Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

R | 97 mins | Comedy | 27 May 1970

Full page view
HISTORY

The 7 Apr 1969 LAT announced the upcoming production based on Chester Himes’s 1965 novel. Himes was expected to collaborate on the screenplay with first-time director Ossie Davis. Himes was later replaced by Arnold Perl. On 17 Apr 1969, DV reported that actor Raymond St. Jacques was leaving for New York City to begin pre-production. The 9 Jul 1970 Los Angeles Sentinel noted that St. Jacques owned ten percent of the picture. A news item in the 21 Apr 1969 DV revealed that the formerly obese actor-comedian, Godfrey Cambridge, lost 152 pounds prior to filming, with the aid of hypnotherapy. Principal photography began 12 May 1969, according to 16 May 1969 DV production charts.
       An article in the 15 Jun 1969 NYT stated that, with the exception of a “junkyard sequence,” the entire picture was shot at locations in New York City’s Harlem district, with interiors at nearby Filmways Studio. Two hundred background actors were hired from “local theater groups and from the neighborhood.” Security was provided by the New York City Tactical Patrol Force and by Harlem’s Black Citizen’s Patrol. A reported breach involved a white script supervisor who was hospitalized after being struck by a bottle, thrown from a rooftop. Apprentices were supplied to the production through a Ford Foundation program, created for technicians from ethnic minorities. The majority of the seven apprentices were unhappy with the situation, as their non-union status prevented them from handling equipment, and relegating them to menial tasks. Despite the program’s shortcomings, one apprentice was promoted ... More Less

