Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) Poster

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The TRUE origin of "blaxploitation"
Tresix17 January 2001
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.
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Hysterically Edgy
turk_1828 July 2002
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.
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Tote That Cotton, Lift That Bale, It's Worth A Fortune
bkoganbing2 March 2009
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.
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Am i Black Enough?
jetrock7 December 2001
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
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gets better every viewing.
winner5531 August 2009
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 the film.

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.
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The beginning of the blaxploitation genre
raysond13 September 2002
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).
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Now this is high art!!
nuport1 August 2002
Warning: 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.
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Funny, energetic cop movie from Ossie Davis
pooch-820 July 1999
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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A Preview of Things to Come
Sargebri8 August 2006
This is one of the funniest movies of the early 1970's. The story, the acting as well as the characters helped to make this a great film. In many ways this film was a preview of things to come due to the fact that the very next year with the premier of Shaft, the era of the "blaxploitation" film would begin. Also, you have to wonder if the team who created the Lethal Weapon series were somewhat inspired by this due to the fact that characters of Gravedigger and Coffin are somewhat reminiscent of Briggs and Murtaugh from that series. However, the thing that really made this fun was the brief appearance of Redd Foxx playing a character that was not dissimilar from the character that would earn him his biggest fame, Fred Sanford. This is definitely a lost classic.
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its a good movie
jeremy-449 May 1999
Cotton Comes To Harlem is a good movie. The actors and actresses are good plus redd foxx who plays uncle budd he's funny. I'm a big redd foxx fan! the movie and story line is ok!
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Interesting on the one side, but a little dull on the other.
punishmentpark6 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Buddy movie / crime caper with a new take on American culture when the sixties were coming to an end while racial tensions needed to be addressed... and so does 'Cotton comes to Harlem'.

The film has a promising premise, but it doesn't play its cards right; pretty much straight away it isn't hard to guess that the 'good' reverend would have something to do with the heist. But the pay-off, when finally the curtain falls on him, is rather okay. Most of the other developments in the story didn't have to take as much time as they did (the two riots and the chase are perfect examples of scenes being dragged out too long). A lot of the humour was cheesy without a good punch nor delivery.

Still, the film is an admirable try to focus on several difficult issues, and is the first in the blaxploitation genre, I've read, although this has hardly any of the gore, nudity or explosions in it that one would expect. But it does get across that a little bit of common sense and a sense of humour can go a long way against violence, ignorance, greed and apathy - well, one would hope.

Godfrey Cambridge's terrific performance in 'Watermelon man' bumped this title up my list, and he does quite okay here, but the film itself is rather too long and at times on the dull side to allow anyone to truly shine. Well, Judy Pace deserves a mention - her black is beautiful and not to be messed with!

A good 6 out of 10. If you want to see a true testament to black power in the seventies, go see 'Sweet Sweetback's baad asssss song', though!
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"Now, we may have broken some heads, but we never broke no promises."
bensonmum218 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two black cops working out of a Harlem precinct. They've got their eyes on a minister promising his poor parishioners the opportunity to travel to Africa for $100. Jones and Johnson see Rev. Deke O'Malley for the scammer he really is. But things get complicated when, during a recruitment rally, the $87,000 the good Reverend has collected is stolen by armed bandits. The only clue about the money's whereabouts is that it's been hidden in a bale of cotton. Hot on the trail of the cotton bale are the mob, the police, Reverend O'Malley, a junk dealer, a militant black group, and just about everyone else in Harlem.

