Harlem Nights (1989)

R | 117 mins | Comedy-drama | 17 November 1989

Director:

Eddie Murphy

Writer:

Eddie Murphy

Cinematographer:

Woody Omens

Editor:

Alan Balsam

Production Designer:

Lawrence G. Paull

Production Companies:

Paramount Pictures Corp., Eddie Murphy Productions
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HISTORY

       Items in the 14 Jun 1989 HR and 8 Apr 1989 L.B. Press-Telegram referred to the film as Harlem Knights.
       An item in the 20 May 1989 L.B. Press-Telegram stated that, according to a report “leaked” from the set, the final page of writer-producer-director-actor Eddie Murphy’s script included the following notation: “They exchange smiles, get in the car and head down the highway as we roll credits – and go to the [expletive deleted] bank.”
       According to a 5 Mar 1989 LAT brief, Murphy commissioned Las Vegas, NV, agent Jaki Baskow to help him find a “light-skinned” and “drop dead gorgeous” African American performer, at least 5’10” tall, to play “Dominique La Rue.” The actress initially cast in the role, Michael Michele Williams, was pulled from another Murphy project, a television series based on his 1988 film Coming to America (see entry). Williams was fired due to “artistic differences,” according to Murphy’s manager and producer Robert D. Wachs, and replaced by Jasmine Guy. As noted in a 12 May 1989 HR item, Williams sued Murphy for $75 million, claiming she was fired for spurning Murphy’s sexual advances during the early stages of production. In addition to the $75 million she sought for “emotional and psychological damage,” Williams sued Paramount for the $83,000 that would have been “contractually due her if she had remained in the Coming to America television project.” The outcome of both lawsuits could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       Principal photography began 3 Apr 1989, according to a 20 May 1989 ... More Less

       Items in the 14 Jun 1989 HR and 8 Apr 1989 L.B. Press-Telegram referred to the film as Harlem Knights.
       An item in the 20 May 1989 L.B. Press-Telegram stated that, according to a report “leaked” from the set, the final page of writer-producer-director-actor Eddie Murphy’s script included the following notation: “They exchange smiles, get in the car and head down the highway as we roll credits – and go to the [expletive deleted] bank.”
       According to a 5 Mar 1989 LAT brief, Murphy commissioned Las Vegas, NV, agent Jaki Baskow to help him find a “light-skinned” and “drop dead gorgeous” African American performer, at least 5’10” tall, to play “Dominique La Rue.” The actress initially cast in the role, Michael Michele Williams, was pulled from another Murphy project, a television series based on his 1988 film Coming to America (see entry). Williams was fired due to “artistic differences,” according to Murphy’s manager and producer Robert D. Wachs, and replaced by Jasmine Guy. As noted in a 12 May 1989 HR item, Williams sued Murphy for $75 million, claiming she was fired for spurning Murphy’s sexual advances during the early stages of production. In addition to the $75 million she sought for “emotional and psychological damage,” Williams sued Paramount for the $83,000 that would have been “contractually due her if she had remained in the Coming to America television project.” The outcome of both lawsuits could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       Principal photography began 3 Apr 1989, according to a 20 May 1989 HR production chart. A 7 Jul 1989 LAHExam brief cited the production budget as $40 million. Filming took place on three soundstages at Paramount Pictures Studios, and on the Burbank Studios’ backlot, Arc Street, Brownstone Street, Hennessy Street, and Embassy Park Street sets. Other Los Angeles, CA, locations included Normandy Street and the Rex restaurant downtown, which stood in for “Bugsy Calhoune’s” restaurant, Calhoune’s on the Park. In Long Beach, a room aboard the Queen Mary doubled as the Pitty Pat Club.
       The film’s 16 Nov 1989 Los Angeles premiere benefited the United Negro College Fund. The following day, the national release took place on 2,000 screens. Critical reception was largely negative, with several critics panning the derivative screenplay and excessive bad language. An 11 Dec 1989 People item counted 233 “really bad words” used in the film.
       In its first weekend of release, several incidents of violence occurred around screenings of the film, including shootings at the AMC Americana theater in Southfield, MI, and Cineplex Odeon Hilltop Theater in Richmond, CA, and a stabbing outside the Loew’s Cinema 7 in Boston, MA. Eight people were injured and seventeen-year-old Marcel Thompson died as a result of the incidents. According to a 22 Nov 1989 LAT news item, the AMC-Americana in Southfield removed the film’s title from its marquee and planned to install metal detectors to prevent future incidents.
       Two writers filed lawsuits against Murphy and Paramount, claiming Harlem Nights plagiarized their works. Although Hariz Farid’s $100 million suit was dismissed by a Newark, NJ, Federal Court judge, as stated in a 4 Feb 1991 Var item, U.S. District Court Judge Jacob Mishler found the case filed by screenwriter Michael Greene, who claimed that Murphy stole from his script, A Halloween to Remember, worthy of a trial. According to a 25 Jun 1992 HR article, after comparing the scripts, Mishler stated that a “reasonable trier of fact could determine that ‘Halloween’ and ‘Harlem’ have substantially similar plots, characters, scenes, settings, feel and detail.” Mishler’s announcement came after the Jan 1990 ruling that Murphy’s Coming to America was based on a treatment by humorist Art Buchwald, resulting in an $825,000 sum rewarded to Buchwald. The Jaki Baskow Agency sued actor Redd Foxx for unpaid commissions exceeding $50,000, as reported in a 1 Nov 1989 Var article. The agency claimed to have obtained Foxx’s Harlem Nights role, “Bennie Wilson,” for the actor, who, according to the plaintiff, “refused to pay the commission and terminated his representation by the agency.” The outcome of both lawsuits could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       In the 7 Jul 1989 LAHExam brief, actor Danny Aiello was quoted as saying that his character, “Phil Cantone,” was originally killed off in the script. However, two weeks into production, Murphy told Aiello that Cantone would be kept alive for a sequel. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the production denied Aiello’s claims, and no such sequel has been produced as of the writing of this Note.

