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Film / Harlem Nights

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Harlem Nights is a 1989 American crime dramedy film written and directed by Eddie Murphy, who also stars along with Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Arsenio Hall, and Jasmine Guy. Set in Harlem, New York in 1938, it's about a father-son duo running an illicit after-hours nightclub/casino disguised as a candy store while contending with gangsters and corrupt police officials.

Murphy's first (and only) feature directorial effort, the film was a critical and box-office disappointment,note  and earned a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay.

This film contains examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Vera's pinky toe is shot off by Quick.
  • Batman Gambit: Sugar Ray's plot to take down Bugsy Calhoune. Sugar Ray planned to rob Calhoune of all the money that would be placed on the boxing champion Jack Jenkins by having Jenkins take a dive during the match after betting against him and stealing the rest of the money from Calhoune later before skipping town. This all later turned out to be a ruse to lure Calhoune and his men to Phil's home after putting him out of commission and blowing them all away with explosives.
  • Big Bad: Bugsy Calhoune.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Cantone dispatches Tommy Smalls.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: 133, to be exact.
  • Crapsack World: The setting is The Great Depression and a year before WWII, so life is not going to be fun.
  • Dirty Cop: Phil Cantone.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Quick's real name is Vernest Brown. He's understandably not proud of it.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Other than the Paramount Pictures logonote  at the start and end, the entire movie takes place at night.
  • Fearless Fool: Quick is one of these to deconstructive levels. His bravado and complete apathy towards attacking notable dangerous crime boss Calhoune for messing with his club's business is met with intense criticism from Sugar Ray for it and if not for his ability to react quickly to danger like his namesake he would have been dead twice over.
    Quick: I ain't afraid of going up against Smalls or Calhoun!
    Sugar Ray: That's because you're young, full of vigor and life, and a little ignorant, I might add. You're not thinking about Calhoun. He could kill you by snapping his fucking fingers. You got a gun, he got a gun; his boys got guns, cops got guns. He's even got judges on his payroll. I mean, don't that make you feel a little uncomfortable? I know you're supposed to be a bad motherfucker, but there's a hundred guns and you out on the street with one gun!
  • Femme Fatale: Dominique La Rue.
  • Gag Echo: Sugar Ray asks Vera if she's got a girl who can work on Richie Vento. Vera says, "I've got a girl whose pussy is so good, if you threw it up in the air it would turn into sunshine." Later, when Vento asks the girl in question her name, she says, "Sunshine."
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Bugsy sends Dominique to be a Honey Trap for Quick.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Back of the Head: After Quick collides with the Crying Man, who accidentally ventilates his Tommy Gun into the man sitting in front of him in the car, much to Crying Man's shock.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Quick survives the attack by the Crying Man and his friends by firing three fatal shots from cover in under a second. He even surprised himself with how he managed such a feat.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Dominique tries shooting Quick after sex. Unfortunately, he discovered the gun under the pillow while she was out of the room...
  • Little Useless Gun: While the Crying Man and one of his associates are firing Tommy guns at Quick, another is firing a small-caliber handgun that makes a weak firecracker-like noise. The Crying Man smacks his associate, saying "Don't shoot that little motherfucker no more!"
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Quick is first seen as a child.
  • Out with a Bang: Dominique la Rue tries this on Quick, but ends up getting the tables turned.
  • Papa Wolf: After Quick kills Dominique la Rue, Ray sends him into hiding. When Quick protests, thinking it would make him a coward, Ray tells him he cares about him too much to let him let his pride get him killed:
    I'm not gonna let you do that to yourself. I'm not gonna let you do it to me. 'Cause they kill you, they're gonna have to kill me. 'Cause I'm gonna kill them.
  • Parental Abandonment: Richie leaves his wife and daughter for Sunshine, even converted from Catholicism to Baptism for her.
  • Piano Cover Slam: At one point, Bugsy Calhoune has one of his right hand men Tony, who's failed him place his hand on the edge of a grand piano, and knocks away the lid's support to smash the man's fingers.
  • Pillow Pistol: Both Quick and Dominique have one during their night together, but unfortunately Quick takes the bullets out of Dominique's gun without her knowledge causing her Honey Trap to backfire.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: While Bugsy Calhoune's muscling in on Club Sugar Ray appears to be strictly business, Cantone is jealous of the success of black men like Ray and Quick. Even more so as a cop living in squalor while they happen to be gambling criminals living a life of luxury.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Having Eddie Murphy get into a fist fight with freaking Della Reese. And she wins.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Vera, in spades.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Sugar Ray and Quick lock Cantone in the vault of an abandoned bank; they tell him they'll call the cops and report Cantone's location in a few days, and joke about how he might not run out of air if he takes shallow breaths.
  • Signature Laugh: Wouldn't be an Eddie Murphy movie without one. Tommy Smalls also has a distinctive, over-the-top guffaw.
  • Speech Impediment: Boxing champion Jack Jenkins stutters so badly, he has a hard time hailing a taxi.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Quick demonstrates his willingness to fight women when he fights and shoots off Vera's pinky toe and kills Dominique.
  • You Have Failed Me: Calhoune does not take incompetence lightly at all. He threatens his right hand man Tony with death if he brings another crooked person in to his organization again and that's before smashing Tony's hand with the top of the piano and completely breaking it. He also has Cantone and Tony murder Tommy for swindling him out of $5,000.