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The first time I saw this movie I loved the music and dancing and
appreciated the setting. I found it strange and couldn't follow it
properly. I watched it a second and third time, partly to see the dancing
again, and listen to the music, and the plot completely grew on me. I
absolutely love this movie. It is complex, and extremely accurate in its
portrayal of the time when gangsters owned stars. If you love jazz music
and know a little about its history, you will be enraptured by this movie.
The acting is incredible, and highlights the subtle twists in the plot beautifully. The cinematography is done in a most expert fashion. Richard Gere and Gregory Hines are absolutely charming, and Diane Lane is perfect is Vera Cicero. Lonette McKee has one of the most beautiful voices you will ever hear, it is no wonder she received a Tony award. Any viewer will be surprised by the guest appearances including Nicholas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Lawrence Fishburne, and on-screen and real-life brother of Gregory, Maurice Hines. Not only one of Coppola's best, but one of the best of all time.
The Cotton Club is such a well-made movie, you have to wonder why so many
critics and audiences ignored it when it was first released. Was it because
of the murder case surrounding its production? Or did some people feel that
a mixture of gangster films and Hollywood musicals didn't mix? Whatever the
reason, The Cotton Club deserves to be watched again and again, not just for
its music and dancing, but for the great performances, scenery, cars,
costumes...and tommy-guns. The movie was nominated for two Oscars, but a
third nomination should have gone to Bob Hoskins, for his brilliant
performance as Owney Madden. Despite his few film credits, James Remar is
brilliant as Dutch Schultz and comes across as the sort of person you
wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
There are rumours the film may be re-released with scenes and music that were cut from the original version. If this is true, would the film finally become a hit? After all, Robert Evans, the film's producer, apparently told one reporter..."How can it miss? It's got gangsters, music and girls." Well said, Robert.
I saw this movie when it first came out and I thought it was a mess.
Now years later while I have the luxury of sitting in my house watching
the various showings on cable, I like a better. Why because this movie
is IMO 3 different movies going on at once. I Now I am able to
concentrate on one aspect of the movie more then the whole.
I will start with movie #1... The Cotton club, the nightclub where everything converges and what is the common denominator that brings ALL of the characters together. It is almost set up like a Plantation in Mississippi. The white gangster own the place and the black people work there and have no say about anything that goes on. Black people were not even able to go to the club as a customer. All of the women who worked there were light skin almost passing for white. In the movie they do show how the set up was but the place was no as large as it was in the movie and on a side bar. Larry Fishburn who plays a numbers runner (the same role he played in a later movie, Hoodlum) shows interest in a brown skin singer performer in the club and her mother is very upset because she is the first "dark skin" woman working at the club. I liked that they added that in. I know this because my neighbor use to play with Louis Armstrong that the women in question is in fact Louis Amstrongs future wife. A little tidbit. I like the music and the performances which took place in the club. To me this was the most enjoying part of the movie. I feel a movie just about the Club without all the other foolishness it would be very interesting in the right hands. Which brings me to movie 2
THe gangsters or the white people. Owey Madden was a thug and a very nasty man. In this movie Bob Hoskin (who was very good) and Fred Gwynn who I loved played like they were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. In the right hands we would of seen the real Madden. Remember this is the man who kept black people out of his club. And did battle with other NY gangsters. Then we have Dutch Schultz. I wonder why we did not see more of Lucky Luciano because it was those 2 who were causing havoc in NYC during the 20's with Luciano winning. I think James Remer did the best portrayal of Schulz. Years later Tim Roth played him in the movie Hoodlum and he was good, but Remer was scarier. And according to all reports he was a psychopath. Then we have the George Raft(Dixie Dwyer) character played by Richard Gere If people are not familiar with the actor George Raft it was known he hung around the mob and had big time mob connections..who actually got him a job in movies. Richard Gere even mentions at one time that he use to be a dancer. I am sure that is reference and acknowledgment of George Raft, who was a dancer before he went to Hollywood. George Raft was actually a pretty good actor. Gere even looks like him. I feel that is the real reason they cast him in this movie. Look at this movie as Gere playing Raft and not playing Dixie Dwyer and the part works.
