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Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

Cast: Max Kleven, Max Kleven, Godfrey Cambridge, more...
Director: Ossie Davis, Ossie Davis
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: MGM
Genre: Action, Cops, Blaxploitation
Running Time: 96 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: Spanish, French
    see additional details...

Ossie Davis makes his directorial debut a smashing success in the trend-setting action crime comedy Cotton Comes To Harlem. Coffin Ed (Raymond St. Jacques) and Grave Digger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge), two plainclothesmen on the Harlem detail, are assigned to investigate the goings-on of suspicious local preacher Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), whose "Back to Africa" political movement turns out to be a scam to bilk the community of their hard-earned cash, with the scam-money hidden in a bale of cotton. ~ Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

"Rush Hour" of the early '70s (and that's not good) by Lastcrackerjack May 4, 2006 - 6:35 PM PDT
Directed by Ossie Davis with a script he adapted with Arnold Perl from the "Harlem Domestic" detective novel by Chester Himes, "Cotton Comes To Harlem" was one of the first studio films with a Black director.

If any other film bares resemblance to this one it would be "Rush Hour", a cop action comedy with two-dimensional characters, wild plot twists and a cartoon style. In one scene, a white cop is talked out of his clothes by the preacher's flame (Judy Pace) and then stumbles after her buck naked down a corridor with a sack over his head. This material would appear an odd choice for Davis, the dignified figure of stage, screen and the civil rights movement.

But like all good detective yarns, Himes uses a lurid, ultimately ridiculous crime to comment on society, poking fun at Black nationalists, White racists and inept cops. He riffs on "The Maltese Falcon" - with the sought after cotton turning out to be worthless - and writes rapid fire exchanges straight from Howard Hawks.

These kinds of multilayered black comedy/crime novels are difficult to adapt to screen (witness Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen's filmography). If the satire is leaned on too heavily, they can play mean or bitter. If the satire is taken out, they can play silly. "Cotton Comes To Harlem" would fall into the latter category.

The movie is hectic, juvenile - Davis seems to enjoy filming characters flying through the air - and doesn't have a brain in its head. All of that would be okay, but Davis is incapable of bringing any real wit or style to the movie.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.20)
5 Votes
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