      End credits include the following statement: “The producers wish to thank: Rocco Gioffre, Aaron Siskind, Tania G. Werbizky – Preservation League of New York.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1989
p. 4, 50.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 1989
p. 3, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 1992
p. 3, 26.
L.B. Press-Telegram
8 Apr 1989.
---
L.B. Press-Telegram
20 May 1989.
---
LAHExam
7 Jul 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Mar 1989
Calendar, p. 27.
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 1989
p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
22 Nov 1989
Calendar, p. 2.
New York Times
17 Nov 1989
p. 19.
People
11 Dec 1989.
---
Variety
1 Nov 1989.
---
Variety
22 Nov 1989
p. 19.
Variety
4 Feb 1991.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Gamblers:
[and]
Crapshooters:
Patrons:
[and]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures presents
In association with Eddie Murphy Productions
A film by Eddie Murphy
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst photog
1st asst photog
2d asst photog
2d asst photog
Still photog
Video asst
Chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Chief rigging elec
Set lighting tech
Set lighting tech
Set lighting tech
Set lighting tech
Set lighting tech
1st company grip
2d company grip
Dolly grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Grip
Cranes and dollys by
Musco Light tech
Color Me Bright, Unlimited
ART DIRECTORS
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Primary prod illustrator
Storyboard illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc film ed
Asst ed, Los Angeles
Asst ed, New York
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set des
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Lead person
Prop person
Prop person
Prop person
Prop person
Prop person
Const coord
Const foreperson
Const foreperson
Const foreperson
Const foreperson
Paint foreperson
Paint foreperson
Paint foreperson
Paint foreperson
Paint foreperson
Plasterer
Labor foreperson
Sign writer
Sign writer
MUSIC
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus rec consultant
Orch and cond by
Creative asst to Mr. Hancock
SOUND
Cableperson
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
Supv foley ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley mixer
Supv re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Dolby consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff foreperson
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Asst makeup artist
Asst makeup artist
Hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Unit pub
Prod auditor
Asst prod auditor
Asst prod auditor
Accounting asst
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Prod secy
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to Mr. Murphy
Asst to Messrs. Wachs & Lipsky
Eddie Murphy Productions office mgr
Asst to Mr. Pryor
Casting assoc
Casting asst
Extras casting
Extras casting
Extras casting asst
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Period res
Voice casting
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Picture car capt
LAPD coordinating motor officer
Craft service
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Allegro From Quartet in C Major K 157," by W. A. Mozart, performed by The Sequoia String Quartet, courtesy of Elektra Nonesuch, by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
SONGS
"Black Beauty," by Duke Ellington
"Drop Me Off In Harlem," by Nick Kenny & Duke Ellington, performed by Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington, courtesy of Roulette Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
"The Gal From Joe's," by Duke Ellington & Irving Mills
+
SONGS
"Black Beauty," by Duke Ellington
"Drop Me Off In Harlem," by Nick Kenny & Duke Ellington, performed by Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington, courtesy of Roulette Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
"The Gal From Joe's," by Duke Ellington & Irving Mills
"Heaven Help This Heart Of Mine," by Walter G. Samuels, Leonard Whitcup & Teddy Powell, performed by Buddy Clark with Eddy Duchin, courtesy of RCA Records, Cassettes & CD's
"It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," by Duke Ellington & Irving Mills
"Just One More Chance," by Sam Coslow & Arthur Johnston, performed by Billie Holiday, courtesy of Polygram Records, Inc.
"Long Time No See," by Arthur Altman & James Cavanaugh, performed by The Andrews Sisters, courtesy of MCA Records
"Mama, Eu Quero," by Jararaca, Vicente Paiva & Al Stillman
"Mood Indigo," by Duke Ellington, Irving Mills & Albany Bigard
"Oh Promise Me," by Clement Scott & Reginald De Koven, performed by John McCormack, courtesy of Arabesque Recordings
"One O'Clock Jump," written & performed by Count Basie, courtesy of Hindsight Records, by arrangement with Welk Record Group
"Sophisticated Lady," by Duke Ellington, Irving Mills & Mitchell Parish
"Take My Heart," by Joe Young & Fred E. Ahlert, performed by Buddy Clark with Nat Brandwynne, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department
"Take the 'A' Train," by Billy Strayhorn.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Harlem Knights
Release Date:
17 November 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 16 November 1989
Los Angeles opening: 17 November 1989
New York opening: week of 17 November 1989
Production Date:
began 3 April 1989 in Los Angeles
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
18 December 1989
Copyright Number:
PA447145
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® cameras & lenses
Duration(in mins):
117
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29895
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1918 Harlem, New York, African-American “Sugar Ray” Raymond plays craps in a backroom at his saloon. A young boy delivers cigarettes to the club owner just as a toothless gambler “craps out” in a dice game and threatens to stab everyone in the room. The errand boy surprises Sugar Ray by shooting the toothless gambler in the head. Learning that the boy is an orphan, Ray offers to take him in. Twenty years later, Ray’s establishment has grown into the thriving Club Sugar Ray’s. The former errand boy, now known as “Quick,” has become Ray’s right-hand man and de facto son. One night, a gangster named Tommy Smalls arrives at the club with a beautiful Creole woman named Dominique La Rue. Ray recognizes Smalls as the manager of the rival Pitty Pat Club, run by white gangster Bugsy Calhoune. Ray notices Quick admiring Dominique from afar, and warns him that she is Calhoune’s mistress. Baffled that such a beautiful woman would be involved with a fat, ugly gangster like Calhoune, Quick introduces himself to the woman as a suspicious Ray offers Smalls one of his best tables. Later, Calhoune learns that business is down at the Pitty Pat Club, while Ray’s business, according to Dominique and Smalls, is pulling in an estimated $10-15 thousand per week. Hoping to get rid of Ray’s club, Calhoune enlists Sergeant Phil Cantone, a corrupt policeman, to pay Ray a visit. Counting their profits at the end of the night, Ray’s staff awaits Vera Walker, the overweight madam who runs the club’s brothel. Vera delivers only $200, and Quick accuses her of stealing. Vera challenges Quick to a fistfight and he laughingly obliges. ... +


