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The Cotton Club "The Cotton Club" on DVD

Coppola and Robbers

Francis Coppola co-wrote and directed this masterpiece which could almost be called a "Jazzed up Godfather," though that wouldn't do the film justice.

It's the story of white minor league cornet player Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere, who does his own solos) who through circumstances is drawn against his will into the gangster world of the notorious Dutch Schultz (James Remar).

A parallel plot sees hoofer Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and his brother Clay (Maurice, Gregory's real life brother) audition for and land gigs at the Cotton Club, Harlem's greatest musical night club where black artists perform for the all-white audience.

Dixie and Sandman know each other at least in passing, and this leads to at least one incredible Coppola transition from one subplot to the other (watch the scene where Sandman and Clay are walking down the street and meet Dixie and his crew coming the other way for an example of Coppola filmmaking at its finest).

Another subplot revolves around Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), who becomes Dutch Schultz' kept woman in order to get her own night club. She and Dixie have a thing for each other, much to the gangster's chagrin, and this causes some sparks between them and between them and Schultz.

Then there's the gangster aspect. Schultz is a brutal clod prone to flying off the handle with the most destructive results. An island of relative sanity in the gang world is provided by Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), "Mr. Broadway" and the owner of the Cotton Club. He can be brutal when necessary, but only when necessary.

Then there's the music. Coppola uses the jazz of the era - both in the soundtrack and as recreated production numbers - as another character in the film.

It all combines into a film that has been criticized as short on substance, especially via character development and long on form. These criticisms may be correct to a point, and perhaps there's an even greater 3 hour movie trying to get out of this two hours and a bit film. That said, however, The Cotton Club is a visual and aural feast with marvelous performances and classic music beautifully recreated, recorded, and rendered.

Some moments of note: real life brothers Gregory and Maurice Hines' loving onstage reconciliation, Gere and Lane's duet of "Am I Blue?", the vicious bigot Cotton Club stage manager who gets his comeuppance at the hands of Laurence (Larry, here) Fishburne, the wonderful musical montage, with a smoky performance of "Ill Wind" by Lonette McKee, that transitions the movie from the 1920's to the 1930's, and Nicolas Cage as Gere's younger brother - a kid who wants to be someone, and who ends up as someone he didn't really want to be.

There's plenty more to like about The Cotton Club as a movie - and as a DVD it comes through very well. The picture is in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the colors are bright and images are sharp. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio doesn't have a lot of surround (mostly ambience in the clubs - and that's fine), but the music sounds simply wonderful. We've been impressed with the soundtrack of The Cotton Club since its VHS HiFi incarnation, and are thrilled that its transition to DVD has done nothing except make it even better.

Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer.

The Cotton Club, from MGM Home Video
129 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Gregory Hines, Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Lonette McKee
Produced by Robert Evans
Written by William Kennedy & Francis Coppola, Directed by Francis Coppola


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Updated June 19, 2007 -->