Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two black cops with a reputation for breaking the odd head. Both are annoyed at the success of the Reverend Deke O’Mailey who is selling trips back to Africa to the poor on the installment plan. When his truck is hijacked and a bale of cotton stuffed with money is lost in the chase, Harlem is turned upside down by Gravedigger and Coffin Ed, the Reverend, and the hijackers.
COTTON has an incredible cast of actors. Just watching it on cable recently it was a tremendous blast from the past to see so many great actors from the 1960s in this movie. COTTON is an entertaining morality tale with some bits of comedy, sarcasm, and some social commentary throw in.
Redd Foxx and Cleavon Little are two of the better known comedians, but the main characters are played by Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques. Some of the actors in this film were also in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) three years later. Henry Morgan (McCloud’s Chief of Police) plays a mean-spirited hoodlum in this film. However, even his evil character is a bit goofy.
Not that COTTON is a comedy, there is plenty of shooting and killing to qualify it as a Police Procedural type of film. However, COTTON mixes the comedy, commentary, and edgy humor with the drama and the violence in a way that few movies can do.
In fact, as I watched COTTON it occurred to me that it was a very ambitious film. It really tried to do a lot of things that most movies can rarely accomplish. COTTON probably falls into the Blaxploitation genre because the formula is essentially pro-White which is what characterized the Blaxploitation apart from the “SWEET BADDASS” type of anti-establishment films.
The two main characters are black Detectives and the white Police Officers and Detectives are either racists or else goofballs (similar to the white Police Officer who used to appear in the SANFORD AND SON TV series).
The main evil character is a black preacher who has swindled his flock, but lost the money. The search is on for the $87,000. The small amount of money seems to be a shot at the poverty of “the Ghetto.” The Mafia Boss character tells the Detectives that he makes much more than $87,000 from crime in The Ghetto every day; but meanwhile the small town Ghetto crooks (of both white and black races) are willing to kill each other (several die) over the same money.
Some disturbing things in this film are that the Preacher (Calvin Lockhart) at one point starts slapping around a couple of women and his girlfriend Iris (played by Judy Pace) is portrayed as a jealous psychopath (she plays her role with a something of a comic slant).
COTTON is a very compelling movie. It is a slice of history, it has great actors, and it has a complicated story that can be interpreted in more ways than one.