The Cotton Club


The Cotton Club

Critics Consensus

Energetic and brimming with memorable performers, The Cotton Club entertains with its visual and musical pizazz even as its plot only garners polite applause.



Total Count: 28


Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,216
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Movie Info

There are those who insist that the backstage intrigues which occurred during the production of Cotton Club would make a better film than Cotton Club itself. Essentially, this "dream" project of director Francis Ford Coppola was intended to reflect the passing parade of New York in the 1930s, using Harlem's famed Cotton Club nitery as a metaphor of the era. After innumerable in-progress script changes were made and countless post-production "improvements" were imposed, what emerged was a crazy quilt of varying styles, divergent acting techniques and stop-and-start plotlines. Occasionally, Cotton Club is well up to the standards established by Coppola in his earlier, more successful films. The central character, loosely based on George Raft and played by Richard Gere, is a jazz cornet player at the Cotton Club. Gere saves the life of gangster Dutch Schultz (James Remar), who in gratitude takes Gere under his wing, engaging the young man's services as escort for Schultz's girl friend Diane Lane (guess where this leads?) Meanwhile, Gere's overambitious hoodlum brother Nicolas Cage (playing a character inspired by mobster Mad Dog Coll) kills two innocent children during a mob hit and is forced to go into hiding. Cage holds gangster Frenchy Demarge (Fred Gwynne) as a hostage, but Demarge's safety is negotiated by Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), the mob owner of the Cotton Club (the touching friendship between Demarge and Madden is one of the few subplots to remain intact in the film's release version). Cage is killed, followed in death shortly afterward by Schultz, who is put "on the spot" by Lucky Luciano (Joe Dallesandro). Gere wins a Hollywood movie contract and heads off to Tinseltown with Diane Lane. These plot convolutions tend to diminish the importance of the black characters who work as Cotton Club entertainers. The intriguing fact that blacks were permitted to perform at the club but were denied access as patrons should have been given as much emphasis as Richard Gere's story; instead, we are left with tantalizingly brief snatches of a romance between Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee, and a few scattered musical numbers involving Hines, his brother Maurice, Charles "Honi" Coles, and a staggeringly good Cab Calloway imitator (Larry T. Marshall). Cotton Club tends to leave the viewer feeling as though several vital ingredients are missing from the recipe, but there is still a lot left over to please the ear and eye.


Richard Gere
as Dixie Dwyer
Gregory Hines
as Sandman Williams
Diane Lane
as Vera Cicero
Lonette McKee
as Lila Rose Oliver
James Remar
as Dutch Schultz
Nicolas Cage
as Vincent Dwyer
Allen Garfield
as Abbadabba Berman
Bob Hoskins
as Owney Madden
Fred Gwynne
as Frenchy Demange
Gwen Verdon
as Tish Dwyer
Lisa Jane Persky
as Frances Flegenheimer
Maurice Hines
as Clay Williams
Julian Beck
as Sol Weinstein
Novella Nelson
as Mme. St. Clair
Laurence Fishburne
as Bumpy Rhodes
John P. Ryan
as Joe Flynn
Tom Waits
as Irving Stark
Ron Karabatsos
as Mike Best
Glen Witherow
as Ed Popke
Jennifer Grey
as Patsy Dwyer
Wynonna Smith
as Winnie Williams
Thelma Carpenter
as Norma Williams
Larry Marshall
as Cab Calloway
Joe Dallesandro
as Charles `Lucky' Luciano
Diane Venora
as Gloria Swanson
Tucker Smallwood
as Kid Griffin
Glenn Withrow
as Ed Popke
Ed Rowan
as Messiah
Rony Clanton
as Caspar Holstein
Damien Leake
as Bub Jewett
Bill Cobbs
as Bib Joe Ison
Joe Lynn
as Marcial Flores
Sandra Beall
as Myrtle Fay
Zane Mark
as Duke Ellington
Tom Signorelli
as Butch Murdock
Steve Vignari
as Trigger Mike Coppola
Gregory Rozakis
as Charlie Chaplin
Marc Coppola
as Ted Husing
Bruce Howard
as Bumpy Hood
Robert Earl Jones
as Stage-Door Joe
Vincent Jerosa
as James Cagney
Rosalind Harris
as Fanny Brice
Bruce MacVittie
as Vince Hood
Brian Tarantina
as Vince Hood
George Cantero
as Vince Hood
James Russo
as Vince Hood
Bruce Hubbard
as Bumpy Hood
Ed Zang
as Clerk
Christopher Lewis
as Child in Street
Nicholas J. Giangiulio
as Screen Test Thug
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Critic Reviews for The Cotton Club

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (21) | Rotten (7)

Audience Reviews for The Cotton Club

  • Aug 29, 2011
    I know he wrote it, but one can only wonder how many times they had to tell Francis Ford Coppola that they weren't actually sticking cotton in their mouths. See, a joke like that should tell you that I'm am drained of creative juices and it doesn't help that there's not much that's very outstanding film. It's just kind of bland and not terribly original, making it pretty easy to lose interest in the film. The film also suffers from a lack of development and slow spots. Also, although anthologies feel smoother when we see the stories are split into segments layered on top of each other, whether then whole back-to-back stories, there is still a very real chance that the transition between story segments with kind of throw you off. That's definately the case here, as the messy storytelling makes our jumps between the multiple segments feel rather bumpy. Also, Diane Lane puts on a pretty weak performance and although she's rarely given anything to do, she's not the most enjoyable thing to see, outside of the pretty face, of course. Still, that short leg isn't enough to knock the chair over, because the other performances, keep the film going, among other things. The story is not terribly original nor complex, but still rather compelling and the fabulous production designs really bring everything to life. Coppola really knows how to bring life to this film's period in how he sets the tone and even though you've seen this period explored to death, it's still fascinating to see. What further captures the time are the performances, which - with the exception of Lane, of course - capture the time, but still enough spirit and charisma in them to make the characters strong ones. Wow, this review isn't as bad as I feared. I mean, it's pretty bad, but not as bad as the opening joke promised. I guess I'm just no good at jokes or producing enough sentences to close out a paragraph, leaving me to resort to this stupid monologue to close out this paragraph. Okay, let's just close this thing out. Overall, although the lack of originality and the somewhat messy storytelling keep it from delivering as well as a Coppola gangster film should, "The Cotton Club" holds the fabulous production design and compelling, well-acted ensemble that make a film like this an enjoyable one.
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • May 21, 2011
    Good motion picture, but The Cotton Club presents some cliches of gangsters movies. Whatever, Coppola made a remarkable film.
    Lucas M Super Reviewer
  • Aug 18, 2009
    Another underrated work from Francis Ford Coppola. I feel that this movie's triumphs outnumber its shortcomings, and it is a satisfying experience overall. It gets off to a weak start, and within the first twenty minutes I thought I was in for a tedious watch, but it really finds itself in the second act. The screenplay went through numerous re-writes and alterations during the process of making the film, and that's definitely evident. Nevertheless, it pieces together nicely and aside from some poor dialogue, it's actually a well-written movie. As I have come to expect from Coppola, it is a technically astonishing piece with stunning art direction and some awe-striking film editing.
    Mike T Super Reviewer
  • Mar 07, 2009
    One of my all-time favoritres! (review to be continued)
    Teresa S Super Reviewer

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