The last movie is the Harlem story. The Larry Fishburne character was a real person. He was lifetime criminal who spent most of his life in jail. He was not the voice of righteousness we see in the movie or the movie Hoodlum. What was interesting was the scene when he and the woman who was running the numbers racket in Harlem were offered a deal. I like they put that in the movie, that was true. The woman who was the real boss of the numbers racket came from the West Indies and started the whole thing on her own. A very tough cookie who went to jail because she would not give in to the mob. The mob was politically connected and they put her in jail for a long time. I like the the Hines bothers in the movie. They were feuding in real life and this movie was a way they starting talking again. They actually showed that in the movie. ALso the Vonnetta McGee character was interesting. I am a very light skin black women who could pas for white. WhICH I WOULD NEVER DO. But I don't know about living back in the early part of the century. The scene when she and Sandman goes to the hotel and the clerk tries to deny them a room actually happened to me and a boyfriend of mine years ago. So that scene really hit me. I would of liked if they explored Harlem life more, but the movie had too much going on already.
Nicholas Cage...nephew of Cappolla was good playing the violent brother of the Richard Gere character. I would like to have seen him in more parts like that instead of the garbage he has been wasting himself in the last few years. Diane Lane was the miscast. She was playing a real character too, but she came nowhere near the woman she was playing, Texas Guinon(I think that was her last name) A big boozy tough blonde. To me that is the major miscast of the movie. I like her though, but not in this movie. This is a movie I feel has to be seen around 5 times to get the whole feeling of it. A good movie but just too messy and too much.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kind of a flat story with unsympathetic characters but it LOOKS fantastic. Harlem's Cotton Club of the 1920s is beautifully recreated and with Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Charlie Chaplin, James Cagney, etc. hanging out in there yet. Great music and dancing too. Check out the haunting "Creole Love Call". I had hoped that a fuller, uncensored version would have surfaced by now.... especially on dvd. For instance, when Shultz kills Flynn in the dining room we see him stick a skewer in his neck. Yet 2 seconds later there is blood on the walls, dripping from the chandelier, and over just about everybody in the room. Sure looks like we missed something. This film could have been a lot better but for what it is, it's still worth a look. Bob Hoskins and a very menacing Fred Gwynne excel. Recommended.
Part fictional and part non-fictional, this lavish two-hour Francis
Ford Coppola film spotlights the Cotton Club, the legendary, real-life
Harlem jazz nightclub that flourished in the Prohibition era of the
late 1920s and early 1930s. Richard Gere plays Dixie Dwyer, a young
musician who works for mobsters, in an effort to advance his career.
Dwyer falls in love with Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), the girlfriend of
gangster Dutch Schultz (James Remar). The Dwyer character is based
loosely on real-life jazz trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke.
Throughout the film, various gangsters and bootleggers interact, sometimes violently, but much of the action centers around the Cotton Club, an establishment owned in real-life by Owney Madden, played in the film by actor Bob Hoskins. Madden would bring in Black performers to entertain a Whites-only clientèle, a truly racist policy, and a major plot point in the film's story.
The film's plot is somewhat muddled, the result of a less than stellar screenplay. And, as you would expect, the gangster characters are not terribly likable. But the film overcomes these script weaknesses with a captivating visual and musical style that is both tawdry and elegant. The corruption, the violence, and the implied sleaze are garish and tawdry to be sure. Yet, the Club's ambiance gushes with a certain elegance and glamour. It's a strange mix, but one that is entirely consistent with that era in U.S. history.
The film gets points from me for its lush, period piece costumes and production design, and adroit lighting, as well as all those jazz numbers, both sultry and flashy. Gregory Hines together with brother Maurice Hines provide some snappy tap dancing, some of which is improvised. Interestingly, their grandmother really did perform at the Cotton Club during its heyday. Also of interest in the film, viewers get to watch towering Fred Gwynne, who plays Frenchy, the oh-so-serious assistant to Owney Madden; the two of them engage in some interesting dialogue.
