect is Johnny Kelly (Wally Taylor) who was partnered with the dead man. Kelly’s into some heavy bread he owes mob boss Gus Mascola (Joseph Mascolo) and that missing quarter mil would do the trick. Mascola either wants his money back or fifty percent of Kelly’s numbers racket. In order to get Mascola off his back, Kelly agrees to split his business with Harlem’s mob boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) and then makes the same deal to Mascola to instigate a war between the two. And Shaft’s right in the middle as he has to navigate his way between the two mob bosses looking for the money as well as staying clear of police captain Bollin (Julius W. Harris) who thinks that Shaft knows a lot more than he’s saying since he’s been sleeping with the dead man’s sister.

shafts-big-score

SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! has a lot going for it. Richard Roundtree, of course. He’s backed up by the great Julius W. Harris and the even greater Moses Gunn, who reprises his role from the first movie. Drew Bundini Brown is also back as Bumpy’s right-hand man Willy and he and Roundtree exchange some pretty funny insults back and forth. And I like having a black police captain antagonizing Shaft. Both of them are black men but who come from two totally different ways of thinking and doing things.

Shaft's Big Score ! -  Drew Bundini Brown - Moses Gun

 

Gus Mascola is an interesting bad guy in that I really don’t consider him the bad guy. After all, all he wants is money that he is rightfully owed. Mascola doesn’t believe in violence or threats and behaves like he’s got some sense. Unlike his lieutenant Pascal (Joe Santos) whose first reaction to anything is either a bullet in the head or breaking limbs. The scenes with Mascola conducting his business have some humor to them as while he does so he indulges in his hobbies such as gourmet cooking and clarinet playing.

Shaft's Big Score ! -  Joseph Mascolo

But it’s the motivation that is flat. Although we’re told that the dead man is a good friend of Shaft’s, it’s hard to believe that since once the body is toted off to the morgue, it’s all about finding the money. And Shaft doesn’t seem to be all that much in love with the sister. We see him in bed with her briefly at the movie’s start but judging by their later interactions, that must have been a booty call, more or less.

And Johnny Kelly isn’t much of a bad guy, either. He’s a weasel, plain and simple who lies to Bumpy and Mascola to get them to fight each other and hopefully kill each other off. He’s too much of a coward to do his own dirty work and backs down from every man-to-man confrontation but talks tough to and slaps around his girlfriend.

There are some pretty good fight scene and the conclusion involves Shaft in a speedboat being chased by a helicopter. There’s no Isacc Hayes score this time around. But being the Renaissance man that he was, Gordon Parks himself did the score.

As I said earlier, I don’t feel that SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! is anywhere in the same league as “Shaft” or “Shaft In Africa” but it’s entertaining, it’s fun and it’s worth watching.

104 Minutes

Rated R

Haunts Of The Very Rich

1972

ABC CIRCLE FILMS

Directed by Paul Wendkos

Produced by Lillian Gallo

Written by T.K. Brown III and William P. Wood

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “The Night Stalker” which along with “Duel” and “Trilogy of Terror” makes up The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald.” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH.

Why HAUNTS OF THE VEY RICH you ask? I remember seeing this years ago back in the 70’s as it was a movie that somebody in ABC’s programming department either liked a lot or they got frequent requests to air it. You have to remember that this was an era that was even pre-VCR so the only way you could rewatch a movie if it was broadcast again. And HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH was a movie that got quite a bit of airplay during the 70’s. It’s not a classic by any means but it is an awfully intriguing premise with some solid performances. And for those of you reading this who are “Lost” fans then this is a movie you might like to check out as I see a lot of similarities between that TV show and this movie.

An eclectic group of tourists are flying to a mysterious tropical resort called The Portals of Eden. Each of them have brochures that appear to be tailored to their specific desires. All except for Al Hunsicker (Ed Asner) who was supposed to be on a flight to Texas for an important business meeting. Dave Woodrough (Lloyd Bridges) is an aging ladies’ man who’s looking for another sexual conquest and thinks he’s found it in Ellen Blunt (Cloris Leachman) an emotionally needy woman obsessed with her appearance and thinks that The Portals of Eden is a beauty spa. Annette Larrier (Anne Francis) is looking for somewhere she can recover from her nervous breakdown which probably was caused by her husband and kids. Lyle (Tony Bill) and Laurie (Donna Mills) are newlyweds who only want to spend their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. The Reverend John Fellows (Robert Reed) is suffering a crisis of spirit and hopes that by participating in a peyote ritual performed by the local Indians he can have a religious vision that will restore his faith.

The resort’s host, Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) at first seems a most genial and amiable sort. But that’s before things start to go wrong. First there’s a hurricane that wipes out their communications with the outside world. Their supplies and fresh drinking water start to dwindle. The resort staff abandons them. The guests are left alone with nothing and nobody to rely on but each other. And the more desperate their situation becomes, the calmer Mr. Seacrist becomes. Any and all attempts at rescue or to get help are frustrated and the little band begins to turn on each other as their idyllic dream vacation turns into Hell. And soon, that’s exactly what Ellen and Dave start to think as they discover that everybody has had a brush with death shortly before coming to the island.

Are they all dead and in Hell or some kind of Purgatory? There’s a lot of evidence to indicate so but there’s as much evidence to the opposite. Maybe they’re just a buncha folks with some truly shitty luck in picking vacation spots…but then there’s the dead body that apparently gets up and walks away and one of their number who tries to commit suicide and loses way more blood than a human can reasonably lose and still live….

I’m probably making HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH seem way more interesting than it really is but while watching it I couldn’t help but think of this as a “Lost” prequel where The Dharma Initiative has brought these people to their island as part of an experiment. What kind of experiment I have no idea but if you decide to watch the movie we can argue about it later.

The acting in this movie is quite strong, especially from dependable pros like Ed Asner who is set up to be the typical stereotyped loud-mouth but develops into a really reasonable character who treats his situation the way I expect a businessman would and doesn’t just rely on his mouth to do his thinking. He and Lloyd Bridges have a couple of nice scenes where they’re discussing their situation as they both turn out to be the natural leaders in this kind of situation. Cloris Leachman is an actress who has never really impressed me in anything she’s done but in this movie I find her amazingly good and she convinced me to invest in her character. But who walks away with the acting honors in this movie? Mr. Brady himself; Robert Reed. And he does it in an amazing scene near the end when he describes what happened to him during the peyote ceremony and explains to each and every one of the other guests why they think they’re dead and in Hell and why they think they’re alive and not in Hell. The man owns the scene from start to finish and it’s worth watching the movie just for that scene. If you only know Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch”  you watch that scene and you can’t believe it’s the same guy. It’s that good a scene.

So should you see HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH? It won’t cost you a thing because you can see it on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. But if you don’t want to watch it, it’s no biggie. But it does have a solid story and good performances. And as I said, if you’re a “Lost” fan and want to look upon this as a prequel, I think it more than works in that context. Enjoy.