USA, 1970, 97 min, Digital, Dir. Ossie Davis, Rated R, English, Park Circus
"Cotton Comes to Harlem kicks things into high gear from the start..." –Budd Wilkins, Slant
“Before Shaft, before Bad Boys, there was Cotton Comes to Harlem…which laid the blueprint for the buddy cop comedy that exploded in the ‘80s.” –Mike Vanderbilt, Daily Grindhouse
This film is part of Strong Black Leads, a celebration of talented filmmakers and performers who, despite the odds, have made remarkable contributions to cinema through their respective crafts.
Adapted from Chester Himes’ novel of the same name, Cotton Comes to Harlem is a hard-boiled neo-noir with a nearly all-Black cast. Raymond St. Jacques and the underrated Godfrey Cambridge head the cast as Himes’ detectives “Coffin” Ed Johnson and “Gravedigger” Jones. The plot revolves around the robbery of $87,000 from a back-to-Africa scheme, and the whereabouts of the movie’s MacGuffin, a wayward bale of cotton from which the story takes its title.
In following the trajectory of the contraband cotton bale, Davis finds opportunity to comment on the black experience. From its origins in Mississippi, its migration North, and as it changes hands, the cotton bale is both a reminder of American history and a symbol of American opportunity.
Considered by many to be the first movie of the Soul Cinema era, Cotton Comes to Harlem avoids succumbing to the more exploitative aspects of the genre. It’s mostly just a rollicking good time with pleasures to be found in the clothes, attitude, and morals of a bygone era. Keep an eye out for early performances from Clevon Little and comedian Redd Foxx. –MGM Blog–
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