December 12, 2019

Starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Lonette McKee, James Remar, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne, Nicholas Cage, Maurice Hines, Allen Garfield, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits, Julian Beck, Gwen Verdon and a slew of other familiar faces. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (139 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😸

On the heels of Lionsgate’s massive, beautifully-packaged Apocalypse Now Final Cut boxed set comes another restoration of a Francis Ford Coppola film. This time it’s 1984’s The Cotton Club, a film bedeviled by production issues, budget problems and lawsuits before ultimately being released to an indifferent audience.

While this extended cut – running some 20 minutes longer – doesn’t approach the greatness of Coppola’s holy trinity (the first two Godfathers & Apocalypse Now), it’s one of his better post-’70s films and certainly worth rediscovering. I vaguely recall seeing it on cable back in the day, and to be honest, it didn’t leave much of an impression. On the other hand, The Godfather didn’t either at the time, though today it’s one of my all-time favorites.

Some films take multiple viewings to appreciate and revisiting The Cotton Club decades later is an interesting experience. It remains one of Coppola’s most thinly-plotted films, taking place in and around Harlem’s most famous nightclub over the course of several years. Part gangster epic, part musical, part love story, it’s the mob elements that are the most intriguing, a combination of real and fictional characters. Those segments are vintage Coppola, especially the entire final act, a masterfully-assembled medley of infectious musical numbers and violent mayhem.

"I saw that. You blinked first!"
Less engaging are the two other major plot threads involving musician Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), struggling tap-dancer “Sandman” Williams (Gregory Hines) and the women they’re courting, mainly because we’ve seen it all before. However, Dwyer’s tumultuous ‘friendship’ with short-fused mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar) has its moments, especially once Dwyer’s younger brother, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll (Nicholas Cage), finds work as one of Schultz’ enforcers.

Speaking of Cage, one of the more fascinating aspects of revisiting The Cotton Club today is its absolutely huge cast of both familiar faces and those whose careers were just starting to take off. And keep a sharp eye out for the likes of Mario Van Peebles, Giancarlo Esposito, Jackée Harry, Woody Strode, Joe Dallesandro, Mark Margolis, Ed O’Ross and James Russo, all in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit parts. Doing a shot every time you spotted a recognizable face in a tiny role would make a hell of a drinking game.

Though not one of Coppola’s classics, The Cotton Club is better than I remembered and this extended version makes it easier to appreciate what the director was ultimately trying to do. Considering it’s just-now coming out on Blu-ray for the first time, the disc is pretty light on bonus material. However, the restoration – retitled The Cotton Club Encore – does the music and imagery justice. If nothing else, the film deserves the audience it never had in 1984.

INTRODUCTION BY FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA – Though it doesn’t precede the movie itself.
THE COTTON CLUB ENCORE Q&A – Live interviews with Francis Ford Coppola, Maurice Hines & James Remar at Lincoln Center. Coppola is sort of a Chatty Cathy.

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