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Companion to the pictoral history of The Cotton Club
el1sdf8 July 2003
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
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8/10
All That Jazz
Lechuguilla26 August 2007
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.
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7/10
"That's how they live in this world. Maybe one day you'll wise up, sap"
ackstasis8 May 2009
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.
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One of Francis Coppola's best and underrated films
Ron Broadfoot19 July 2002
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.
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10/10
An absolute classic, the more times you watch it, the more you become mesmerised by it.
sugarmack26 June 2000
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.
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6/10
OK Movie with too much going on and too messy
marbleann27 July 2005
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.
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6/10
What A Mob...What A Show
Bill Slocum15 October 2008
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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10/10
The most underrated movie of all-time!!
mariposa-925 November 1999
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.
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My Kind Of Movie
DPerson62617 June 2003
This is a great movie. I personally don't think the beautiful Diane Lane could be in a bad flick, she would make the worst one good. I was impressed with Richard Geres musical ability as he played his own coronet and sounded as good as anyone I've ever heard. The dancing was superb, the costumes beautiful and the plot authentic. It took me back to the great musicals of the forties and fifties. I was raised in the waning days of the era of this movie, the thirties, and I could almost hear my Dad talking about the evils of the big cities while we listened to the radio news of gangsters and shootouts. I would recommend this movie to anyone. I rate it 10/10.
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9/10
Coppola's gangsters and dancers saga that succeeds on its ambitions, if just by a hair
MisterWhiplash2 May 2007
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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6/10
Lots Of Adjectives To Describe This Movie
ccthemovieman-110 May 2006
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.
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8/10
The Broadway version of 'The Godfather.'
bobsgrock2 December 2009
The Cotton Club is a dazzling, complex film that attempts so much it would be almost impossible for nearly any director to pull it off. But Francis Ford Coppola is not any director, so The Cotton Club is not just any movie. Rather, it succeeds at practically all levels and is certainly a film worth coming back to again and again.

Set in Harlem in the late 1920s, we are introduced to a group of Jazz Age-products, people who see themselves exactly as they are but all hope to go somewhere better. Two story lines occupy the plot; we get a good-looking young musician Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) who gets involved in the mob after falling for one of the gangster's girlfriends (Diane Lane) and we get the story of a very talented black dancer (Gregory Hines) trying to prove his love to a half-black and half-white chorus girl who seems to struggle with her place in this more or less racist society. Almost every night, everyone gathers at The Cotton Club, one of the most famous clubs in the city and the blacks entertain while the whites drink and watch. But Coppola gives us a view from all angles so it doesn't feel as if we are missing anything important.

One of the biggest achievements of this film is its staging of the dance sequences, which are to say the least quite exquisite. Filled with colorful costumes and some mind-boggling tap numbers, at times you may forget that this is also a gangster picture. Indeed, some scenes feel just like Coppola's The Godfather with its quick bursts of violence but also in its tone of sad, elegiac setting. People come and go and some regret the things they do, but the music lives on. The acting is also very strong as Gere and Lane are quite wonderful in their first of three films together. Both were very good-looking and they do bring out the best in each other. Two supporting actors that really do steal the show are Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as a mob boss and his head bodyguard. They share a tenacity and ferociousness in their dealings, but also have one really terrific scene involving Gwynne coming to see Hoskins after being kidnapped. A young Nicolas Cage also shows here he had incredible potential.

