Cotton Comes to Harlem

Cotton Comes to Harlem

DVD - 2001
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St. Jacques is Coffin Ed Johnson and Cambridge is Gravedigger Jones, black cops who suspect preacher Lockhart's back-to-Africa campaign is a swindle. Neatly combines action and comedy.

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Its been said that this film was the start of the Blaxploitation era of films in the 1970's. But in my opinion it stands on its own as an entertaining action crime movie. It's ostensibly a buddy cop story but its also populated by a wide cast of characters and filled with humor. There's alot of shoot-em-ups and a number of violent scenes but it's far more subdued than later films like "Black Caesar" and it's sequel "Hell Up In Harlem" (the companion DVD in this set) and early Pam Grier vehicles like "Coffy" and it's almost identical follow-up "Foxy Brown" (Coffy is the better - if not as well known IMHO).

Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. James star as New York City detectives Grave Digger and Coffin Ed who end up investigating the theft of $87,000 from preacher Deke O'Malley (well played by Calvin Lockhart). In fact there are a number of other soon-to-be famous black actors like Redd Foxx and Cleavon Little alongside veteran white character actors Eugene Roche and John Anderson as the pair's often exasperated fellow NYC department compatriots. There are also a lot of uncredited cameos by other black actors. One night scene driving down a street passes by a theater showing the Robert Downy, Sr. satire Putney Swope in a tongue in cheek nod.

And it is all helmed (and co-written) by the always dependable Ossie Davis. The pacing is good, the story is clever and there's a nice twist to the plot at the end. If I had any gripes about this particular DVD it is that it's not in wide screen (or, at least, the wide screen of 1970) so that the cinematography isn't quite as enjoyable. But that's just me.

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