Cotton Comes to Harlem
A satire of black consciousness-raising as a con game in all its various aspects, not that some black folks are the only fools on earth, some white folks are every bit as foolish.
It ends on the Apollo stage, with a sort of epilogue or punchline from the heart of darkest Africa (cf. Huston’s Beat the Devil).
Vincent Canby (New York Times) was greatly muddled on these points but noted some of the excellent jokes at the start of his review (“ain’t now but it’s gonna be / black enough for me”).
Variety followed the affair more or less, Halliwell’s Film Guide did not.
The locale is Los Angeles but made to seem indefinable. Lumet took a more rugged view in Running on Empty, but it comes down to a switchblade here.
Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) and Greenspun (New York Times) couldn’t figure it out, which is why there’s Lumet.
The little kid (she’s almost legal age) who wants to be a dancer has a hard time in the family environment, such as it is, and it’s quite extended and described in detail (Greenspun missed Detroit).
So to get it all behind is most a travail, even to perceive a college education and the vistas it provides is a Cinderella story (this much has been noted, dimly), while the strong direction and direct approach of the screenwriter, omitting nothing, have been ignored.
Military operations by a demobbed Army captain against the drug dealers of Harlem.
A few buddies help, Spanish Harry is the player in the league.
The girl is dead and buried, a junkie while Gordon was overseas.
The U.S. Army handles this with 25% losses, the garbage truck at the end recurs in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.