The 7 Apr 1969 LAT announced the upcoming production based on Chester Himes’s 1965 novel. Himes was expected to collaborate on the screenplay with first-time director Ossie Davis. Himes was later replaced by Arnold Perl. On 17 Apr 1969, DV reported that actor Raymond St. Jacques was leaving for New York City to begin pre-production. The 9 Jul 1970 Los Angeles Sentinel noted that St. Jacques owned ten percent of the picture. A news item in the 21 Apr 1969 DV revealed that the formerly obese actor-comedian, Godfrey Cambridge, lost 152 pounds prior to filming, with the aid of hypnotherapy. Principal photography began 12 May 1969, according to 16 May 1969 DV production charts.
       An article in the 15 Jun 1969 NYT stated that, with the exception of a “junkyard sequence,” the entire picture was shot at locations in New York City’s Harlem district, with interiors at nearby Filmways Studio. Two hundred background actors were hired from “local theater groups and from the neighborhood.” Security was provided by the New York City Tactical Patrol Force and by Harlem’s Black Citizen’s Patrol. A reported breach involved a white script supervisor who was hospitalized after being struck by a bottle, thrown from a rooftop. Apprentices were supplied to the production through a Ford Foundation program, created for technicians from ethnic minorities. The majority of the seven apprentices were unhappy with the situation, as their non-union status prevented them from handling equipment, and relegating them to menial tasks. Despite the program’s shortcomings, one apprentice was promoted to unit publicist, and another became a casting director. Members of the crew also expressed his dissatisfaction, primarily with the apprentices’ sense of entitlement. While one apprentice decried the picture’s irrelevance to contemporary African American culture, Godfrey Cambridge stated that he was not interested in making “message” films, believing they neither attract nor enlighten racists. Ossie Davis was encouraged by neighborhood’s burgeoning independent production community, and predicted that in twenty-five years Harlem would be “the film capital of the world.”
       The 23 May 1969 DV reported that actor Calvin Lockhart was injured on set the previous day, sustaining a sprained wrist during a “gunfight sequence.” Production continued while Lockhart was given ten days to recover. Nearly two months later, the 17 Jul 1969 DV stated that another accident involving a gun left Raymond St. Jacques with gunpowder burns and minor cuts from shattered glass on one of his arms. The remainder of the day was devoted to second unit photography. The 13 Aug 1969 DV announced that filming was completed, and cast members Godfrey Cambridge and John Anderson had returned to Los Angeles, CA.
       On 18 Mar 1970, DV reported that Cambridge would address the Fordham University “dramatic workshop,” during which he would show excerpts from his latest pictures, Cotton Comes to Harlem and Watermelon Man (1970, see entry). According to the 30 Apr 1970 DV, a preview screening was held at the Village theater in the Westwood district of Los Angeles. Among the attendees were Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, co-star Judy Pace, producer Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., and his mother, silent movie actress Frances Howard Goldwyn. The 18 Jun 1970 DV noted that the picture was rated “A4” (for adults, with reservations) by the National Legion of Decency.
       Cotton Comes to Harlem premiered 27 May 1970 in Chicago, IL. Critical notices were generally positive, although the review by Vincent Canby in the 11 Jun 1970 NYT described the picture as “a conventional white movie that employs some terrible white stereotypes of black life.” Canby revised his opinion in the 19 Jul 1970 NYT, admitting that the film contained a number of funny scenes, and featured an array of African American characters never seen on screen before. The 8 Oct 1970 Los Angeles Sentinel quoted the results of a survey, which attributed the film’s popularity to “its unalloyed use of ghetto humor, and its unashamed fun with what used to be called stereotypes,” as well as an infusion of “soul,” credited to Ossie Davis’s direction.
       According to the 22 Oct 1970 Los Angeles Sentinel, the picture garnered eight nominations for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards, including Picture of the Year, Director of the Year (Ossie Davis), Actor of the Year in a Starring Role (Raymond St. Jacques, Godfrey Cambridge), Actress of the Year in a Starring Role (Judy Pace), Actor of the Year in a Supporting Role (Redd Foxx), Screenwriter of the Year (Ossie Davis and Arnold Perl), and Producer of the Year (Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.). It won in the latter three categories.
       As stated in the 6 Jan 1971 Var, the film earned approximately $5.2 million in rental fees during 1970. The 18 Feb 1971 DV predicted gross receipts of $7.5 million against a “negative cost” of $2.8 million.
       The 14 Aug 1970 Los Angeles Sentinel identified Melba Moore, Leata Galloway, and Dolores Morris as members of the female vocal group that appeared in the film. The trio originally sang together in the Broadway musical, Hair.
       The 16 Jul 1969 NYT included attorney and model Elizabeth of Toro among the cast. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Rudiiki III of Toro, later known as Uganda.
       An article in the 3 Jun 1971 Los Angeles Sentinel noted that the picture was released in France as The Uncle Tom Caper. On 25 Nov 1971, the Los Angeles Sentinel announced plans for a sequel titled Heat’s On, although it would not be directed by Ossie Davis. The film was released in 1972 as Come Back Charleston Blue (see entry).
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
21 Apr 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 May 1969
p. 8.
Daily Variety
23 May 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Mar 1970
p. 22.
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1970
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 Jun 1970
p. 3.
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1970
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1970
p. 9.
Daily Variety
16 Nov 1970
p. 1.
Daily Variety
18 Feb 1971
p. 5.
Los Angeles Sentinel
10 Apr 1969
Section F, p. 4.
Los Angeles Sentinel
14 Aug 1969
Section E, p. 2.
Los Angeles Sentinel
9 Jul 1970
Section B, p. 2A.
Los Angeles Sentinel
8 Oct 1970
Section B, p. 3A.
Los Angeles Sentinel
22 Oct 1970
Section D, p. 1.
Los Angeles Sentinel
3 Jun 1971
Section B, p. 2A.
Los Angeles Sentinel
25 Nov 1971
Section B, p. 1A.
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1969
Section G, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jul 1970
Sectio F, p. 19.
New York Times
16 Jul 1969
p. 52.
New York Times
15 Jun 1969
Section D, p. 15.
New York Times
11 Jun 1970
p. 50.
New York Times
19 Jul 1970
p. 1, 5.
Variety
6 Jan 1971
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir & stunt coordinator
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec in charge of prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2nd unit photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost coord
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd supv
Sd boom
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstyles for Miss Pace
PRODUCTION MISC
Main titles
Sketch artist
Scr supv
Extra casting
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes (New York, 1965).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Cotton Comes to Harlem," words and music by Galt MacDermot and Joseph S. Lewis
"Ain't Now But It's Going to Be," words and music by Galt MacDermot and Ossie Davis
"Down in My Soul," words and music by Galt MacDermot and William Dumaresq
+
SONGS
"Cotton Comes to Harlem," words and music by Galt MacDermot and Joseph S. Lewis
"Ain't Now But It's Going to Be," words and music by Galt MacDermot and Ossie Davis
"Down in My Soul," words and music by Galt MacDermot and William Dumaresq
"My Salvation," words and music by Galt MacDermot and Paul Laurence Dunbar
"Goin' Home," words by William Arms Fisher, music adapted from Symphony No. 5 in E Minor ( From the New World ) by Antonín Dvorák.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 May 1970
Premiere Information:
Chicago premiere: 27 May 1970
Production Date:
12 May--early August 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Formosa Productions
Copyright Date:
27 May 1970
Copyright Number:
LP38052
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
De Luxe
Duration(in mins):
97
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At an outdoor barbecue, charismatic confidence man Rev. Deke O'Malley defrauds Harlem residents of $87,000 intended to transport blacks back to Africa. The money, however, is immediately seized by the black minister's white partner, Calhoun, who flees the scene in a meat truck, having secreted the money in a bale of cotton. O'Malley follows in an armored car, himself pursued by black police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. The bale bounces from the truck during the chase, is found by Uncle Bud, a junkman, and sold as a prop to Mabel, an inventive stripteaser. As Mabel begins her act in Harlem's Apollo Theater, Calhoun and O'Malley appear onstage in "blackface," and fruitlessly comb the cotton for money. While so doing, the two are exposed and arrested by Coffin Ed and Gravedigger. The detectives subsequently coerce a Mafia don to compensate O'Malley's disgruntled congregation for the elusive $87,000. The pair later receives a postcard from Uncle Bud, who discloses that he has absconded with the missing money to Africa, where he is enjoying a new ... +


At an outdoor barbecue, charismatic confidence man Rev. Deke O'Malley defrauds Harlem residents of $87,000 intended to transport blacks back to Africa. The money, however, is immediately seized by the black minister's white partner, Calhoun, who flees the scene in a meat truck, having secreted the money in a bale of cotton. O'Malley follows in an armored car, himself pursued by black police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. The bale bounces from the truck during the chase, is found by Uncle Bud, a junkman, and sold as a prop to Mabel, an inventive stripteaser. As Mabel begins her act in Harlem's Apollo Theater, Calhoun and O'Malley appear onstage in "blackface," and fruitlessly comb the cotton for money. While so doing, the two are exposed and arrested by Coffin Ed and Gravedigger. The detectives subsequently coerce a Mafia don to compensate O'Malley's disgruntled congregation for the elusive $87,000. The pair later receives a postcard from Uncle Bud, who discloses that he has absconded with the missing money to Africa, where he is enjoying a new lifestyle. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.