Harlem Nights

Release Date:  11/17/1989
Genre:   Drama/Comedy
Rating:  R
Director:  Eddie Murphy
Studio(s):  Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures
Running Time:  116 mins.

Cast:  Eddie Murphy (Vernest “Quick” Brown), Richard Pryor (Sugar Ray), Redd Foxx (Bennie Wilson), Della Reese (Madame Vera Walker), Danny Aiello (Phil Cantone), Michael Lerner (Bugsy Calhoune), Berlinda Tolbert (Annie), Stan Shaw (Jack Jenkins), Jasmine Guy (Dominique La Rue), Lela Rochon (Sunshine), Thomas Mikal Ford (Tommy Smalls), Vic Polizos (Richie Vento), David Marciano (Tony), Arsenio Hall (Reggie), Charlie Murphy (Jimmy), Robin Harris (Romeo), Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. (Man with Broken Nose).

Details:  Harlem Nights was written, executive produced, and directed by Eddie Murphy.  Murphy co-stars with Richard Pryor as a team running a nightclub in late-1930s Harlem while contending with gangsters and corrupt police officials. The film also features Redd Foxx in his last film before his death in 1991.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Story:  In 1918, small-time hustler Sugar Ray takes in seven-year-old orphan and errand boy Vernest Brown, who he nicknames “Quick” after the boy saves his life. Twenty years later, Ray and Quick, now wealthy gangsters, run a Harlem nightclub called Club Sugar Ray, with gambling and dancing in the front, and a brothel in the back that’s run by Ray’s old friend Madame Vera.

A white gangster by the name of Bugsy Calhoune, sends a corrupt detective to threaten Ray with having the Club shut down unless Colhoune gets a cut of the profits. Ray decides to shut down rather than pay, but makes sure his friends and workers are taken care of.  After Ray and Quick steal bets made by Calhoune’s friends and associates on an upcoming boxing match, Calhoune sends his mistress, Dominique LaRue, to seduce and kill Quick but Quick turns the tables and kills LaRue with a gun he had hidden under his pillow.

The championship fight begins. With Calhoune’s gang distracted, Ray’s men seize the opportunity to blow up Calhoune’s “Pitty Pat Club”. Vera, seemingly angry with Ray over a business dispute, visits Calhoune and tells him where to find Ray and Quick. Calhoune and his men go to Ray’s hideout, but they unknowingly trigger hidden explosives that kill them all.  Ray and Quick take one last look at Harlem, knowing they can never return and that there will never be another city like it. Despite this, the two, along with their associates leave for an unknown location as the credits roll.

Notes:  Harlem Nights was Eddie Murphy’s brother Charlie first film role.  The part of Dominique La Rue, played by Jasmine Guy, was originally cast with actress Michael Michele. Michele was fired during production because, according to Murphy, she “wasn’t working out”. Michele sued Murphy, saying that in reality she was fired for rejecting Murphy’s romantic advances. Murphy denied the charge, and the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. 

Source(s):  IMDB; Wikipedia.  Photos/Gifs Source:  daarac.org.


Cotton Comes To Harlem

Original Release Date: 5/27/1970
Genre:  Action
Rating:  R
Director:  Ossie Davis
Studio(s):  Formosa Productions, United Artists
Running Time:  97 mins.

Godfrey Cambridge as Gravedigger Jones
Raymond St. Jacques as Coffin Ed Johnson
Calvin Lockhart as Deke O’Malley
Judy Pace as Iris Brown
Redd Foxx as Uncle Budd/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
Leonardo Cimino as Tom

Details:  Two black police detectives suspect a preacher’s “Back to Africa” movement is a scam.  The film is based on Chester Himes’ novel of the same name.  It was followed two years later by the sequel Come Back, Charleston Blue.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Story:  Cotton Comes to Harlem opens with a Back-to-Africa rally, led by the charismatic conman Reverend Deke O’Malley. O’Malley persuades hardworking families to pay $1,000 for the chance to return to Africa and escape white oppression. Deke raises $87,000, but before he can pocket the money, a group of masked white men hijack the money and flee the scene in a meat truck.  O’Malley follows in an armored car, himself pursued by black police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.  During the pursuit, a bale of cotton, in which the hijackers hid the money, falls off the back of the truck and disappears onto the streets of Harlem. A junkman named Uncle Bud finds the cotton and stacks it onto his cart.

Back-to-the-Southland opens its headquarters in Harlem.  The business is run by Colonel Calhoun, a Southerner who wants to convince black people to return to the South and pick cotton. Calhoun believes blacks need the steadying hand and guidance of whites to show them the way.  The headquarters advertises for a bale of cotton as Calhoun was behind the theft of the money during the rally.

Grave Digger and Ed take on the case.  Unaware of the missing bale of cotton or its significance, the detectives pursue Deke, who is in hiding, suspecting that he may have staged the hijacking to take off with the $87,000.  They pursue leads that might led them to either the conman or the missing money with the help of “pigeons” (police informants), prostitutes, drug runners, and conmen.  

Eventually the cotton ends up with Billie, an exotic dancer who intends to use it as a prop in her show. As she begins her act in Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Calhoun in blackface and O’Malley appear onstage in an effort to get to the cotton and the money. In doing so, the two are exposed and arrested by Coffin Ed and Grave Digger.

The detectives subsequently coerce a Mafia Don to compensate O’Malley’s disgruntled congregation for the elusive $87,000.  Grave Digger and Coffin Ed learn that Uncle Bud absconded to Africa with the money, where he is enjoying a new lifestyle.

Notes:  Cotton Comes to Harlem saw the film debut of Judy Pace, and Cleavon Little. It was also the credited debut of Redd Foxx, who was already well-known as a veteran night club comic, leading him to be considered for the TV Show Sanford and Son. Cambridge also starred as a white man who turns black in the motion picture comedy Watermelon Man, which opened the same day as Cotton Comes to Harlem.  The film’s inspirational opening theme song, “Ain’t Now But It’s Gonna Be,” was written by Ossie Davis and performed by Melba Moore.  Source(s):  supersummary.com; tcm.com; blaxploitationpl.blogspot; daarac.org.  Photo Sources/gifs:  IMDB; daarac.org; tumbler; youtube.