Soon after the Reverend Deke O’Malley (Calvin Lockhart) has persuaded a Harlem crowd to part with $87,000 for a “Back to Africa” campaign, armed men break up the meeting and steal the money.
Ace Harlem cops Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St Jacques) and Grave Digger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) are soon on the case.
Respected actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis put much more than his artistic reputation on the line when he directed this abrasive crime comedy on the streets of Harlem.
Residents and militant campaigners alike were appalled that he should choose to further the cause with such a seemingly flippant picture.
But the script (adapted by Davis and Arnold Perl from the novel by Chester Himes) gives Raymond St Jacques plenty of scope for making social statements as he and Godfrey Cambridge investigate preacher Calvin Lockhart’s dodgy Pan-African association.
A huge commercial success, this rousing movie opened the door for other black American filmmakers.
Cambridge and St Jacques reprised their detective roles two years later in Come Back, Charleston Blue, which was adapted from another of Hines’ novels.
Coffin Ed Johnson
Raymond St Jacques
Rev Deke O’Malley
J D Cannon