KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “Diamonds”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 


The trailer here represents one of the issues with selecting this film for the TBT project. The movie is not commercially available so no one seems to have cared to find and post the trailer for the film. What you see above is a fan created promo, obviously done on free software since the watermark is all over the video. I had never heard of this movie before checking a list of 1975 films on IMDB. When I saw that Robert Shaw and Richard Roundtree were the stars, I was enthusiastic about including it on the project. The problem is that it is not really available. No streaming services were offering it, it never had a DVD release, and the only home media that was available was a VHS tape for sale on ebay. 

So I made my purchase and dug out the VHS player that my wife had used in her classroom, it also has a DVD player, and hooked it all up. It turns out I could have watched a bootlegged copy on You Tube. In the long run, a You Tube viewing will be my last resort for these lost films. I still prefer physical media, even if it is an antiquated format. 

Before I talk about the film itself, there are a couple of interesting points. First of all, the film was also marketed as “Diamond Shaft”. That is the cover title on my ebay acquisition and the art work there pretty well explains why the title switch. Richard Roundtree was best known as the actor who portrayed Shaft in the movies. The character of John Shaft is nowhere in this film, and Roundtree does not ever hold a gun in his hand in the movie. Another alternate title was “Ace of Diamonds”, which I think would have worked better, but back in 1975, no one asked my opinion.

This is a heist picture and it has some interesting elements to it. Robert Shaw for example, plays twins. He is both Charles and Earl Hodgson. Earl is a security expert who designs protection for large businesses. Charles is a diamond merchant. An early scene establishes the competitive nature of the two brothers, they are both blackbelts and they spar with one another. Charles has tricked his way into having a social evening with Sally, played by Barbara Hersey who was going by Barbara Seagull at the time. Sally is the girlfriend of recently released prisoner Archie, the professional thief played by Roundtree. It is a convoluted sequence designed to bring all of them together but also to potentially drive a wedge between Sally and Archie. Charles has some agenda that we are not yet privy to.

“Diamonds” was written and directed by Menahem Golan, who was yet to partner with his cousin Yoram Globus, to form Cannon Films, but they did have a history of making films in Israel, which is exactly where this movie is mostly shot. The rest of the cast are Israeli actors who I did not recognize, but they were all pretty good. Oh there is one other American actor in the cast, Shelly Winters appears as a widow visiting the Holy land, but her role is completely superfluous to the story. At best she is comic relief, but if you took her out of the film completely, it would not have changed a thing about the plot.

The three act structure is very clear in the plotting. The opening section is the recruitment phase, which largely takes place in London. When they arrive in Israel, things get more complex as the plan is being laid out for us and there is a substantial amount of police attention paid to Archie because he is a known criminal. I enjoyed seeing the Israeli locations and seeing all the people in the squares and marketplaces. This elaborate set up contains a lot of cat and mouse playing between the thieves and the police who have them under surveillance. There are also a couple of red herrings thrown in, to baffle the police and us. 

I am usually of the opinion that we as an audience should be in on as many details of the planning as possible, without giving away any surprises. There were a couple of technical elements in the execution of the theft which would have been more dramatic if we had seen them coming. However, the casing of the security vault and it’s procedures was shown pretty effectively. Charles has some insider information that could have been laid out to his partners, but it was not of critical importance. I do think though that Shaw’s character needed to have a little more development as a personality. The interactions between him, Archie and Sally, after the opening section in London, are pretty dry. There is a suggestion of some tension but none of it is very dramatic.

When we get to the heist itself, the parts we see were well staged. As is required in a plot featuring a crime like this, there are some complications, but the main variable is the cooperation of a representative of the security vault. His motivation to provide information is a result of threat and duress, but when he overcomes that, he is so tentative about approaching the authorities that the extra time feels like a dramatic cheat. Robert Shaw was on the other end of an elaborate con game in “The Sting”, so it is kind of fun when the tables are turned on the cops and his partners at the climax of the film. “The Thomas Crown Affair” seems to have also been something of an inspiration for the story turns here. 

