Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, tough private detective
New York City, Winter 1971 and 1972
Release Date: June 25, 1971
Director: Gordon Parks
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
Film: Shaft’s Big Score!
Release Date: June 21, 1972
Director: Gordon Parks
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
R.I.P. Richard Roundtree (1942-2023), who shot to stardom in the early 1970s after making his iconic screen debut as the eponymous detective in Shaft.
Based on Ernest Tidyman’s series of novels, Shaft remains a pop cultural touchpoint for Roundtree’s charismatic performance and Isaac Hayes’ Academy Award-winning theme song. Alongside Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song released months earlier, Shaft firmly established the marketability of blaxploitation films and was also financially successful enough to save a then-struggling MGM from bankruptcy.
Roundtree would reprise the role in two immediate sequels, Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), and two later films (both named Shaft) released in 2000 and 2019, now named John Shaft I as the uncle of Samuel L. Jackson’s leading character.
Shaft’s mission for his introductory film is simple but dangerous. Tasked with tracking down the kidnapped daughter of Harlem gangster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), Shaft gets beaten and shot but eventually teams up with militant leader Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) to infiltrate their hotel, outgun the crooks, and return Marcy (Sherri Brewer) to her family. Shaft’s Big Score! finds our hero seeking vengeance against the clarinet-playing Mafia boss Gus Mascola (Joseph Mascolo) and the crooked funeral director Johnny Kelly (Wally Taylor) following their role in a friend’s death.
Whether his goal is a rescue or revenge, no one does it cooler than John Shaft.
What’d He Wear?
In both Shaft and Shaft’s Big Score!, John Shaft follows his rotation of trendy brown leather jackets by dressing for the wintry action-packed finales in a matching black leather jacket and pants. The crew overlap and proximity between both films’ production suggests that costume designer Joe Aulisi recycled the same outfit from Shaft for Roundtree to wear again in the sequel.
With its tapered waist-length cut and sharp, wide lapels, Shaft’s black leather jacket resembles a classic motorcycle jacket. However, rather than the traditional asymmetrical front zip found on jackets like the Schott Perfecto, Shaft’s jacket has a double-breasted arrangement of six buttons to close the jacket, including the extended square-ended waistband tab that closes through two buttonholes.
The waistband expands out into a full waist belt that tightens through a large silver-toned single-prong buckle on each side and loops through a set of self-loops around the back of the jacket. The set-in sleeves are also finished with semi-belted cuffs that each have a short strap fastened through a silver-toned single-prong buckle. Vertical seams running down the front of the jacket curve inward to avoid colliding with the vertical jetted entries of the hand pockets where Shaft keeps his shotgun shells during the finale of Shaft’s Big Score!
Shaft maintains his monochromatic “man in black” scheme with a black wool turtleneck, of which we see little aside from the ribbed roll-neck since he tends to keep his jacket closed during these scenes. However, he does keep the jacket open just enough to grant his left hand smooth access to the black leather shoulder holster carrying his nickel-plated snub-nosed revolver under his right arm.
Shaft’s black leather pants to match his broad-lapeled jacket recall a motorcyclist’s garb—think Peter Fonda in Easy Rider—though Shaft’s ride has four wheels instead of two, making his style more of a statement than anything borne of practicality. These flat-front trousers are typical of motorcycle pants, detailed with belt loops, jeans-style front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. Rather than back pockets (which would be uncomfortable and impractical for storing anything on a bike), these pants have a reinforced yoke across the seat.
Shaft holds them up with a black leather belt that closes through a large curved silver-toned single-prong buckle. With all this black leather, the obvious choice for Shaft’s footwear are black leather boots. These plain-toe boots are likely calf-high riding boots, worn with the shafts inside his trouser legs.
In Shaft, Richard Roundtree wears a steel wristwatch with a round silver dial on a unique rally-style bracelet, detailed with three large holes on each side of the watch case that are connected by a series of smaller holes as the band extends around the wrist. BAMF Style reader Aldous suggested that the watch may be a Rado of late 1960s vintage.
By Shaft’s Big Score!, he has swapped out the rally-banded watch for a stainless steel chronograph. Flanked by a black-finished rotating bezel, the black dial has two white sub-registers at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, and is secured around his wrist on a steel seven-row rice-grain bracelet. To me, the watch looks like a circa 1970 Heuer Autavia like the ref. 7763.
In both films, Shaft pulls on a set of black leather gloves that protect his hands during the gunfighting while also keeping them warm against the winter chill.
