This Month in Film History – June 23, 1971 & June 30 , 1971: “Shaft” & “Carnal Knowledge” Drop

The 1970s cinema remains an enigma to many fans and critics of today. Nearly coming a half of century since, a true panorama and grasp of one of cinema’s wildest and unpredictable decades has yet to be written. It was a decade which genre busting films opened  up side by side in theaters with porn films. It was a decade where two more polar opposite films could be released into your local theater a mere week apart – an oddity for the modern era cinemaphiles where every film in the theater looks the same as before. This month in film history – more specifically June 23 & 30 – saw the Mike Nichols adult drama Carnal Knowledge, starring Jack Nicholson and Shaft, starring the unknown Richard Roundtree.


Comedian turned director –  no, not Woody Allen – Mike Nichols would become a pro at the type of comedy/drama films that Carnal Knowledge presented itself as.  His feature film debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, would showcase his adeptness at handling these off-kilter black comedies.


The plot, via Wikipedia:

The story follows the sexual exploits of two Amherst College roommates over a 25-year period, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Sandy (Art Garfunkel) is gentle and passive, while Jonathan Fuerst (Jack Nicholson) is tough and aggressive. Sandy idolizes women, Jonathan objectifies women. He frequently uses the term “ballbuster” to describe women as emasculating teases whose main pleasure is to deny pleasure to men; he extends this term to mean women who want to get married instead of accepting that men mostly want unattached sex. Since each man’s perspective of womanhood is extreme and self-serving, neither is able to sustain a relationship with a woman.

Again, remember, it was the 1970s and subtlety was on vacation. It was white people hedonism all the way.


Richard Roundtree’s casting as the title character was both a stroke of luck and genius. Dubbed “The First Black Action Hero,” Roundtree, along with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, would show Hollywood money men that black actors can play the lead in films. For all the furor directed at blaxploitation films, Shaft is pure 100% film noir, only with black people.

The plot, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The film revolves around a private detective named John Shaft who is hired by a Harlem mobster to rescue his daughter from the Italian mobsters who kidnapped her. The film stars Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas, Charles Cioffias Vic Androzzi, and Christopher St. John as Ben Buford. The major themes present in Shaft are the Black Power movement, race, masculinity, and sexuality. It was filmed within the New York City borough of Manhattan, specifically in Harlem, Greenwich Village, and Times Square.