One of the most influential Soul Cinema pix ever to shoot onto the screen, Cotton Comes To Harlem spawned the Blaxploitation boom by delivering a "refreshingly different detective action yarn with soul and humor" (Cue) and an unbeatable mix of "humor and excitement!" (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner). Detectives "Gravedigger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and "Coffin Ed" Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) are on a case investigating a crooked Reverend (Calvin Lockhart) - a brother whose "Back to Africa" campaign is nothing more than a big scam. But when $87,000 of the Reverend s laundered cash gets stashed in a bail of cotton, Gravedigger and Coffin find they're not the only dudes suddenly interested in soaring cotton prices as they come up against the mafia, the police, black militants and street thugs in an all-out dash to nab $87,000 cash. One of the handful of films directed by acting great Ossie Davis (Gordon s War) with a top-notch supporting cast that includes Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little, J.D. Cannon, John Anderson and Eugene Roche.
You can consider me a giant fan of exploitation films. Everything from biker-sploitation to nun-sploitation, I must get my hands on all of these types of films. One genre that is particularly close to my heart are blaxploitation films. These collections of films were a major part of the 70s and were made particularly for an urban audience, however due to the highly entertaining actors and story lines, people of every color and race grew to enjoy these thrilling movies. Everything from 'Shaft' to 'Cleopatra Jones' to some of the horror films of 'Blacula' and 'Blackenstein', these movies helped shape a sub genre of movies that is still enjoyed today.
One of the first blaxploitation films from 1970 was called 'Cotton Comes to Harlem' and was written and directed by Ossie Davis. His name sounds familiar right? The late Ossie Davis was seen as the kind old black man who ran the bait and tackle shop in 'Grumpy Old Men' as well as the actor who played opposite Bruce Campbell as 'JFK' in 'Bubba Ho-Tep'. Not to mention he was the homeless man in Spike Lee's first film 'Do the Right Thing'.
But early on in Ossie's career, he was a director, and a damn good one, before he became the lovable actor we all remember him as. 'Cotton Comes to Harlem' really paved the way for the rest of the decade for other films of the same vein. And packed with a great cast, this mix of comedy, violence, action, and soul, 'Cotton Comes To Harlem' will forever be praised. The film doesn't follow someone named Cotton, but rather a duo of cops named Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) who are trying to keep the streets clean.
Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart) is known in the community for his charity and love, but little does anyone know, he has a serious dark side to him. The "good" Reverend is leading a campaign called 'Back to Africa', which will take his brothers and sisters back to the homeland on a ship called 'The Black Beauty'. So far the campaign has raised an impressive $87,000. However, things go haywire, guns are blazing, things are robbed, and a literal bale of cotton goes missing, which is said to have the $87,000 stashed in it.
Since word of the missing money is out on the street, this brings everyone out of the woodwork. The mafia, police, gangs, and any other person who is wanting apiece of the pie is out for this money, leaving Coffin and Gravedigger busy for the long haul. Based on the Chester Himes' books of the same name, Ossie Davis delivers the goods comedically with a generous dose of political and racial satire of the times with a soulful soundtrack.
Cameos from Redd Foxx and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) keep things light and funny, but Ossie also gives us a serious element to the film when these colorful characters are searching for the missing money. This is not your typical police procedural film, but a satire of how two outlandish detectives might handle a situation like this in this setting. 'Cotton Comes To Harlem' is one of the films that started the blaxploitation phenomenon and it still holds up today.
'Cotton Comes to Harlem' looks simply gorgeous. This release comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This film has never looked better. Don't fret though. It still has that good layer of fine grain, keeping that good filmic look to it, rather than the digital car wash feel. The detail is rather sharp and vivid, especially in closeups of the actor's faces, which showcase wrinkles, makeup, and individual hairs from time to time.
Where this image really shines is in its color spectrum. Each color simply pops of screen with the amazing costumes and the cityscape of Manhattan. It's a beautiful transfer. Skin tones are natural and the black levels are fairly deep and inky. I did notice some light dirt and debris here and there, but it was nothing to write home about, leaving this video presentation with good marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 mix. Overall, this audio track sounds great, but I think it could have benefitted from having a big 5.1 mix, considering the great soundtrack and sound effects. Being a low budget film, there wasn't a lot of money for fancy sound effects or sound design, but that's what makes these old blaxploitation films so much fun. That fun is carried over here on the Blu-ray, but I wish there was an option for a 5.1 track. Sound effects are loud, but aren't realistic.
They sound a bit slap-sticky. Ambient noises of the city seem to have only one volume and are not that layered. But when the score and funky music presents itself, it's robust, smooth, and highly entertaining. The dialogue is crisp and clear, however there is some minor hissing in a few points. I think there could have been room for a better audio mix, but this one should satisfy just enough.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - The trailer for the film.
'Cotton Comes To Harlem' is a highly entertaining 70s release that helped spark the blaxploitation craze that is alive and well today. The story and characters in the film are still quotable and legendary. And this showcases just how diverse and badass Ossie Davis was. The video and audio are both great, however the lack of extras was disappointing here. Still, this is one film all of you fans should see and own. Recommended!