Cotton Comes to Harlem Reviews
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!"
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.
Great stuff, recommended.
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.
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