Cotton Comes to Harlem - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Cotton Comes to Harlem Reviews

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May 4, 2016
A very different but strong angle on the typical Blaxploitation flick. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I haven't seen a lot of Ossie Davis' work, either directing (which he does here) or acting (besides 'Bubba Ho-Tep' from late in his career), but it makes me want to check out a lot more. Well worth your trouble to find, worth buying and rewatching, in fact.
½ January 9, 2016
When folks talk about the groundbreaking blaxploitation films, "Shaft" and "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" are usually the main films mentioned. This film is rarely mentioned, even tough it came out the previous year and stars a pair of black actors as cops and was directed by Ossie Davis. This adaptation of a Chester Himes novel is an extremely effective blend of action and comedy. Well worth a look for fans of the genre.
½ August 17, 2015
Very entertaining.. must see...
½ July 8, 2015
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.
½ February 8, 2015
That this film continues to attract an audience all these years later is not surprising. The story it tells is as relevant today as it was back in 1970 and today perhaps has the ability to reach a broader audience in a way, one that can see the levels of nuance and hypocrisy found in the plot.
½ June 26, 2014
Part preacher, part undertaker, and park God.

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two black cops who patrol the streets as well as do the detective work in Harlem. A new reverend, Deke O'Malley, comes to town and makes everyone believe he has Jesus on his side and freedom in his words. The detectives track down some recent string of crimes and all signs point to the reverend being corrupt. Can the cops prove the reverend is the root of all evil and not a savior?

"I'm really sick of looking at you. You're really one ugly child."

Ossie Davis, director of Kongi's Harvest, Black Girl, Gordon's War, Cool Red, and Crown Dick, delivers Cotton comes to Harlem. The storyline for this picture is below average and a bit disappointing. This is a relaxed cop drama where everything is straightforward and fits together perfectly (with some funny scenes here and there). The acting is just okay and the cast includes Godfrey Cambridge, Calvin Lockhart, Redd Foxx, John Anderson, Eugene Roche, and Cleavon Little.

"Black people need hope like everyone else."

I grabbed this off Neflix recently because I am a fan of blaxploitation cinema. This was not one of the better films in the genre. I felt everything was too straightforward and the detectives were a bit cliché. There were some good lines; but overall, this is very average.

"Don't you step on my ribs!"

Grade: C
April 13, 2014
The first Blaxploitation film directed by a black filmmaker. Redd Foxx gave a wonderful performance and the film performed well across the board.
½ March 12, 2014
A better than most early Blaxploitation flick that is really quite funny in places and the two leads are good fun, but the film grows a little tiresome and I found myself caring less and less as it went along. Fans of this type of thing should give it a go.
April 27, 2013
Terrific crime film featuring Chester Himes famous detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Ossie Davis directed this film that has a perfect blend of action, humor and some smart political undertones. Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques play the detective pair and dominate the scenes they're in, but the film also features a cast of many familiar faces (even if you don't recognize their names), including Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little, Helen Martin, Leonardo Cimino, John Anderson and Eugene Roche. Though often pigeonholed as a blaxploitation film, I feel this film deserves to be considered outside of that context because although it does feature a nearly all black cast and has some other trappings of the sub-genre, it is smart enough of a film that
October 15, 2012
Thoroughly enjoyable detective tale that reaffirms my love for Godfrey Cambridge as he and Raymond St. Jacques investigate a shifty ghetto preacher. The film is great in that it easily establishes their reputation as figures in the community and feels like it could be the second or third film in a series rather than an initial outing, the characterization and storytelling is just that strong.

Great stuff, recommended.
½ August 11, 2012
Lots of humor, good action & story. High definition makes it enjoyable too.
½ January 17, 2012
One of the first Blaxploitation films to make it big, based upon Chester Himes' 1965 novel, the 6th in a series of Harlem Detective books, and co-written and directed for film by Ossie Davis, (best known as John F. Kennedy in Bubba Ho-tep (2002)), this is a down and dirty cop movie but with a black streak of humour throughout. Two New York detectives, Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) are on the tail of a huge bale of cotton, filled with $87,000 of the life savings of poor black families. The detectives go looking for this bale of cotton but it always seems to be one step ahead of them, and it brings trouble wherever it goes. While investigating, they keep coming across black nationalist leader Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), who had planned to use the $87,000 to help some of the poor families reunite with distant relatives in Africa. But, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed don't have a softly-softly approach to solving crime, and they don't trust the Reverend one bit either, as he has an agenda of his own. A very ambitious film for it's time, combining urban humour with the gritty hardships of the ghetto of Harlem, but it has some memorable moments and some good action too. A sequel followed 2 years later, but that's rarer than hen's teeth sadly.
½ November 22, 2011
It gets points for comedy and for being a forerunner to the many blaxploitation films to follow, but otherwise it's just silly.
½ November 19, 2011
Some good moments in this really early Blaxpoitation film.
March 31, 2011
Early black action directed by Ossie Davis. Fast, funny and has Redd Foxx in a small role.
December 17, 2010
Fantastic location shooting in Harlem adds realism to the exploits of detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed in one of the first blaxploitation films made (pre-Shaft).
Super Reviewer
½ November 3, 2010
Although often considered a forerunner of "blaxploitation", I wouldn't disagree with you if you called this a full on blaxploitation film. Stylistically it doesn't fit, but it is an almost exclusively black cast, black crew, and deals with black themes, so therefore, it is related. However, this isn't some campy stereotypical film that more than likely hinders black progress instead of helps it.

