Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Cotton Club

Go To

The Cotton Club is a 1984 American crime-drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and starring Richard Gere, and Diane Lane. The supporting cast included Gregory Hines, Lonette McKee, Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Gwen Verdon and Fred Gwynne.

The film is centered on a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s, the Cotton Club. Musician Dixie Dwyer (Gere) begins working in the club, run by mobster Owney Madden (Hoskins), to advance his career, but falls in love with Vera Cicero (Lane), the girlfriend of violent kingpin Dutch Schultz (Remar). In the meantime, Dixie's ambitious younger brother Vincent (Cage) becomes a gangster in Schultz's mob and eventually a public enemy.

At the 2017 Telluride Film Festival, Francis Ford Coppola revealed The Cotton Club Encore, a Re-Cut version that incorporates scenes from Coppola's original cut which he discovered in a Betamax. Digitally restored and longer than the previous version, Encore is stated to be Coppola's true version of his film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Owney Madden is the most powerful gangster in Harlem and ruthlessly eliminates anyone who gets in his way, but he's quite friendly towards everybody else and does his best to keep the peace among warring bootleggers.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden are dangerous and powerful gangsters, but Madden comes across more sympathetically. Unlike the loose cannon Schultz, Madden's actions are usually rational because he's capable of controlling his emotions, so he doesn't kill people over (imagined) petty personal slights or engage in cruelty for its own sake. Furthermore, unlike Schultz, Madden has several Pet the Dog moments with Dixie and other individuals.
  • Ax-Crazy: A number of characters are this, most notably Dutch Schultz and Vincent Dwyer.
  • Berserk Button: Dutch Schultz appears to have made a grudging peace with a rival gangster, but the rival won't stop needling him, casually remarking while grazing the buffet, "Aw, what's a Jew but a nigger turned inside out, anyway?" Schultz goes berserk and stabs him to death. Then again, it was never difficult to rile Schultz, in film or real life.
  • Copy Protection: It was the first movie to have a home video release to be Copy-Protected.
  • Disconnected by Death: After Vincent becomes a gangster in Schultz's mob, he captures rival gangster Owney Madden's right-hand man, Frenchy and extracts a $35,000 ransom for the hostage's release. In retaliation, Madden pretends to arrange a peace deal that Vince must finalize over the phone, at a certain phone booth - near which a man with a tommy gun is waiting.
  • The Dragon: Sol Weinstein, who's Dutch Schultz's most loyal and psychopathic enforcer.
    • Frenchy is this to Owney Madden, but is also a true friend and confidant - as much of a Consiglieri as an enforcer.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Owney Madden may be a brutal gangster, but he sincerely cherishes his friendship with Frenchy, paying $15,000 extra in ransom for him because he thought Frenchy was worth more than $35,000.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: A lot of this, of the 1920s-30s variety.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dutch Schultz seems grateful and friendly towards Dixie at first, but it quickly becomes obvious that Schultz just wants another lackey and errand boy to push around, and his violent psychopathy is always just under the surface.
  • Hiding Your Heritage: Lila Rose Oliver (born to a white mother and a black father) chooses to work at other clubs where she passes as white, as opposed to the Cotton Club where her options as a perceived black woman are more limited.
  • Historical Domain Character: Quite a lot, including (but not limited to) Dutch Schultz, Owney Madden, Lucky Luciano, Stephanie St. Clair, Cab Calloway, Gloria Swanson, Fanny Brice, and Duke Ellington.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Dixie Dwyer falls for Vera, the girlfriend of gangster Dutch Schultz.
  • Kosher Nostra: Dutch Schultz was a notorious Jewish gangster.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Somewhat with Vincent Dwyer, who is real-life gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll in all but surname, but who is clearly renamed in accordance with being made protagonist Dixie Dwyer's brother in order to give him a closer connection to the main plot.
    • Played straight with Bumpy Rhodes, based on real-life gangster Bumpy Johnson.
  • Re-Cut: In 2015, Coppola found an old Betamax video copy of his original cut that ran 25 minutes longer. When originally editing the picture, he acquiesced to distributors who wanted a shorter film with different structure. Between 2015 and 2017 Coppola spent over $500,000 of his own money to restore the film to the original cut. This version, titled The Cotton Club Encore and running 139 minutes, debuted at the Telluride Film Festival on September 1, 2017.