In 1918 Harlem, New York, African-American “Sugar Ray” Raymond plays craps in a backroom at his saloon. A young boy delivers cigarettes to the club owner just as a toothless gambler “craps out” in a dice game and threatens to stab everyone in the room. The errand boy surprises Sugar Ray by shooting the toothless gambler in the head. Learning that the boy is an orphan, Ray offers to take him in. Twenty years later, Ray’s establishment has grown into the thriving Club Sugar Ray’s. The former errand boy, now known as “Quick,” has become Ray’s right-hand man and de facto son. One night, a gangster named Tommy Smalls arrives at the club with a beautiful Creole woman named Dominique La Rue. Ray recognizes Smalls as the manager of the rival Pitty Pat Club, run by white gangster Bugsy Calhoune. Ray notices Quick admiring Dominique from afar, and warns him that she is Calhoune’s mistress. Baffled that such a beautiful woman would be involved with a fat, ugly gangster like Calhoune, Quick introduces himself to the woman as a suspicious Ray offers Smalls one of his best tables. Later, Calhoune learns that business is down at the Pitty Pat Club, while Ray’s business, according to Dominique and Smalls, is pulling in an estimated $10-15 thousand per week. Hoping to get rid of Ray’s club, Calhoune enlists Sergeant Phil Cantone, a corrupt policeman, to pay Ray a visit. Counting their profits at the end of the night, Ray’s staff awaits Vera Walker, the overweight madam who runs the club’s brothel. Vera delivers only $200, and Quick accuses her of stealing. Vera challenges Quick to a fistfight and he laughingly obliges. Following her outside, Quick is humiliated when Vera overpowers him. He retaliates by hitting her with a trash can lid, and she pulls a razor. Quick draws his gun and shoots Vera’s pinkie toe. As the madam is carried away in an ambulance, Ray urges his protégé to stop overreacting. That night, Ray finds Sgt. Cantone in his living room, but, when pressed, denies that he owns Club Sugar Ray’s, insisting he operates a candy shop. Assuming that Calhoune sent the policeman, Ray warns Quick that they will have to relocate if the gangster wants to run them out of business, but Quick resists the idea. Later, Quick shows Ray a telegram from Dominique, who has invited him to dinner, and insists she is romantically interested in him. Ray remains suspicious of Calhoune’s crew, however, and is vindicated when Sgt. Cantone arrives and admits his association with the mobster. Cantone threatens that if Ray does not pay him $10,000 per week, he will shut down the club. Ray asks for time to think about the offer. After Cantone leaves, Ray develops a plan to rob Calhoune, take vengeance against Cantone, and leave town. The scheme involves robbing Calhoune’s “pick-up man” on the night of an upcoming boxing match between African-American fighter, Jack “Champ” Jenkins, and Michael Kirkpatrick, an inferior white boxer whose odds are very low. Ray also plans to bet $200,000 on Kirkpatrick in order to deceive Calhoune into thinking Jenkins will throw the fight, leading him to bet on Kirkpatrick and shift the odds. Later, Sgt. Cantone ambushes Tommy Smalls at his apartment, accuses him of stealing from Calhoune, and kills him. Shortly after, Quick pays Smalls a visit to find out more about Calhoune, but finds the gangster