The first true blaxploitation movie (there seems to be some disagreement, but I'm not sure how you could go with Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song as it was released a year later), Cotton Comes to Harlem is wonderfully entertaining from start to finish. It's a non-stop comedic slice of life in Harlem in the early 1970s. The movie is filled with eclectic characters, unique set-pieces, interesting music choices, and real life locations you just can't replicate on a sound-stage. The plot has so much going on that it never gets old. Ossie Davis didn't direct many films, but he does an amazing job with this, his first, effort. It's a more professional looking product than many of the blaxploitation films that would come later. The acting is a highlight and is as good as I've ever seen in a movie of this type. Godfrey Cambridge gives a memorable performance as policeman Gravedigger Jones. Cambridge manages to be the standout in a strong cast. His partner, Raymond St. Jacques as Coffin Ed Johnson, is rock solid. The pair are joined by Calvin Lockhart, the stunning Judy Pace, Redd Foxx, and a slew of familiar faces. The comedy in Cotton Comes to Harlem has held up surprisingly well. Some of it might be considered un-PC in today's overly sensitive world, but I still found myself laughing along with many scenes. Overall, it's a well made movie that I fell no hesitation in rating an 8/10.
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Double black makes even blacker.
Boba_Fett11385 April 2011
This is an early blaxploitation flick, that would had probably been considered to be very racist, was it not directed by an African American director and not been a part of the early blaxploitation era.

I mean seriously, just think about it. Here we have a bunch of African American persons who are searching for a bale of cotton, at one point two characters crash into a cart of melons and in an attempt to control a large crowd, one of the characters throws a bunch of chickens into the crowd. But of course the movie isn't racist and is simply a silly black urban comedy, that pokes fun at lots of the prejudices against black society. And as a silly entertaining movie, this movie really works out well.

It by no means is a great movie though. The movie just doesn't always makes sense with its story and also the way it ends seems very random, though the characters all pretend like it was something they planned out. The movie is also often too silly for its own good and the movie really goes over-the-top with its comedy at times.

But luckily this all hardly goes at the expense of its entertainment value. I can definitely see a large crowd having tons of fun with watching this movie.

The movie really has some good characters in it and the two lead cops Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are great charismatic leading characters. I would had loved to see more movies featuring those two but only one sequel starring Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques in those roles got made. Just imaging Shaft times two and you have Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Not that the actors playing them are very impressive but they are just some two very charismatic and entertaining characters, who don't necessarily always play by the rules. Calvin Lockhart as the main villain of the movie is also a very good and entertaining villain and Calvin Lockhart is probably also being the best actor of the movie and about the only one who also had a decent acting career before and afterward.

But still biggest name involved with this movie was Ossie Davis, who directed this movie. It actually was his directorial debut and you could tell that this movie was low-key and fairly cheaply made. Considering those circumstance, this movie is even more an accomplishment from Davis. He actually directed a bunch of other blaxploitation flicks, that nobody has ever heard off and are even more obscure and hard to get than this movie already is. A bit of a shame, since he really seemed to be a director who understood and embraced the genre. But oh well, at least he still had an all the more impressive career as an actor though, so you don't have to feel bad for him.

By no means a great movie but it's a very entertaining one!

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Awfully wonderful
apjc12 March 2018
Brilliant B style blaxploitation movie. it has so many comedic moments intentional or otherwise. It's simply a comedy that will have you smiling or giggling throughout, if you've watched police squad you'll get the general idea.
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Fresh, fast, and funny. A true trailblazer.
Hey_Sweden6 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Films such as "Shaft" and "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" may be generally credited for kick starting the blaxploitation boom of the 1970s, but this lively, engaging action comedy actually beat them to the punch. Adapted from the novel by Chester Himes, it was co-written and directed by the iconic black actor Ossie Davis, who guides all of it in high style. Well staged and well shot at various Harlem locations, it begins with a bang and holds your attention until a memorable finale at the Apollo.

Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques star as hip, stylish police detectives "Grave Digger" Jones and "Coffin Ed" Johnson. They're suspicious of reverend / activist Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), and indeed the man is a big phony. At stake is $87,000 of the money of the hard working people of Harlem, who thought it was going towards a cruise to Africa. In their own "head breaking" but honourable way, Grave Digger and Coffin Ed work the clues and track down the cash, while dealing with a demanding white superior (John Anderson) and sundry other characters.

