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The Cotton Club is a 1984 American crime-drama film centered on a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s, the Cotton Club. The film was co-written (with William Kennedy) and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, choreographed by Henry LeTang, and starred Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, and Lonette McKee. The supporting cast included Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage, Allen Garfield, Laurence Fishburne, Gwen Verdon and Fred Gwynne.

The Cotton Club
Cotton club.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrancis Ford Coppola
Produced byRobert Evans
Screenplay byWilliam Kennedy
Francis Ford Coppola
Story byWilliam Kennedy
Francis Ford Coppola
Mario Puzo
Based onThe Cotton Club
by James Haskins
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byBarry Malkin
Robert Q. Lovett
Totally Independent Productions
American Zoetrope
Producers Sales Organization
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 1984 (1984-12-14) (United States)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$58 million
Box office$25.9 million[1]

The film was noted for its over-budget production costs, and took a total of five years to make. Critical reception was mostly positive and The Cotton Club was nominated for several awards, including Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama) and Oscars for Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, George Gaines) and Best Film Editing.[2] The film, however, also earned a Razzie Award nomination for Diane Lane as Worst Supporting Actress.



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.



Inspired to make The Cotton Club by a picture-book history of the nightclub by James Haskins, Robert Evans was the film's original producer and also wanted to direct.[3] He hired William Kennedy and Francis Ford Coppola to re-write Mario Puzo's story and screenplay. Evans eventually decided that he did not want to direct the film and asked Coppola at the last minute.[4] Richard Sylbert claimed that he told Evans not to hire Coppola because "he resents being in the commercial, narrative, Hollywood movie business".[5] Coppola claimed that he had letters from Sylbert asking him to work on the film because Evans was crazy. The director also said that "Evans set the tone for the level of extravagance long before I got there".[5]

Coppola accepted the jobs as screenwriter and then director because he needed the money – he was deeply in debt from making One from the Heart with his own money.[6] By the time Evans decided not to direct and brought in Coppola, at least $13 million had already been committed.[5] Las Vegas casino owners Edward and Fred Doumani put $30 million into the film. Other financial backers included Arab arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and vaudeville promoter Roy Radin, who was murdered in May 1983 by a drug dealer associate who felt she was cut out of profits from the film. According to William Kennedy in an interview with Vanity Fair, the budget of the film was $47 million. However, Coppola told the head of Gaumont, Europe's largest distribution and production company, that he thought the film might cost $65 million.[3]

According to Splitsider, Richard Pryor was considered for the role of Sandman Williams.[7] Robert Evans wanted to cast his friend Alain Delon in a two-scene role as Lucky Luciano but this did not eventuate.[8] The role of Luciano was instead portrayed by Joe Dallesandro, starting the dramatic film career for the former Warhol Superstar.

Author Mario Puzo was the original screenwriter and was eventually replaced by William Kennedy[6] who wrote a rehearsal script in eight days which the cast used for three weeks prior to shooting. According to actor Gregory Hines, a three-hour film was shot during rehearsals.[3]

Over 600 people built sets, created costumes and arranged music at a reported $250,000 a day.[3]

From July 15 to August 22, 1983, 12 scripts were produced, including five during one 48-hour non-stop weekend. Kennedy estimates that between 30–40 scripts were turned out.[3]

On June 7, 1984, Victor L. Sayyah filed a lawsuit against the Doumani brothers, their lawyer David Hurwitz, Evans and Orion Pictures for fraud and breach of contract.[4] Sayyah invested $5 million and claimed that he had little chance of recouping his money because the budget escalated from $25 to $58 million. He accused the Doumanis of forcing out Evans and that an Orion loan to the film of $15 million unnecessarily increased the budget. Evans, in turn, sued Edward Doumani to keep from acting as general partner on the film.[4]


The soundtrack for the film was written by John Barry. It released on December 14, 1984 via Geffen Records. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band in 1986.[9]


The Cotton Club was released on December 14, 1984 and grossed $2.9 million on its opening weekend, fourth place behind Beverly Hills Cop, Dune, and 2010.[10] Robert Evans took the blame for hiring Coppola while the director responded that if he had not been hired, the film would have never been made. Evans claimed that Coppola made the budget escalate dramatically by rejecting the script, hiring his own crew, and falling behind schedule.[10] The film was a commercial failure grossing $25.9 million against a $58 million budget.

The film appeared on videotape in April 1985. It was the first to use the Macrovision copy protection system.[11]


As of February 2019, the film holds a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews.[12]

The film appeared on both Siskel and Ebert's best of 1984.[13]

Director's cutEdit

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.[14] Lionsgate (owner of the Zoetrope Corporation backlog, and working in association with original studio Orion Pictures) will release that version theatrically and on home video in the fall of 2019.


  1. ^ The Cotton Club at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "NY Times: The Cotton Club". NY Times. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Scott, Jay (November 12, 1984). "Making of Cotton Club: A Legend of its Own". The Globe and Mail.
  4. ^ a b c Harmetz, Aljean (June 10, 1984). "Cotton Club Investor Sues Partners in Film". New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c Kroll, Jack (December 24, 1984). "Harlem on My Mind". Newsweek.
  6. ^ a b Gussow, Michael (March 22, 1984). "Parting Film Shots: Coppola and Dutch". New York Times.
  7. ^ Evans, Bradford (September 1, 2011). "The Lost Roles of Richard Pryor". Splitsider. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  8. ^ Hollywood: French actor Delon will play Lucky role Beck, Marilyn. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 03 Sep 1982: c5.
  9. ^ "The Cotton Club - John Barry | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Salmans, Sandra (December 20, 1984). "Cotton Club is Neither a Smash Nor a Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  11. ^ De Atley, Richard (September 7, 1985). "VCRs put entertainment industry into fast-forward frenzy". The Free Lance-Star. Associated Press. pp. 12-TV. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  12. ^ "The Cotton Club". Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  13. ^ "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  14. ^ Thompson, Anne (September 1, 2017). "Francis Ford Coppola: Why He Spent $500K to Restore His Most Troubled Film, 'The Cotton Club'". IndieWire. Retrieved September 1, 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • Parish, James Robert (2006). Fiasco – A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 359 pages. ISBN 978-0-471-69159-4.

External linksEdit