Instead, this is a hilarious film that is many things: comedy, crime film, satire, and buddy picture. There is tons of humor here, and, while I wasn't laughing all the time, it is quite funny. Most of the humor is of the slapstick vartiety, but some of it comes from wordplay, visuals, and situations, which can sometimes be dry in natiure.

This is the story of two unconventional detectives who try to catch a man who is pushing a "back to Africa" trip. In reality, that man is a fake, a huxster, and the two detectives have to try to catch hi and show the world who he really iis.

It surprised me that Ossie Davis directed this, because I didn't expect this type of film from hi based on my knowledge of his latter day resume. This is a great film though, It is quite funny, and fillled with substance and subtext, It's not overly preachy, but it's pretty obvious that this film has a message and isn't devoid of something more meaningful.

This isn't a campy blaxploitation film. In watching it though, one can see that this represents a high water mark for black films made for black people by black people. The only thing it really exploits is stuff that black people want to see. The subject matter is funny, and a bit surreal, because really, who thinks of cotton when they think of Harlem? It's an integral part of the film however, so it is necessary.

No matter who you are, there is bound to be something in here for everyone. This is a great film, and a true lost classic. Bravo Ossie, bravo.
½ October 25, 2010
Comedy comes to Harlem, this black crime comedy is not always obvious comedy. A back to Africa movement (historically there was indeed such a movement led by DuBois), urged black U.S. citizens to leave America and go back to Africa.

Let's start with some "recent" entertainment history.

First, lead actor Godfrey Cambridge was a popular stand up comedian who appeared several times on The Ed Sullivan Show during the 1960's. He stars as a serious detective with his partner to stop a scam on black New York city residents.

Second, Red Foxx, another comedian who achieved rave status with black audiences in the 1950's, recording several comedy records that were filled with sexual humor and abhored by white America. Foxx, a junk dealer, appears occasionally through the film dealing in, of all things, a bale of cotton. Hence the title: Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Mildly entertaining today, the movie was a sensation in the early 1970's as a respectable alternative to white society films. This is a good sample of what the races were shown during the day. Hollywood was willing to exploit anything it could and it surely made its mark in this sublime comedy.

In 1971, the pre-eminent answer to white hero worship was the biggest and most memorable character "Shaft".

Godfrey Cambridge as Gravedigger Jones
Raymond St. Jacques as Coffin Ed Johnson
Calvin Lockhart as Reverend Deke O'Malley
Judy Pace as Iris
Redd Foxx as Uncle Bud / Booker Washington Sims (junk dealer)
Emily Yancy as Mabel
John Anderson as Bryce
Lou Jacobi as Goodman

Directed by Ossie Davis
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr.
Written by Ossie Davis
Chester Himes (Novel)
Cinematography Gerald Hirschfeld
Editing by Robert Q. Lovett

Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) May 26, 1970
Running time 97 mins
October 5, 2010
Pre-dating SHAFT by a year, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM may be considered the real start of the blaxploitation genre; in any case, it actually outclasses SHAFT in nearly every way. The late, great Godfrey Cambridge stars, as detective Gravedigger Jones, alongside Raymond St. Jacques as his partner Coffin Ed Johnson. Cambridge and St. Jacques have a great rapport together; Gravedigger is cool, level-headed, and witty, while Coffin Ed is harsh and righteous, caring less about the fact that money was stolen than the fact that it was stolen from the poverty-stricken residents of Harlem. Cambridge is ideal in Gravedigger's witty moments, but the real delight, for Cambridge fans, is in seeing how smoothly he fits into the mechanics of a police procedural; his range is demonstrated well here, driving home the tragedy of his brief career. St. Jacques walks a fine line between hardass and parody, but never loses his balance; together, they make one of the best cop-partner teams I've ever seen. Calvin Lockhart does quite well as Deke O'Malley, the slick, charismatic leader of a "Back to Africa" movement; the gorgeous Judy Pace has a magnetically vicious energy as his suspicious lover. An added treat is Redd Foxx's small role as a good-natured bum, who stumbles upon the titular bale of cotton; he has a great scene with a junkdealer (Lou Jacobi) where they haggle over the cotton's price, and the final gag, involving him, is delightful. Cleavon Little, of BLAZING SADDLES fame, has an interesting cameo as a drug-addicted conman. Ossie Davis' direction is sharp and witty, overcoming the occasional convolutions of the script (co-written by him with Arnold Perl). The action scenes are thrilling, and the portrait of 70s Harlem is vivid, aided greatly by Gerald Hirschfeld's photography; Galt MacDermot's score is quite good as well. The plot, as noted, is a bit muddled at times, but one's attention is more than held throughout. An overlooked classic, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM isn't just perfect for blaxploitation fans, but also for fans of police dramas.
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