"Cotton Comes to Harlem" promises fine entertainment to come, in much the same way that Grave Digger and Coffin Ed follow through on their promises. The music score by Galt MacDermot is brilliant, as are the songs on the soundtrack. Director Davis keeps the pace, the laughs, and the action consistent. The cast is full of familiar faces: lovely ladies Judy Pace and Emily Yancy, the legendary Redd Foxx (just a few years before 'Sanford & Son'), Lou Jacobi, Eugene Roche, J.D. Cannon, Cleavon Little, Teddy Wilson, Helen Martin, and Leonardo Cimino. All of them are great, but it's the smooth chemistry between Cambridge and St. Jacques that dominates the proceedings. They make for a great pairing. They're smart, tough, and don't miss a beat.

The ending offers a delicious twist that you won't see coming if you're not already familiar with the material.

Followed by the sequel, "Come Back Charleston Blue".

Eight out of 10.
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donlessnau-591-6377301 October 2018
Save your money and read the book. The movie was childish and stupid and horribly written and directed. Just juvenile garbage.
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Cotton Comes To Harlem
a_baron4 July 2018
As might be inferred from its name, this is a comedy, or was meant to be. Unfortunately it isn't that funny, even for those of us who have some familiarity with the nuances of urban black life in the America of this time, if only from similar films.

"Cotton Comes To Harlem" is also a thriller, and it would have made better viewing if this aspect had been played up, which would have entailed playing down the comic book violence.

The bottom line is that $87,000 is stolen in a blatant robbery, and law enforcement including two black detectives turn Harlem upside down in pursuit of it. That sum was worth considerably more then than in today's money, but not so much this was the Great Train Robbery of New York State. The cotton reference is not an allusion to de old plantation but to the stolen money somehow ending up in a bale of cotton.

One of the detectives is played by Godfrey Cambridge who just six years later was dead from a heart attack at just 43. This film does not make a good epitaph for him or for anyone else.
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Back to Africa
Uriah437 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This movie begins with a con-man by the name of "Reverend Deke O'Malley" (Calvin Lockhart) sponsoring a "Back to Africa" initiative and selling tickets to people in Harlem who are naive enough to trust him. However, his plans go awry when he attempts to fleece his partner who stages a heist and makes off with the $87,000 in revenue generated at Reverend O'Malley's benefit rally. This results in two hardened police detectives, "Grave Digger Jones" (Godfrey Cambridge) and "Coffin Ed Johnson" (Raymond St. Jacques) getting involved despite the obstacles put in their path by Reverend O'Malley, his girlfriend "Iris" (Judy Pace) and their own Chief of Police, "Captain Bryce" (John Anderson). Now, rather than disclose the rest of the movie and possibly ruining it for those who haven't seen it, I will just say that this was a pretty good "Blaxploitation" film. Although the story got a little complicated at first, all of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit by the end of the movie. And while I liked the performances of the aforementioned Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques, it was clearly Judy Pace who was the main attraction. In any case, while it may not be the best "Blaxploitation" film ever made it still wasn't too bad and I recommend it to those who enjoy movies of this sort.
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"Am I Black Enough for Ya?"
tnrcooper30 June 2014
Great romp of a film. As has been said, this might be considered the first blaxploitation film. It is Ossie Davis' directorial debut and he shows great skill in overseeing all aspects of the production, from the music, to a wonderfully filmed car chase, and from great performances to making a film that balances humor and action adeptly. He uses locations in Harlem such that Harlem is a character in the film. The characters are warm and familiar and well-drawn. Interaction among black and white characters is generous and complex and I love to see that. He has a very light, confident touch across production and his fingerprints are all over the film insofar as everything is handled JUST right.