Although the script's story and characters are less than ideal, I enjoyed the film a lot, mostly as a result of the tawdry and elegant visual style combined with the lavish jazz numbers. If you're interested in gangster movies or the Prohibition era of American history, this film is a must-see.
inspired by photographs of the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, some shots appear exactly as they were (now in colour). I noticed Dutch Schultz's slumped pose when he is shot is exactly that of the police photograph, though he died several hours later (see William Burroughs "The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz"). The actors often play too broad (Diane Lane), and Richard Gere shows his lazy, grinning acting here too. However, many notable smaller roles for Gregory Hines (and his brother), Bob Hoskins, Laurence Fishburne and others who make it well worth watching. It is true that $40 million could have been used better, but when you consider both Bob Evans and Coppola's involvement it seems with hindsight that they were asking for trouble. The music deserves special credit, as do the tap sequences (which i gather were shortened and some cut - what a shame). Mostly Duke Ellington classics. As i've already suggested the look is a perfect recreation of the time, but sadly the plot is patchy, some dialogue weak and it has been said before - there is no chemistry between the romantic leads. 9/10
Forget all the behind the scene's politics; Francis Ford Coppola's
dazzlingly stylish, THE COTTON CLUB is certainly one of his best efforts. A
movie that deserves it's place alongside other Coppola masterpieces such as,
THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW.
But the legacy of this film is very strange: The behind the scenes shenanigans is legendary, it was unjustly panned when it was first released, and box-office was slight; however, watching this film you can't help but wonder why?
Everything from the performances to the look of the film is first-rate; with James Remar particularly good as Dutch Schultz, and the ending of this film is nicely reminiscent of THE GODFATHER.
So if your looking for what might be considered a buried Coppola classic, check out THE COTTON CLUB.
A very stylish but rough and profane account of gangsters ("Dutch"
Schultz and the like) and music during the 1920s. The scene is Harlem
(NYC) at the Cotton Club, which is still run by whites who are pictured
as big bigots.
Schultz, played by James Remar, is extremely coarse and profane. There are tons of Lord's name in vain abuses in this movie, many by Remar and Richard Gere. There is very hard edge to this film, sometimes a little too hard, I think.
The positives are the cinematography, music, dancing and a good romance angle featuring the white leads, Gere and Diane Lane, and the black leads Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee. Gere and Hines are buddies, with Gere playing coronet and Hines tap dancing. Hines is a tremendous dancer and great to watch.
You also have other "name" actors in here, such as Nicholas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne, Laurence Fishburne and Allen Garfield. If the language I mentioned earlier doesn't offend you, this is a great movie.
One gets the sense that 'The Cotton Club (1984)' will improve upon
repeat viewings, once you've become accustomed to what director Francis
Ford Coppola was attempting. After all, this is a gangster film from
the man who brought us 'The Godfather (1972)' and its sequels what
else could we expect but another Corleone saga? The film we're
delivered is nothing of the sort, a testament to the director's
constant willingness to take risks and experiment with new ideas.
Indeed, rather than trying to emulate Coppola's former successes, 'The
Cotton Club' could more accurately be described as a "gangster
musical," a realisation that took me until the film's second half. Do
those two genres even go together? Perhaps taking inspiration from
Herbert Ross' 'Pennies from Heaven (1981)' and the mini-series on
which it was based the film blends the ugly brutality and corruption
of the Prohibition- era with the dazzling bright lights of the Cotton
Club, Harlem's premiere night club. It is this deliberate but uneasy
juxtaposition of reality and fantasy that fuels Coppola's vision, an
ambitious undertaking without a dominant focus.
The film's major storyline concerns Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), a comparatively ordinary jazz musician who unexpectedly finds himself associating with organised crime boss "Dutch" Schultz (James Remar). Dixie is interesting because, unlike your typical hero consumed by the allure of amoral riches, he always remains peripheral to the world of gangsters; he observes, with disapproval, its dishonesty and depravity, but rarely finds himself a part of it. In fact, the closest he ever comes to being a gangster is in Hollywood, where he shares the sort of film roles that made James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson famous. Coppola might have been offering a commentary on the inherently romanticised version of reality offered by the movies, but his "real world" of gangsters is scarcely less stylised. The seedy underbelly of organised crime is paradoxically depicted as taking place in the classiest locales in Harlem, where the crime bosses consume the best alcohol and mix with Hollywood's elite talent (Chaplin, Swanson and Cagney among the featured patrons).
