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The Cotton Club (1984)

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The Cotton Club was a famous night club in Harlem. The story follows the people who visited the club, those who ran it, and is peppered with the Jazz music that made it so famous.


(as Francis Coppola)


(screenplay), (screenplay) (as Francis Coppola) | 4 more credits »
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 6 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Frances Flegenheimer
Madame St. Clair
Bumpy Rhodes (as Larry Fishburne)


The Cotton Club was a famous night club in Harlem. The story follows the people who visited the club, those who ran it, and is peppered with the Jazz music that made it so famous. Written by Colin Tinto <cst@imdb.com> with corrections by BSmith

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Welcome to The Cotton Club. Where Crime Lords rub elbows with the rich and famous. Where deals are made, lives are traded. And the legends of jazz light up the night. See more »


Crime | Drama | Music


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

14 December 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Cotton Club Encore  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office


$58,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$2,903,603, 16 December 1984, Wide Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs


| (video)

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola; and four Oscar nominees: Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Bob Hoskins and Tom Waits. See more »


When Dixie goes to ransom Frenchy there is a different amount of shaving cream on Mad Dog's face in every shot. See more »


Owney: Someone oughta take out your brain and pickle it!
See more »


Referenced in Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004) See more »


Bandana Babies
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Music by Jimmy McHugh
Performed by Ethel Beatty
See more »

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User Reviews

Coppola's gangsters and dancers saga that succeeds on its ambitions, if just by a hair
2 May 2007 | by See all my reviews

The Cotton Club has a reputation, in the movie world as well as in the history books, as being a notorious heaven/hell for most involved. Desptie it being over-budget and under-whelming at the box-office, what remains is probably one of the director's most provocative turns, with so much thrust into it that one ends up admiring the whole so much that it can be forgiven that it veers into the bulky side of things. It's near-classic pulp melodrama fused with the grace and intelligence of the Hollywood musicals and crime pictures of the period that would come shortly after the events in this film. It's also at times utterly pleasurable as conventional fare that knows what it is, as well as visually flourishing in cinematography and editing to go a little further with the material. It's risky stuff not because of the story in and of itself, but because of the chances Coppola takes with putting so much together. Unlike one of his contemporaries, Scorsese, and his film New York, New York, the Cotton Club even in its most dragging or trickiest points in the narrative reigns high as an original hybrid by giving something captivating on every side of the coin.

Acting-wise, Coppola goes for the big ensemble once again (a trademark of his films in the 80s), with the key ones allowing for the director to put a lot into each smaller group. The stars as the drenched-in-formula good looking' musician-cum-actor (Richard Gere) and the girl on the side for one of the big mob bosses in New York City (Diane Lane). the gangsters, all with specific characteristics that gain momentum as the story goes, like Dutch Schultz (James Remar) as the possessive paranoid killer, Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne (what a combo) as certain 'business interests' entwined with the rest of the mob, and Nicolas Cage as Gere's younger brother, a hot-head racist who wants to take over; the black actors, singers, dancers, all right out of Harlem and with its own stars (Gregory Hines, in one of his very best performances/roles), and criminals (Fishburne as a key part of this group). And the club itself is something of a character- as principle location- unto itself, as some surreal bastion of escapist glee (if your part of the audience) and gangland violence and bad race vibes (if not). Coppola also has the occasional side character, like the MC at the club played by Tom Waits (made believable all by a cigar), to not make either side too top-heavy.

Whether one side bests the other or not is arguable. It's hard to say that there aren't some noteworthy scenes in practically every turn, even if they tend to go over-the-top (like Remar with Schultz) or almost too much on young charisma (Lane and sometimes Gere). It's a credit to Coppola, at least on that front, that he corrals moments- like the break-up/reuniting with Sandman and Clay Williams, or between the two main stars when they're literally between white sheets backstage at the club- that add up to a lot in the grand scheme of things. His other main concerns, however, are music and the subtle presence of the camera. There's rarely a dull moment with the former, as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway are presented, if only for fans, as legends unto themselves that even get fleeting glances on screen (the Calloway number "Minnie the Moocher" is a hight-light). And Coppola's tie-in with Stephen Goldblatt and his editors is crucial, albeit using each to their fullest extent depending on the mood. The film moves pretty fast, narratively quicker than the Godfather films, but he only uses montage for pivotal cross-cutting moments, showing the rise and fall of the gangsters with that of the club gaining prestige (the fall, in the big climax, is as magnificent as it can get in cinema), and the technical prowess is skillful and inventive.

And all the same, it shouldn't all work entirely, because so much feels like it's about to explode at any moment, and nearly to a point where it edges on the point of being the same thing that Coppola is striving to homage (shallow, escapist sensationalism). There's parallels between the struggles of musicians, criminals, and the others on the sidelines in show-business, and are exploited quite well. All the same it ends up not exactly a 'great' movie, because the underlying ideas for something much deeper only work up to a point. Still, after a first viewing, and like with most other films from the director (and, damned if I say it, the producer too), I wouldn't pass it up again on a viewing late at night; it's one of the more shamelessly entertaining pictures of the mid 80s.

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