The stars, Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) are two cops with a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges, but for keeping their word. Their motto: "We mighta broke a few heads but we never broke our word". A hustling minister, Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart) rides into town and Coffin and Gravedigger believe he is a scam artist who has stolen money from poor, hard-working black folks. This offends their sensibilities and they pursue the Reverend, believing he is selling communities bad bills of goods. Honestly I wish that the film hadn't included the robbery. I think the Reverend makes such an great bad guy and the cops such good guys that I would have enjoyed more focus on them.

That being said one of the Reverend's rallies is targeted by thieves and $87,000 is stolen. As the crooks make their getaway pursued by the Reverend and then by the cops, the money falls out of the back of the crooks' truck, wrapped in a bale of hay. As the detectives investigate the crime, we encounter sweet, tough old ladies, junkies (Cleavon Little as Lo Boy and Van Kirksey as Early Riser), bumbling cops (Dick Sabol as Varema), a vengeful Other Woman (Judy Pace as Iris), and a perenially scuffling junk dealer (Redd Foxx as Uncle Bud).

The plot is a bit convoluted but it allows us to get to know Uncle Bud and some of the local characters. Redd Foxx, previewing his character in "Sanford and Son" is lovable and decent, but always down on his luck. On the basis of these performances, Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques should have been bigger stars. They ooze charisma and confidence and they eat up the camera in their scenes. Once one sees how their characters operate, one just wants to see more of them because one can see that while they might be a bit edgy, they are decent men. I don't know if 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon might have based their characters' dynamics on these characters, but it is certainly plausible. Calvin Lockhart gives his character a greasiness that seems natural. His sleaziness seems innate. That is a tribute to Lockhart's acting. He makes the Reverend naturally slick. He really seems completely disreputable. Judy Pace is smoldering as his mistress and she also dominates the scenes she is in. She is very sexy and when she is wronged, her wrath is ferocious. She really is outstanding in the film. The white cops, Capt. Bryce (John Anderson as a more old-fashioned type) and Lt. Anderson (Eugene Roche) who trusts Gravedigger and Coffin, are great.

As I said, I thought the car chase was excellent. It's one of the better car chases I've seen. It isn't too long but the perspectives taken by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, the tracking of the car, and how realistic the chase seems, make it a lot of fun and very well-executed. I thought it was great. Also of note, Harlem is full of life in this film. There is one tracking scene where a great piece of music follows the camera as it pans over various businesses in Harlem. It's great to see the various aspects of the community and see the positive side of it rather than the blight and decay that too often stands in for depictions of the community in many films.

Ossie Davis went on to direct several other films and he showed in this one that that opportunity was well-deserved. As I mentioned, the work he gets out of his actors, his use of locations, the cinematographic choices he makes, and the blend of humor and action make this a very enjoyable movie which should get more credit as perhaps the first blaxploitation film. I think he deserves the most credit for the film's success and this is one that could withstand repeated viewings.
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Ossie Davis' Cotton Comes to Harlem is a lot of fun to watch
tavm26 February 2011
Continuing to review movies featuring people of color in chronological order for Black History Month, we're still in 1970 when director Ossie Davis helps adapt Chester Himes' novel of the above title name with Arnold Perl co-writing. So it's with this film that we're introduced to the main characters of Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques), Harlem detectives bent on protecting their own people. The villain here is the Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart) who's swindling many of the city's poor residents of their money which is hidden in a bale of cotton. Among his accomplices is an Iris (Judy Pace). I'll stop there and just say that there are many witty lines and some funny scenes especially when they concern a dumb white fellow officer named Jarema (Dick Sabol). His scenes with the sexy Ms. Pace are highlights here. Also, Redd Foxx-in a role that anticipates his later TV character Fred Sandford-is Booker Washington Sims a.k.a. Uncle Bud who amusingly tries to sell the bale before attempting taking it back. Also amusing is Helen Martin-later of the TV series "227"-as a church sister. Davis also provides many exciting action set pieces. Does the whole thing make sense? Well, if you think too much about it, no. But it's a whole lot of fun nonetheless. So on that note, Cotton Comes to Harlem comes highly recommended.
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Is It Black Enough for You?
zardoz-1330 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Not only did "Cotton Comes to Harlem" mark the directorial debut of actor & writer Ossie Davis, but also this early blaxploitation epic introduced audiences to a pair of tough-talking, incorruptible New York Police Detectives nicknamed 'Gravedigger' Jones (Godfrey Cambridge of "Watermelon Man") and 'Coffin Ed' Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques of "Cool Breeze") as they contend with a charismatic religious figure whom they suspect may be swindling of his own poor people. The chief difference between "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and a standard white crime movie is the protagonists are African-American. The slang is predominantly African-American, but other minorities participate in the action, primarily the Italian mafia. The protagonists are the usual iconoclastic individuals who have alienated themselves from higher authority with their abrasive behavior. A police captain complains that Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have smart mouths, are quick with their fists, and too fast with their guns. Clearly, as far as the captain is concerned, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed qualify as maniacs who have no business in an investigation that is a powder keg of racial tensions. Their white police lieutenant defends them. He explains that they have a special way of handling Harlem crime and if they suspect somebody of criminal behavior, the lieutenant defers to their judgment. Meantime, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed see their job has protecting "the Black folks from the White folks."

