Cotton Comes to Harlem
|Cotton Comes to Harlem|
Theatrical release poster by Robert McGinnis
|Directed by||Ossie Davis|
|Produced by||Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.|
|Written by||Ossie Davis
Chester Himes (Novel)
Raymond St. Jacques
|Music by||Galt MacDermot|
|Editing by||Robert Q. Lovett|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||May 26, 1970|
|Running time||97 minutes|
|Box office||$5.2 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
Cotton Comes to Harlem is a 1970 blaxploitation film co-written and directed by Ossie Davis and starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, and Redd Foxx: it is based on Chester Himes' novel of the same name. The opening theme, "Ain't Now But It's Gonna Be" was written by Ossie Davis and performed by Melba Moore.
Two Harlem detectives are assigned by the NYPD to recover $87,000 of poor black families life savings, which have been stolen in a Back to Africa swindle; the money is concealed in a bale of cotton, which keeps changing hands.
The detectives, Gravedigger Jones (Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (St. Jacques), are two black cops with a reputation for breaking the odd head. Both are annoyed at the success of the charismatic black nationalist leader Reverend Deke O'Malley (Lockhart) who is selling trips back to Africa to the poor on the installment plan. When O'Malley's truck is hijacked at a barbecue and a bale of cotton stuffed with money is lost in the chase, Harlem is turned upside down by Gravedigger and Coffin Ed, the Reverend, and the hijackers.
- 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
- Emily Yancy as Mabel
- John Anderson as Bryce
- Lou Jacobi as Goodman
- Eugene Roche as Anderson
- J.D. Cannon as Calhoun
- Mabel Robinson as Billie
- Dick Sabol as Jarema
- Cleavon Little as Lo Boy
- Theodore Wilson as Barry
The film was one of the many black films that appeared in the 1970s and became an overnight hit. Davis parleyed both humor and drama together and got a film that worked: he also attracted a black audience, which helped make the film a cult classic over the years. It inspired more black films during the '70s, including The Learning Tree and more action-packed numbers like Shaft and Super Fly . The film inspired the sequel Come Back, Charleston Blue, based on original material instead of Chester Himes' works.
Screen debuts 
Davis' film saw four people debut in the film: Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, and Cleavon Little. Lockhart appeared in numerous films and TV shows, sometimes playing tough guy roles. Judy Pace appeared in film and TV, appearing in the TV show The Young Lawyers and the film Frogs, and Cleavon Little made nightclub performances plus films afterwards: the most famous role he did was as Bart in the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles. Another person who debuted was Redd Foxx, and he proved that even a veteran night club star up in age can do movies as well, leading him to be considered for the TV Show Sanford and Son.
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11