Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are police detectives the black community can trust. They do right by the people and they do it in their own style. When Reverend Deke O'Malley comes to Harlem with his "Back To Africa" rally they know something is up, and they're going to do something about it.

1970's Cotton Comes To Harlem was directed by veteran stage and screen actor turned first time director Ossie Davis (Do The Right Thing, Bubba Ho-Tep). It stars Godfrey Cambridge (well known for his stand up comedy of the 60s) and Raymond St. Jacques as Gravedigger and Coffin Ed. They are supported by Calvin Lockhart as O'malley, Judy Pace and Redd Foxx (Sanford and Son).

O'Malley holds rallies in the major cities of the country to bring the poor back to Africa on his ocean liner Black Beauty. The down payment for each ticket is $100, and he stashes the cash in a cotton bail. After a shoot out at the rally/BBQ the bail of cotton goes missing, containing $87,000. The rest of the movie follows the swindling crook chasing the cotton, the detectives chasing the crook and a whole bunch of other people chasing them for various reasons.

For Ossie Davis' directorial debut he does a serviceable job. He doesn't do anything he can't handle and has a good sense of how to fit in a useful amount of comedy with the action and drama without it becoming distracting. There is everything from shootouts, to pies in the face and somehow it all fits... or at least we don't care if it doesn't. The acting is spotty, which is nothing new for movies such as this.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it is just too long. Nothing new happens during the entire 97 minute duration after the story is set up. We know what is going on, and anyone with half a brain can figure out what will happen. The writing needed a bit more inspiration it seems. It lacks much of the hip factor and sexiness that better blaxploitation movies are known for. Luckily we get enough entertaining parts to keep us interested enough to finish.


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