Initially, when we first see the Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart of "Dark of the Sun"), he is in a Rolls Royce, cruising through gritty Harlem streets to a rally for his "Back To Africa" campaign. Gold money car with the silhouette cut-out of a luxury liner displayed prominently on its roof follows. This is the ship Rev. Deke calls 'Black Beauty.' Deke is selling tickets on it at a $100 minimum to take African-Americans back to Africa. Although the white establishment supports Deke, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed suspect Deke is swindling poor blacks out of their hard earned bucks. During the rally, Deke explains that God anointed him while he was in jail to build an ark and take his people back to Africa. While this self-proclaimed Noah assures blacks he can provide them with a better way of life away from racist white America, masked thugs in orange suits armed with submachine gun shoot up the meeting and rifle the safe in Deke's gold-painted armored car. They kill one of Deke's uniformed guards, John (Tony Brubaker of "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off"), and his wife watches him die. The robbers careen off in a meat truck with Deke following them and our heroes in hot pursuit.

During the chase, a bale of raw, unprocessed cotton flies out of the rear of the truck onto the sidewalk. The robbers strafe Gravedigger and Coffin Ed. They collide with a produce wagon transporting watermelons. Eventually, the robber's truck and the armored car crash and burn up. Meanwhile, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed search for Deke. They visit his girlfriend, Iris (Judy Pace of "Three in the Attic"), and question her with luck about Deke's whereabouts. While they are interrogating Iris, Sergeant Jarema (Dick Sabol of "Come Back Charleston Blue") enters and informs them Lieutenant Anderson (Eugene Roche of "The Happening"), wants them at the scene of the accident. They order Jarema stay behind to keep an eye on Iris. Iris taunts Jarema into having sex with her. She makes him wear a brown paper bag. While he is putting on the bag, she escapes. Jarema locks himself out of her apartment, completely naked in the hallway for the other residents to see.

Captain Bryce (John Anderson of "Young Billy Young") reprimands our heroes for suspecting Rev. Deke is a scammer. Later, Bryce complains to Anderson about their behavior. Deke decides to stay out of sight and conduct his own investigation. He convinces the wife of one of his dead guards to let him stay with her. Eventually, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed get Iris to inform on Deke and he goes to jail, but his attorney gets him out. Everybody is looking now for the bale of cotton that contains the stolen $87-thousand. Uncle Budd (Red Foxx) finds the bale and sells it for $25 to Abe Goodman, but Budd buys it back for $30. Eventually, our heroes catch up with Deke and expose him for the swindler that he is.