Appropriate for his profession as a private investigator, Shaft’s preferred sidearm across the first two Shaft movies is a snub-nosed .38 Special revolver—the “belly gun” widely seen carried by gumshoes and gangsters alike in classic detective fiction.
Colt Detective Special
Shaft establishes his weapon as a blued Colt Detective Special that he swaps out for the finale with the flashier nickel-plated model that he keeps in his refrigerator. Colt introduced the Detective Special in 1927, designed as the more easily concealed alternative to its full-sized Official Police model introduced the same year. Intended for the law enforcement market, the Detective Special’s blend of power and concealment made it popular among cops, crooks, and civilians alike.
Smith & Wesson Model 36
Shaft’s Big Score! abandons the “fridge gun” and keeps a nickel-plated snub-nose revolver in Shaft’s shoulder holster throughout the proceedings—though it’s not the previously seen Colt Detective Special but rather the Smith & Wesson Model 36.
Unlike the Detective Special with its full six-round cylinder, the Smith & Wesson Model 36 has a five-round cylinder that keeps it wider and slimmer for even greater concealment—albeit sacrificing a round of .38 Special in the process, bringing the weight down to around 19.5 ounces compared to the 21.5-ounce Detective Special.
Smith & Wesson had originally dubbed this weapon the “Chiefs Special” following a vote taken when it was introduced during an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention in 1950, though the nomenclature was updated when Smith & Wesson began numbering all of its models later that decade. From the start, this weapon was available in both blued and nickel finishes, with the nickel frame costing approximately $11 more at the time Shaft’s Big Score! was produced in the 1970s.
High Standard Model 10B
When this baby starts kickin’, it won’t stop, so nobody get cute!
Shaft prepares to battle gangsters in Shaft’s Big Score! by supplementing his handgun with a High Standard Model 10B, a unique semi-automatic shotgun that he stores behind a few books in his apartment—with the 12-gauge shells kept in the hollowed-out pages of a Moody’s Industrials book right next to it.
This gas-operated weapon had been in development for nearly a decade by Santa Monica police sergeant Alfred Crouch, who envisioned the ideal entry shotgun for tactical units. Crouch’s design followed the bullpup philosophy, relocating the action behind the trigger. As illustrated by popular modern weapons like the FAMAS F1, FN F2000 and FN P90, SA80, and Steyr AUG, this creates compact weapons that retain a longer barrel length, giving users more maneuverability without sacrificing ballistic effectiveness—theoretically a winning combination for close-quarters combat scenarios.
In the mid-1960s, Crouch sold his design to the High Standard Manufacturing Company of Hamden, Connecticut, who modified their more conventional C1200 Supermatic shotgun to deliver the Model 10A in 1967, followed three years later by the improved Model 10B, which added a left-hand charging handle, flip-up front sight, and an integrated carrying handle mount/rear sight on which the Kel-Lite flashlight (which was nonremovable on the Model 10A) could be removed.
Weighing approximately 10 pounds, the base Model 10 could fit four 12-gauge shells in its magazine tube, though an optional extended tube would add two extra. The 26″-long weapon has an 18-inch barrel that allows effectiveness up to nearly 50 yards.
Intended solely for law enforcement, High Standard produced the Model 10 shotgun from 1967 to 1977. During these ten years, the Model 10 was adopted in limited numbers by curious American police agencies that were intrigued by the design but soon stymied by its drawbacks, including frequent failures to cycle and the danger of firing it from the wrong side of the body—as shells were spit hot from the right side ejection port, shooters could only safely fire the Model 10 from their right shoulder to the point that High Standard had to print warnings directly on the weapon urging users not to fire it from the left shoulder.
How to Get the Look
Dressed head to toe in black leather, John Shaft develops a signature look for the high-caliber climaxes of his dangerous adventures.
- Black leather motorcycle jacket with 6×3-button double-breasted front, extended waistband and full-belted back (with silver-toned single-prong adjuster buckles), vertical jetted hand pockets, and set-in sleeves with semi-belted cuffs
- Black ribbed wool turtleneck
- Black leather flat-front motorcycle pants with belt loops, front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with round silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather plain-toe calf-high riding boots
- Black leather shoulder holster with vinyl support strap and belt connector strap
- Sporty steel wristwatch on steel bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the original Shaft trilogy.
The Criterion release of Shaft also includes Shaft’s Big Score! for interested fans.
You still got a lot of burying to do.