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COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is the adaptation of Chester Himes' 1965 novel of the
same title and stars Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as his
two Harlem police detectives "Gravedigger" Jones and "Coffin" Ed Johnson
respectively. Their motto: "[We] may have broke some heads, but we ain't
never broke no promise." Jones and Johnson are on the trail of "Reverend"
Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart. O'Malley is funding a "Back to Africa"
cruise by taking donations from the good people of the 'hood. However,
before he can
make his getaway, a robbery breaks out and the money, hidden in a bale of
cotton, gets lost in Harlem. This sends the cops, O'Malley and the robbers
on a wild search through the New York area for the stolen loot. Redd Foxx
appears as a junk dealer (two years before SANFORD AND SON) who holds the
key to the fate of the money.
Oddly enough, the movie is less rough then Himes' novel (which had quite a bit of rough language and sex in it), yet received an R rating back then. It would hardly register as a PG-13 today. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM should be seen to see the true origins of the genre known as "blaxploitation" (black exploitation movies).
COTTON is quite an enjoyable action romp. It is especially light compared to the later "blaxploitation" films that followed it.
Cambridge and St. Jacques are one of all time best buddy cop duos. They are hip, sexy, and funny. The mystery is intriguing, and the uncomfortable situations keep the viewer's attention throughout. This is one to be seen uncut, because a lot of the humor is quite racy. It's a time capsule in a way also since the Harlem depicted here no longer exists.
COTTON has an incredible cast of actors. Just watching it on cable
recently it was a tremendous blast from the past to see so many great
actors from the 1960s in this movie. COTTON is an entertaining morality
tale with some bits of comedy, sarcasm, and some social commentary
Redd Foxx and Cleavon Little are two of the better known comedians, but the main characters are played by Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques. Some of the actors in this film were also in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) three years later. Henry Morgan (McCloud's Chief of Police) plays a mean-spirited hoodlum in this film. However, even his evil character is a bit goofy.
Not that COTTON is a comedy, there is plenty of shooting and killing to qualify it as a Police Procedural type of film. However, COTTON mixes the comedy, commentary, and edgy humor with the drama and the violence in a way that few movies can do.
In fact, as I watched COTTON it occurred to me that it was a very ambitious film. It really tried to do a lot of things that most movies can rarely accomplish. COTTON probably falls into the Blaxploitation genre because the formula is essentially pro-White which is what characterized the Blaxploitation apart from the "SWEET BADDASS" type of anti-establishment films.
The two main characters are black Detectives and the white Police Officers and Detectives are either racists or else goofballs (similar to the white Police Officer who used to appear in the SANFORD AND SON TV series).
The main evil character is a black preacher who has swindled his flock, but lost the money. The search is on for the $87,000. The small amount of money seems to be a shot at the poverty of "the Ghetto." The Mafia Boss character tells the Detectives that he makes much more than $87,000 from crime in The Ghetto every day; but meanwhile the small town Ghetto crooks (of both white and black races) are willing to kill each other (several die) over the same money.
Some disturbing things in this film are that the Preacher (Calvin Lockhart) at one point starts slapping around a couple of women and his girlfriend Iris (played by Judy Pace) is portrayed as a jealous psychopath (she plays her role with a something of a comic slant).
COTTON is a very compelling movie. It is a slice of history, it has great actors, and it has a complicated story that can be interpreted in more ways than one.
One of the better black exploitation pictures to come out of the
Seventies was Cotton Comes To Harlem where Raymond St. Jacques and
Godfrey Cambridge gave a black twist to the male buddy film that so
many white actors had done over the years going all the way back to
James Cagney and Pat O'Brien.
St. Jacques and Cambridge play a pair of police detectives assigned to a precinct north of Central Park where they've drawn duty being security for a rally headed by the Reverend Calvin Lockhart who's got a nascent Back to Africa movement going. He's collecting money at his rally and preaching up a storm when some masked bandits armed with automatic weapons take off with the proceeds. The money gets hidden in a bale of cotton and then the bale gets ripped off.
Our two detectives got a whole host of suspects, some white numbers gangsters from Pleasant Avenue, black militants, the good reverend himself who St. Jacques has a passionate dislike for and various and assorted other criminal types. Lockhart is one charismatic preacher and as he says himself, he could be another Marcus Garvey who immediately came to mind before Lockhart mentioned his name during the film.
John Anderson and Eugene Roche are St. Jacques and Cambridge's superiors in the police department, Anderson impatient with them and Roche inclined to give them plenty of room to maneuver. Judy Pace plays Lockhart's mistress and one seductive temptress if there ever was one. And we can't forget Redd Foxx in a delightful performance as an old rummy whose ship might just be coming in.
Cotton Comes To Harlem moves at a very fast pace with absolutely not a wasted frame of film. It holds up very well after almost 40 years even if those fashions and those Afros don't.
"Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" is usually credited as the first
blaxploitation film. Its really shouldn't be for several reasons. First
off, its a more serious urban drama. And plus, "Cotton Comes to Harlem"
was released a year earlier. "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" is an
important and influential film no doubt, but its not a very good one.
In fact, I've yet to meet anyone who's actually made it through the
whole thing. On the other hand, "Cotton Comes to Harlem" is just as
funny and exciting today as when it came out, despite a few dated
elements that some will find politically incorrect. Please, credit
either this or "Shaft" as the first blaxploitation film, because "Sweet
Sweetback" is really lame.
One of the films strengths is the chemistry between the stars. As Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed, Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques make a great team that plays off each other perfectly. Plus, Calvin Lockhart plays one of the sleaziest and pathetic film villains of the era and Judy Pace is absolutely beautiful. The direction by Ossie Davis keeps this film moving at a very quick pace. Granted, he never tops the first twenty minutes for excitement (the car chase early on is amazing), but the rest of the film is quite good when viewed on its own. This is a film that exists to entertain and does so very well. Its as exciting as "Shaft" and as funny as "Dolemite", only this time the laughs are intentional. (7/10)
Over the years, I've seen this movie on old, grainy, scratchy prints
with runny color and muffled sound. I just viewed the DVD of this
movie, and it's the first viewing I've had of a decent print with a
decent video transfer. This has led me to revise what I long thought of
First revision: I hadn't before realized how good the cinematography is. The images are detailed, well-composed, and carefully lit; the editing is sharp without being obvious.
I also hadn't recognized how good the acting is; the actors are all energetic without chewing up the scenery, they are clearly working hard to capture the right tone for the piece without looking like they're working hard.
Finally, now that I can hear all the dialog clearly, I realize, first, just how funny it is, and second, just how true to the source novel it is. Although Davis adds touches here and there, and of course some of the novel gets left out, Davis is really making a strenuous effort to remain true to the spirit of Chester Himes, one of the finest American novelists writing in the crime genre.
Because Davis pushes his characterizations perilously close to stereotypes, the film will probably never receive the recognition it deserves. I think Davis manages to restrain the stereotyping at all the right moments, and the whole film comes together beautifully. In short, this is a true classic.
This is a great blaxploitation film of 1970, this movie includes witty humor, obviously fake stunts, words spoken that don't match lips, beautiful women, gun wielding cops, a cheating preacha, a dumb white cop, Red Foxx as a junk dealer(pre-Sanford and Son), by the way, just wait for his postcard, This movie is one of my favorites, some great moments of humor from the junkie half way through the film. Check this one out
One of the most influential pictures ever to shoot onto the screen, "Cotton Comes To Harlem" spawned the beginning of the blaxploitation action boom in 1970 by delivering a refreshingly different detective action yarn with a lot of humor,a lot of hard-hitting drama with a lot of black soul(It was know as SOULPOWER!). An unbeatable mix of fastpaced adventure and sheer comic having spiced with spectacular shootouts and chases with a lot of fast talking and tough repartee with solid performances by Godfrey Cambridge,Raymond St. Jacques and Calvin Lockhart no to mention to comedic timing of Redd Foxx. This picture became a milestone for a genre of action movies that would remain throughout the rest of that decade(including its sequel "Come Back Charleston Blue" two years later).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The art of filmaking is best represented right here in this 70's gem . I don't think anything can quite match the energy and effort put forth here."Cotton comes to Harlem" title alone,is very deep saying much to people who truly are in touch with themselves.Black ,White or whatever , this hysterical and historic film is an American Classic.I would'nt ever be a spoiler ,but look whats all in here ,Religious zealots,supercops,pimps,mafia types,great car chase scene,the Apollo theatre ,beautiful women ,authentic Harlem NYC locations ,who'd dare ask for more?? This stunning achievment is directed by Ozzie Davis I would recommend anyone serious about the study of cinema seek out his other films as well.My favorite underrated star Godfrey Cambridge is here in perhaps his greatest film role and even Hollywood knows nothing compares.Oh! I almost forgot ,the sequel Welcome Back Charleston Blue !! was very good too, but this original is best.If I could I'd give it 15"*s". Seek this out on video and the DVD you'll never regret it! For all the action in it kids will like this too there's no bad language or any thing here.
Based on a novel by Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem boasts sharp dialogue and super performances from top to bottom. Cult favorites Calvin Lockhart and Redd Foxx are great, but the real fire belongs to the sublime Godfrey Cambridge as wise police detective Gravedigger Jones. The colorful story follows Gravedigger and his partner Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) as they keep tabs on charlatan evangelist Lockhart during his high-octane revival campaign. The film has solid action, but is also very funny. Upon seeing it, one will wonder why Cambridge never became a much bigger star.
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