The Cotton Club

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Combining electric song and dance performances with drama (both on and off screen), Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984) looks back to the 1920s-1930s peak of the legendary Harlem nightclub where only blacks performed and only whites could sit in the audience. Mixing historical figures with characters loosely based on actual people, Coppola and co-writers William Kennedy and The Godfather's Mario Puzo create a panorama of love, crime, and entertainment centered on the Club. Among them are cornet player Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere, playing his own solos), who escapes psycho gangster benefactor Dutch Schultz (James Remar) for a George Raft-type Hollywood career as a gangster film star; Schultz's nubile mistress Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), who loves Dixie against her mercenary instincts; Cotton Club Mob owner Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) and close associate Frenchy Demarge (Fred Gwynne); Vincent (Nicolas Cage), Dixie's no-good Mad Dog Coll-esque brother; Club tap star Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), who woos ambitious light-skinned Club singer Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee); and cameos by Charles Honi Coles and Cab Calloway impersonator Larry Marshall. Complementing the period story, Coppola evokes the style of '30s gangster movies and musicals through an array of old-fashioned devices like montages of headlines, songs and shoot-outs. Conceived by producer Robert Evans as his crowning achievement and directorial debut, Evans had to hand over the troubled production to Coppola, but the budget spiraled out of control as the script was repeatedly re-written throughout the chaotic shoot. By the time it was released, The Cotton Club's epic production story of power struggles, financial bloat, and even a murder overshadowed the reunion of The Godfather's creative team. Neither a Heaven's Gate-sized failure nor a wallet-saving hit like Coppola's Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club got some favorable critical notices (although it drew fire for subordinating the African American stories). It did not, however, find a large enough audience to justify its expense and controversy, becoming another mark against 1970s auteur cinema in increasingly blockbuster-driven 1980s Hollywood.~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide


  • Richard Gere
  • Gregory Hines
  • Diane Lane
  • Lonette McKee
  • Bob Hoskins
  • James Remar
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Allen Garfield
  • Fred Gwynne
  • Gwen Verdon

Did You Know?


  • The role of Vera Cicero was originally assigned to Brooke Shields. However, she turned down the offer in order to study French Literature at Princeton University.
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  • When Dixie goes to ransom Frenchy there is a different amount of shaving cream on Mad Dog's face in every shot.
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    • Vera: You've got about as much style as a bowl of turnips.
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Atom User Reviews

5.0 out of 5



Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club is, quite simply, a wonderful movie. It has the confidence and momentum of a movie where every shot was premeditated -- and even if we know that wasn't the case, and this was one of the most troubled productions in recent movie history, what difference does that make when the result is so entertaining?

Metacritic review by Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times

Cotton Club lacks the resonance of The Godfather; it's similar stylistically, but everything is coarsened, caricatured. What Coppola has achieved, however, is what Sergio Leone was after in Once Upon a Time in America when he tried to celebrate America by recycling the cliches of its gangster films. [14 Dec 1984]

Metacritic review by Jay Scott
Jay Scott
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

The Cotton Club never seems to go anywhere, so that we are caught up short when it seems to have gotten somewhere. Then it's over, finished in Hines' blaze of glory, and a few minutes later one wonders what one has seen. It's big and colorful and terribly thin. [14 Dec 1984, p.E18]

Metacritic review by Bill Cosford
Bill Cosford
Miami Herald