This Broadway version of the gangster film so familiar in Hollywood refreshes both genres as we see the similarities between the two. Indeed, many of the participators in the entertainment were also involved in the mob and Coppola shows how the two lives intertwine and bring a lot of trouble to everyone. This may seem as a strange mixing of genres and story lines for some people, but it is well worth the two hours. It is funny, sad, violent, poetic but also enormously entertaining and isn't that what the movies are all about? Coppola seems to think so.
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10/10
As good as Coppola gets.
maestro-458 August 2005
I have seen the Cotton Club countless times on video and on cable and saw it when it first release about 20 yrs ago. The picture always holds up. The combination of story, music and characters is as solid know as when it originally debuted. Because of the problems with the production, especially the problems that Robert Evans the producer was having, the picture was basically dumped, and disappeared. Everyone attached to it seemed to disown it, which is too bad, since it ranks as good as anything Francis Ford Coppola has ever done -- and he has done a lot of the greatest cinema ever made. Most, if not all of Cotton Club was done on sound stages, but Coppola makes the whole thing believable and he ties several stories together at once: Richard Gere and Diane Lane; and Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee. With the great music, the original stuff by Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington etc., neatly held together with new stuff by John Barry, The Cotton Club is a genuine musical, that, for my money, is more effective than Chicago, that Gere would star in more than 20 years later. If you have the chance, catch The Cotton Club on DVD or on cable. You will not be disappointed, and, if you are like me, you will rank this film as a worthy cousin to Mr. Coppola's masterworks, The Godfather I & II, and The Conversation.
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10/10
Fascinating picturesque and passionate drama
lyolya4 May 2001
This is one of THE BEST movies ever!!!! I've seen it again tonight for the....teenth time andjust can't stop the shivers it sends down my spine every time I watch it.... It is so saturated with PASSION and tragedy, and yet comes to a happy end! The characters in it are somewhat schematic, but that's just what the director needed to do to depict the 20s-30s ERA.... Pure magic created by great actors Diane Lane and Richard Gere, and others won't leave anybody indifferent! What a great show!
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1/10
Waste, waste, waste
tomdb28 July 2005
Just saw this on DVD. Unbelievably bad, and what a wasted opportunity. Visually it's gorgeous, but the script should have been burned--continuity problems, pacing problems, credibility problems, laughably bad dialog, no characters you care about in the least, it's hard to imagine that a great novelist like William Kennedy and Mario Puzo and Coppola himself were all writers on it and it turned out this bad (maybe that was the problem--too many cooks). What's particularly tragic, in no particular order, is not only the waste of the visuals, but an unbelievable cast (more depth in a cast than 95% of the films I've ever seen), though the leads, except Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne, are weak (Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Gregory Hines, Loretta McKee, et al were all to see better days--and James Remar is just scene-chewing bizarre as Dutch Schultz), and a really compelling real-life story, setting, and cast of real-life characters. I guess it's worth watching for the spectacle of seeing a film with that much going for it still go horribly wrong, but it's a pretty agonizing experience. I've heard this one has become more appreciated over time--that doesn't bode well for the evolution of the human race. Me, I watched it, and it was easy to see how this one caused Coppola to go bankrupt.
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4/10
Skip the movie, get the soundtrack!
d-millhoff2 December 2007
Coppola is more a visionary than a storyteller. Many of his movies are great to look at and listen to, but the narrative often falls flat.

The Cotton Club exemplifies this point - lots of atmosphere, an abundance of acting and musical talent, and a little history for those too young to appreciate the Harlem Renaissance or prohibition-era segregation in the big city. But what little story there is, lacks coherency and is hard to follow.

We get to see some dead-on re-enactments of young Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, and the Duke Ellington Band at their primes in pristine high fidelity, and fine performances from the late Gregory Hines and Fred Gwynne, but there just isn't enough story to connect the dots.

If you're going to watch The Cotton Club, watch it for the musical numbers and don't set your expectations too high for anything more.

Or, better yet, just skip the DVD and just get the STUNNING soundtrack on CD.
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6/10
Maffia story of 20s-30s in USA
esteban17472 July 2002
This film is like an illustration of what happened in important American towns by the end of 20s and during the 30s, particularly in Harlem. The film has a very good cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Larry Fishburne, Bob Hoskins and Nicolas Cage among others. Each played his/her role in a very acceptable way. It was funny to see how Hoskins as a maffia boss volunteer to get in prison for a while in order to be out of any attempt. Cage shows the classic ill and sadic person, who thinks that all problems can be solved killing. Gere represented the pragmatic musician, able to deal with maffia but to love a lady until she will correspond him. The film shows a mosaic of different behaviors and intentions in very logic sequences, simply another good job of Coppola.
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Use the fast-forward button.
Craig-8822 October 1999
The best way to see this film is to scan through it at great speed. Stop and watch the dancing, Lonette McKee's singing and, especially, any scene with Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne. They make a *wonderful* team and the Watch scene is one of the finest, most concise scenes of friendship in any movie.

Gwynne, in particular, is impressive. Early on, he stands by quietly as Hoskins runs a gangster's peace meeting. Hoskins warns the participants to cool off or "you'll have to deal with me!" And Gwynne very quietly adds, "And me."... and the audience I saw it with went, "Whooaaa...!" The man conveyed incredible menace with two soft words. It wasn't until nearly half-way through the movie that some half-wit in the audience yelled out, "Hey. That's Herman Munster!"

