Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cotton Club

A stick of dynamite is thrown at the feet of Dutch Schultz in a 1928 Harlem nightclub, and a dashing young horn player (Richard Gere) saves the gangster's life. Becoming his errand boy, he chauffeurs his beautiful flapper mistress (Diane Lane) and is introduced to the owner of The Cotton Club, the hoppin' whites only venue that houses Duke Ellington and where an up-and-coming hoofer (Gregory Hines) is romancing the star attraction (Lonette McKee) and slowly learning the ropes of the business. Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" is a delightfully stylish homage to the Roaring 20s, juxtaposing a brutal gangster story with two rags to riches/romances and interspersing it all with old fashioned montages and wonderful jazz musical numbers and dance routines. The film also has a bemused, laid back attitude which I found appealing and probably appropriate for the material. There are also some fine supporting performances including Bob Hoskins as the owner of the club, Lawrence Fishburne as a Bumpy Johnson type Harlem gangster, and Nicolas Cage (Coppola's nephew) in an early, high wired early role as Gere's mad dog brother. "The Cotton Club" is a wildly entertaining film and curiously one that time has forgotten. I read that this production was marred with all sorts of problems (including a producer's contract murder on an investor!) and the thinking is that they overshadowed the film which failed to find an audience. Regardless, "The Cotton Club" is a great film that plays so many cards correctly that it should hold an appeal to most potential viewers.