The Cotton Club

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A musician named Dixie Dwyer begins working with mobsters to advance his career but falls in love with the girlfriend of gangland kingpin Dutch Schultz.

A dancer from Dixie’s neighborhood, Sandman Williams, is hired with his brother by the Cotton Club, a jazz club where most of the performers are black and the customers white. Owney Madden, a mobster, owns the club and runs it with his right-hand man, Frenchy.

Dixie becomes a Hollywood film star, thanks to the help of Madden and the mob but angering Schultz. He also continues to see Schultz’s moll, Vera Cicero, whose new nightclub has been financed by the jealous gangster.

In the meantime, Dixie’s ambitious younger brother Vincent becomes a gangster in Schultz’s mob and eventually a public enemy, holding Frenchy as a hostage.

Sandman alienates his brother Clay at the Cotton Club by agreeing to perform a solo number there. While the club’s management interferes with Sandman’s romantic interest in Lila, a singer, its cruel treatment of the performers leads to an intervention by Harlem criminal “Bumpy” Rhodes on their behalf.

Dutch Schultz is violently dealt with by Madden’s men while Dixie and Sandman perform on the Cotton Club’s stage.

REVIEW:

As a jazz lover an aficionado, I feel it is long overdue for me to check one of the more storied films associated with the genre, The Cotton Club. The titular club was a big to do back in the heyday of jazz but, as you can imagine, there were race issues. I’m wondering what route this film will take to cover that and if the music will be done justice, or just serve as white noise, no pun intended.

What is this about?

Richard Gere plays his own cornet solos in Francis Ford Coppola’s story of a jazz musician at the titular 1930s legendary nightclub. When Dixie Dwyer (Gere) saves the life of mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar), he finds he must fight for his own life when he falls for the psychotic gangster’s moll.

What did I like?

Trumpet Gere. Antonio Banderas, Denzel Washington, Tara Fitzgerald, etc. have all portrayed trumpet players on the big screen. Richard Gere is also a part of that club, but the difference with him is that he actually played his own parts, rather than having someone else do it off screen. I seem to recall reading that he played trumpet in his high school band, so perhaps it was just a matter of picking it back up and then learning some jazz licks. As a trumpet player myself, I applaud his work and Gere has earned some major respect from me.

Taps. Many of the old musicals I watch have extended tap scenes, be they from Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, or someone else. Keeping the tradition alive is one of the greatest tap dancers of our time, Gregory Hines. Seeing this guy tap is magical. Of course, we have a scene with him dancing on stage, as other things are happening in the film. Why do I bring that up? It is the same kind of thing Gere does in Chicago.

Mob mentality. The 20s aren’t exactly my favorite era, but I do love mobsters. The mob part of the plot takes over from the history of the Cotton Club, but I actually didn’t mind, partially because they used real mobsters such as Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano. I also must mention that these gangsters, specifically Schultz are psychotically violent. Boardwalk Empire has nothing on them!

What didn’t I like?

Cowboy Curtis. This is during the strange period of time where Laurence Fishburne was going by Larry. As a matter of fact, this was before he was cast as Cowboy Curtis on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. That isn’t why I bring it up, though. Fishburne has become a highly respected actor these days, but listening to him read his lines and you wouldn’t be able to tell. He just hadn’t become an actor, as they say, just yet.

Music, maestro, please. As I mentioned in my opening, the Cotton Club was a place known for some of the hottest jazz in Harlem. This film did manage to play some of the jazz, every chance it got, and for that I can’t fault it. What I do have an issue with is how they didn’t bring in any big names. Sure, there was a guy playing Cab Calloway, but what about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, etc.?

Perchance to dream? The ending of this picture has me a little perplexed. It seems as if it is a dream sequence, and I think someone even goes so far as to say that it is, but there just isn’t that dream like state. To me, if felt as if it were meant to be a dream sequence, but didn’t turn out that way. The final result is a conundrum for the audience.

What did I ultimately think of The Cotton Club? I have to say that it isn’t what I was expecting. I mean, I went in this expecting something of a biopic on the historic jazz club, but instead I get a gangster drama. As a drama, it isn’t half bad, mind you, just not what I signed up for. Still, I can say that this wasn’t a waste of my time, although I don’t think I will be rushing to watch it again. Do I recommend it? This one is hard to say, but I think I would, only because this is one of those films that works best with multiple viewings. Check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

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