dead. As he leaves the building, he is spotted by a group of Smalls’s cohorts. Arriving at a restaurant to meet Dominique, Quick is surprised to find Calhoune and his assistant, Joe Leoni, at their table. Calhoune asks Quick to work for him, but Quick refuses, and leaves the restaurant. He is followed by Smalls’s cohorts, who believe him to be Smalls’s killer. Quick runs the men off the road, then dives out of his moving car and through a shop window. His pursuers fire several rounds of ammunition at him, but Quick shoots all three of them dead. When he returns to Ray’s club, Quick receives a call from Dominique and goes to her house, where she seduces him, and encourages him to reveal his real name, Vernest Brown. After they make love, Dominique attempts to kill him, but Quick outwits her and shoots her dead. He takes refuge at Ray’s home and recounts the night’s events. Ray tells Quick that Calhoune will try to assassinate him again, once he learns of Dominique’s death. Quick agrees to hide out until their heist the following night. Shortly after, Sgt. Cantone raids Ray’s club and Calhoune’s men burn it down. Meanwhile, Vera’s best prostitute, Sunshine, seduces Calhoune’s pick-up man, Richie Vento, and confesses that she is a pick-up girl for a local numbers racket. She convinces Vento to give her a ride during the boxing match, just after he is scheduled to pick up the cash amassed by Calhoune’s bookkeepers. As planned, Vento makes the pickup while the fight is in progress, then picks up Sunshine on a street corner. At the same time, a couple of Ray’s employees retaliate against Calhoune by blowing up the Pitty Pat Club. Cantone spies on Vento as he throws Sunshine’s bag of “cash” in the trunk next to his, then witnesses as Vento gets into an automobile accident with Ray’s nearly-blind croupier, Bennie Wilson, and Vera. Dressed as policemen, Ray and Quick intervene, identifying Sunshine as “Lady Heroin,” a notorious drug dealer. They arrest Sunshine and Vento, and seize the bag of money from Vento’s trunk, claiming it is Sunshine’s bag of heroin, as two white policemen arrive on the scene. Vento tells the white officers he knows Sgt. Cantone, and they release him, taking the bag from Ray. Cantone follows Ray and Quick to a deserted bank building and teases them about their failed plan to steal from Calhoune. Just as he points his gun at the two, the rest of Ray’s crew appears, holding the corrupt policeman at gunpoint. Tying Sgt. Cantone to a chair, they leave him to suffocate in the vault. At the same time, Vento delivers the money to Calhoune, but instead discovers Sunshine’s “heroin” inside the bag. Calhoune tests the powder and angrily announces it is sugar. Vera shows up, promising she had nothing to do with Ray’s scheme, and begs for protection. She reveals that Ray and Quick are back at Ray’s house, and Calhoune goes there with his men. Inside, they find Sgt. Cantone’s badge and realize they have been set up just as the place explodes. At a motel in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ray and Quick pay the white men who posed as policemen, and gaze at the New York skyline one last time before leaving town with Annie, Vera, Bennie, and Calhoune’s bag of cash. +

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

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