“Diamonds” or “Diamond Shaft” if you prefer, is not an essential film. Shaw was better in “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” the year before. The film is however interesting enough for fans of heist films and Robert Shaw. Roundtree and Seagull(Hersey) have little opportunity to shine because character development is not a goal of the screenwriter/director. This is a movie that is all about the crime, and it is only moderately interesting in spite of the tricks that get played.  

Shaft (2019)

I like music and movie themes are always a favorite, but you can count on one hand the number of movie themes that can single-handedly rescue a movie from mediocrity and make you care about something that is average. Whatever residuals Lalo Schiffrin gets for Mission Impossible, he has earned ten times over for that movie series. Isaac Hayes is gone but his estate should get a big check for making these movies work as well as they do. As much credit as I want to give to the theme song however, there is one other essential component that also fills the film with the value that it has, the lead actor. In the 1970s Richard Roundtree became a star playing the part of the cool private dick who is a sex machine to all the chicks, and he swaggered through three films magnificently. I don’t really know why it took 19 years to get back to the character after the 2000 version of the film, because the lead actor then and now makes the theme song real.

Samuel L. Jackson may have matinee idol good looks like Roundtree did, but he has all the attitude and charisma needed to power a movie like this. I have seen Jackson act. In “Pulp Fiction”, “Jackie Brown” and “Jungle Fever”, he is a real character with quirks unique to each story, but in a lot of films he plays “Samuel L. Jackson” the poet laureate of the “F” word and the bad ass with a mouth that won’t quit. “Shaft” gives him the chance to use those basic cartoon skills in a pretty standard action film, but elevate that action to something more entertaining than gunfights and car chases. Jackson makes the movie he is in fun because he is having fun being in it. This is his fourth film released this year and it’s only June.

The twist in this version is that Shaft is passing the baton so to speak to his son, an MIT nerd who does data for the FBI. Jessie Usher plays J.J. Shaft as if he is a newb in the big world because he has stepped out from behind his computer screen and stepped into Harlem proper. There is a lengthy backstory about the relationship, or lack thereof, between father and son. Shaft doesn’t really know his child and finding out his faults and strengths are the main beats of the story. The movie is filled with offhand putdowns and double takes as Shaft tries to connect with his long lost son. Regina hall gets a female role that is much more substantial than any other in the franchise history, although it is still mostly a side part and primarily for comedic purposes. As a helicopter Mom, who never really stopped loving the man who was her son’s father, she has kept the two apart, so naturally she is aghast when they reconnect. Usher let’s his wardrobe do most of the acting in the first part of the movie but as he and Jackson begin to settle into a relationship, he is much more effective.

The plot deals with the usual investigation of a death that is actually connected to illegal drug trafficking. Because the story is in a hurry to get Junior and Dad back together, it is a bit rushed, and I’ll be damned if I can explain why the victim was killed in the first place, but none of that matters. What matters is that there are insults, badass behavior and some fun fight scenes. Director Tim Story does not have a track record that inspires much faith in an action film. His two Fantastic Four Movies are not very popular among the comic book geeks. I don’t really know his comedies, having skipped them entirely. He does seem to understand the milieu of  urban comedy and that all works in his favor because this is the Shaft movie that is supposed to be funny. There were occasional lines in the other films that would amuse but clearly this movie deserves it’s classification as a comedy on IMDB.

One final note, this movie also features Richard Roundtree in the last quarter of the film. In the previous version he was supposedly Uncle John Shaft, and the part was a brief cameo. The producers made a wise decision to make his role more central to the story and characters and it gives us a lot more to care about and laugh at as well. “Shaft 2019” may not be the classic that the original film was, but it is an entertaining night at the theater (or in front of your TV if you are not in the U.S.), so enjoy it and don’t think to hard about it. Just let the song wash over you like a warm memory of awesomeness past, and listen to Jackson go off, you should be fine.