The Cotton Club (1984)
Combining electric song and dance performances with drama (both on and off screen), Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984) looks back to the 1920s-1930s peak of the legendary Harlem nightclub where only blacks performed and only whites could sit in the audience. Mixing historical figures with characters loosely based on actual people, Coppola and co-writers William Kennedy and The Godfather's Mario Puzo create a panorama of love, crime, and entertainment centered on the Club. Among them are cornet player Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere, playing his own solos), who escapes psycho gangster "benefactor" Dutch Schultz (James Remar) for a George Raft-type Hollywood career as a gangster film star; Schultz's nubile mistress Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), who loves Dixie against her mercenary instincts; Cotton Club Mob owner Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) and close associate Frenchy Demarge (Fred Gwynne); Vincent (Nicolas Cage), Dixie's no-good Mad Dog Coll-esque brother; Club tap star Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), who woos ambitious light-skinned Club singer Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee); and cameos by Charles "Honi" Coles and Cab Calloway impersonator Larry Marshall. Complementing the period story, Coppola evokes the style of '30s gangster movies and musicals through an array of old-fashioned devices like montages of headlines, songs and shoot-outs. Conceived by producer Robert Evans as his crowning achievement and directorial debut, Evans had to hand over the troubled production to Coppola, but the budget spiraled out of control as the script was repeatedly re-written throughout the chaotic shoot. By the time it was released, The Cotton Club's epic production story of power struggles, financial bloat, and even a murder overshadowed the "reunion" of The Godfather's creative team. Neither a Heaven's Gate-sized failure nor a wallet-saving hit like Coppola's Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club got some favorable critical notices (although it drew fire for subordinating the African American stories). It did not, however, find a large enough audience to justify its expense and controversy, becoming another mark against 1970s "auteur" cinema in increasingly blockbuster-driven 1980s Hollywood. … More
No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.Login
Critic Reviews for The Cotton Club
Given its garish production history, one rather expected The Cotton Club to sing with hot-jazz desperation. Instead, we get the mediocre craftsmanship of a pit band in Vegas.
It was the most assured film Coppola had made in a decade, full of casual wit and visual invention.
Whatever it took to do it, Coppola has extracted a very special film out of the checkered history of this project.
Sharply uneven, Coppola's period musical about he famous Harlem club is lavishly produced but shallow.
This musical gangster movie is a tour de force, even if a little muddled.
Lavish, interesting, evocative but strained and self-conscious, Cotton Club is all watchable curiosity.
Energetic and involving.
Coppola's most shamefully underrated movie.
Ambitious, but like many post-Apocalypse Coppola films, it doesn't quite hit the mark.
There're always something and someone interesting just around the corner; and, if Coppola seems to have difficulty with the story's narrative line, he does manage to help the audience keep straight the huge cast of characters.
Coppola's claustrophobic fall from Eden is both fascinating and beautiful to watch.
There are lots of good ideas, but none of them are really worked out or honed
Audience Reviews for The Cotton Club
Good motion picture, but The Cotton Club presents some cliches of gangsters movies. Whatever, Coppola made a remarkable film.More
While not the Godfather (and what is really...besides Godfather 2, but I digress)
The Cotton Club is a great entertaining little movie. All controversy about it's making aside Coppola and Evans managed to craft a thoroughly entertaining film with several great scenes and mostly solid performances (I'm looking at you Nic Cage and James Remar). I can say however, that this is hands down, the single best tap dancing gangster film ever made.
Period gangster drama set around a nightclub in the 20s that's a little lacking in substance.More
The main reason why I watched this was that I worked on a stage show starring Maurice Hines and he mentioned this as a highlight of his and his brother's career. Most of the song and dance numbers don't advance the plot, which weakens the story overall. However, it is too bad that this lost so much money upon release because, separately, the musical numbers and the plot about crime and fame have such good production values. Gregory and Maurice Hines play tap dancing brothers based on their own relationship and performing styles. Gregory's character goes solo at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, which was only open to white audiences. His character falls for a woman of mixed race. Otherwise, Coppola and whoever really deserves credit for writing don't seem to know how to develop the black characters. They are still pushed to the background. Bob Hoskins and James Remar play real life gangsters, Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz, respectively. Richard Gere and Nicolas Cage play a pair of brothers, as well. And each of them is loosely based on a real person, though not a real pair of brothers. Gere, who is really playing the trumpet on the soundtrack, plays the character Dixie Dwyer, who is likely a version of the 30s and 40s actor George Raft. The award nominated editing and art direction are eye catching. Coppola does generally direct a team that can visually quote other classic films of the genre and the era. But mainly, because of the ensemble cast, and actors playing celebrities in cameo roles, this deserves another look.More
Discuss The Cotton Club on our Movie forum!