Proving further that Coppola wasn't attempting to replicate his Corleone saga, 'The Cotton Club' also features a rather extraneous subplot with Maurice and Gregory Hines as African-American tap-dancers vying for the "big-time" at the Cotton Club, where (in a bizarre discriminatory switch) only black performers are hired. The regular cross-cutting between this story and Dixie Dwyer's doesn't quite work, and, in any case, the taut romance between Dwyer and tough-girl Vera (an absolutely gorgeous Diane Lane) is much more involving than that between Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and mixed-race dancer Lila (Lonette McKee). Among the film's impressive supporting performers are Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as crime associates, Nicholas Cage as an overly-ambitious young thug, Laurence Fishburne as black crime boss Bumpy Rhodes, and James Remar, playing a sleazier and less identifiable version of Dutch Schultz to Dustin Hoffman in 'Billy Bathgate (1991).' The premiere gangster film of 1984 was Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in America (1984),' but, despite being runner-up, nobody can accuse Coppola of playing it safe.
Even Francis Ford Coppola couldn't sustain the height of movie-making
he achieved in the 1970s. Raised too high by initial expectations, then
dismissed too brusquely when the critics got to see it, "The Cotton
Club" exists in a kind of neutral zone, a grand spectacle undone by
sloppy scriptwriting and unappealing characters that nevertheless shows
the master with some juice still in his cup.
It's the story of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), a cornet player who one evening in 1928 almost accidentally saves the life of notorious mob boss Dutch Schultz (James Remar). Dutch, already a fan of his music, is appreciative of the extra service and brings Dwyer into his circle, which brings him into contact with Dutch's girl Vera (Diane Lane).
"If I didn't like you, you'd be dead," is Dutch's way of expressing friendship.
"It's nice to be liked," Dixie replies.
The film is centered around the nightclub of the title, a fashionable Harlem nightspot where blacks are welcome only on stage, entertaining the white customers. Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) runs things with an eye for keeping order, especially where the volatile Dutchman is concerned. Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) just wants to dance into the arms of Lila Rose (Lonette McKee), who is torn between the chance for true love versus the chance to pass for white in a white man's world.
The stacked cast even includes Nicolas Cage as Dixie's mad-dog gangster brother and Laurence Fishburne in one of his first signature tough-guy roles. "The white man has left me nothing but the underworld, and that is where I dance," he tells Sandman. "Where do you dance?" All this crammed into just over two hours leaves very little room to breathe, for a director who mastered movies which do exactly that. But with little useful dialogue except of the expository kind, characters coming and going all the time, left-field plot twists (Dixie goes to Hollywood and becomes an instant star), and a central romance between Gere and Lane that is long on open-mouth kissing but short on story, you need spectacle to keep your attention.
Remar makes the film worthwhile for me. His bug-eyed tantrums as Dutch are what stay with me when the film is over, yet he shows range, too, shy with Vera, henpecked with his wife, and amiable with Dixie in his guarded way. It's hard not to worry what will happen when he learns about Dixie and Vera, not only for the lovebirds but for Dutch, too. I only wish Remar could have played Dutch in the latter film set in the same milieu, "Billy Bathgate"; Dustin Hoffman is a great actor but was wrong for that part. Remar here fits into it like a cement overshoe.
The film also boasts great music, including singing from McKee and tapping from Hines and his brother Maurice that raise the roof and recall the famous baptism scene in Coppola's first "Godfather". Larry Marshall does a great Cab Calloway, conked locks whipping across his forehead.
Nothing is really wrong with "Cotton Club". But what's right doesn't stay right for long, and the rest doesn't hold together. It's a fun show, so long as you don't mind being a bit confused when the curtain comes down.
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