Director Ossie Davis and television scribe Arnold Pearl penned the screenplay from Chester Himes' novel. Some of the dialogue is very sharp as are the blaxploitation slogans: "Keep it black till I get back." "Is that black enough for you?"Davis dilutes the thrills and chills of the meat truck & armored truck pursuit scene with four smaller scenes within it. These four sub-scenes feature mild comedy, while the primary scene depicts a chase through the streets of New York City. The gunmen in the meat truck riddle the unmarked police car, blast out its window, blow out its headlights, and obliterate the outside rearview mirrors. Oops, the driver's outside rearview reappears after bullets have torn it off the door when our heroes crash into a watermelon wagon.

Several messages pervade this above-average crime thriller about the search for stolen loot. First, the meek shall inherit the Earth. Second, crime doesn't pay and criminals have to pay to ply their criminal vocation. Harlem blacks should control Harlem, not the Italian mafia. Our heroes force the Italian mafia to turn over their Harlem operation to a Black racketeer. Black women can outsmart white men. One black woman is depicted as a 'stone fox,' and she makes a buffoon of a cretinous white police sergeant. The interesting question that arises but is never resolved—and by extension gives "Cotton Comes to Harlem" a surreal quality—concerns the raw, unprocessed bale of cotton. Where did it come from and what is it doing in Harlem? Nobody ever answers this question.
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The granddaddy of all "Blaxploitation" films was pretty good
MartinHafer20 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is a decent and very watchable film--the first so-called "blaxploitation" film. However, this label is hard to apply to this film because although it has many of the sensibilities (stupid White cops as well as gratuitous nudity), it also features some things you never or rarely see in this genre. First, the heroes of this film are Black cops (Coffin and Gravediffer)--and cops are NOT leading men in blaxploitation films! Second, one of the biggest scumbags in the film is a Marcus Garvey-like Black con-man, the Rev. Deke O'Malley. So instead of trying to pigeonhole this film into this genre, I'd rather just judge it by itself.

The film has an excellent R&B score--one of the better ones of the era. The acting by all was very good, though Godfrey Cambridge came off the best of the lot. Direction by veteran actor Ossie Davis was also pretty good.

One serious complaint is that the film doesn't seem to know, at times, whether it's a comedy or drama--I wish it had stuck a little closer to one or the other. The other problem is that while the movie was definitely intended to appeal to Black audiences, it could have resounded well with all audiences if they'd let up a little on the negative attitudes towards Whites--though, back in 1970, I could certainly understand all the anger, resentment and mistrust. Heck, had I been Black back then, I'm pretty sure I would have hated White folks as well. It's too bad really, as because of this most non-Black audiences would miss out on seeing a good film.

By the way, the movie makes a couple references to Marcus Garvey. The Reverend's character was based on him, though Garvey by almost all accounts did not intend to cheat investors in his Black cruise line. Try reading up on the man--he's one of the most interesting yet forgotten civil rights leaders of the 20th century.
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Early blaxploitation which manages to mess up some good material
JoeytheBrit23 July 2007
Ossie Davis's early blaxpoitation pic has clearly been made on a shoestring budget and, despite its excellent source material, fails to deliver a coherent or engaging plot. Probably of more interest as a time capsule of Harlem in the late sixties/early seventies, the plot sees a couple of tough-talking police detectives, Coffin Ed (Godfrey Cambridge)and Gravedigger (Raymond St. Jacques) hunting for a bale of cotton containing $87,000. The money has been swindled from Harlem's poor black people by slick Marthin Luther wannabe Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart). The film is fairly typical of its genre, although it hasn't really nailed down the street smart characters yet (at times it is played like a comedy, which just doesn't sit right with the material): Women get naked and beaten up by the men, and the white characters are either incidental or stupid.
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about the best of the type genre
Rhoelxiel5 February 2002
I agree with those that say this was an entertaining movie. Of the blaxploitation films, this was the more classier. Fine acting from Cambridge, Lockhart, and others. Ossie Davis direction very good.
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