Gwynne and Hoskins play their gangsters as funny, pragmatic and highly lethal men. They are far better than anything that surrounds them in this movie.
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A bold attempt to capture a fascinating era
Jason-3825 February 1999
As a New Yorker who happens to be steeped in the lore of New York in the prohibition era, this film represents a bold attempt to capture the dynamics of the period. At times it succeeds. At other times it falls way short of the mark.

What I really admire is the fact that it deals with racial and ethnic friction honestly. The racial slurs in the dialog were part of the reality of that time. Relations between blacks and whites are not idealized. Richard Gere and Gregory Hines are neighbors and acquaintances, but are not portrayed as close friends. When Gregory Hines prevents Dutch Schultz (James Remar in a vivid characterization) from killing Richard Gere, he does it out of basic decency. Mercifully, there are none of the sentimental relationships between blacks and whites that seem so patently false in other films.

Gangland New York during the prohibition era has rarely been portrayed accurately. A worst case example was a 1991 disaster called Mobsters (a.k.a. "Young Tommy Guns"). The Cotton Club deals with real life chracters like Owney Madden (has he ever been portrayed in another film under his real name?), Big Frenchy DeMange, Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer, a Vincent Coll standin, Charlie ""Lucky" Luciano, "Trigger" Mike Coppola, and (at least in an early shooting script) Jack "Legs" Diamond. Richard Gere's character was loosely based on George Raft.

They were fascinating characters. At times, The Cotton Club tries to play fair with them. It almost succeeds.

On the whole, this should have been a better film. Personally, I would have preferred a film that focused on the real life gangsters with the music simply as background. The attempt to elevate the black characters to a position of equal importance in the narrative is the flaw that undoes the film. It's difficult to follow characters who have no power and little chance of gaining it. Obviously, that is not politically correct. However, I prefer for historical films to deal with life the way it really was, rather than the way some people think that it should have been.

All in all, an interesting and honorable failure.
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A great movie
Bucs196026 October 2001
I am so tired of people bashing this film. It has everything to recommend it....drama, passion, music and shoot 'em up action. The cast of characters is simply perfect. Diane Lane is gorgeous, Gere is very good, James Remar will chill your blood and Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne are particularly entertaining. The dancing of the Hines brothers can't be beat and the actor who plays Cab Calloway is right on target. Sure it's long and there are parts that drag a bit but that is secondary to the overall beauty of this film. I would highly recommend "Cotton Club" to anyone who loves movies.
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9/10
Evocative, graphic and a soundtrack that sets the pace.
kaibab129 March 2001
A chain of sketches that portray a popular image of The Jazz Age in New York. Phenomenal cinematography, casting, choreography and a soundtrack that is a tribute to Ellington. Not a linear story but a series of steps (reproduced metaphorically in the explosive tap dancing of the Nicholas Brothers as portrayed by the Hines bros.) that build a staircase to nostalgia. Gets better with each viewing.
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2/10
Will The Dull White Leads Please Sit Down?
LeslieHell6 May 2005
Except for the amusing banter between Fred Gwynne and Bob Hoskins, the Caucasian characters in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" just get in the way. The will-they-won't-they romance between Richard Gere and Diane Lane doesn't mean a thing to us; we don't care if they end up with each other or not.

The scenes inside the club are really exciting, though. You never want to leave. Gregory Hines' dancing is the kind you could watch for hours. But the best scene in "Cotton Club" is when the gorgeous Lonette McKee takes the stage to sing a stunning version of "Ill Wind." She is as beautiful as young Lena Horne, a feast for the eyes and ears. The director was wise not to place this number too early in the film because the movie never recovers afterward. Not that there was a lot to recover.

Nick Cage is in there somewhere, so is Laurence Fishburne. Joe Dallisandro makes a cameo at the end as a gangster. All he does is sit there, but he was still handsome then and eye-candy was just about all the white leads offer in "Cotton Club."

One of these days a director is going to make a movie about the New York City of the twenties or early thirties that will have vitality and wit, peopled with the legendary theatrical characters of that era (Tallulah, Robert Benchley, the Barrymores for example). Not like the one from Alan Rudolph about Dorothy Parker; Jennifer Jason Leigh and Campbell Scott tried hard to save that one but the director was all over the place as usual doing his poor Robert Altman impression.
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10/10
good movie
georgette29 March 2001
good movie, violent, but good. Coppola is such a good director. Tap, jazz, and richard gere in a three piece suit- what's better than that?
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