Soon after the Reverend Deke O’Malley (Calvin Lockhart) has sponsored a massive barbecue in the heart of Harlem and persuaded the 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, but when they catch up with the crooks, they don’t have the money.
Meanwhile, junk collector Uncle Bud (Redd Fox) – who had subscribed to Deke’s offer – finds a bale of cotton on a Harlem Street and sells it to junk dealer Goodman (Lou Jacobi).
But when Bud learns that stripper Billie (Mabel Robinson) has thought up a novel new routine in which she needs a bale of cotton, he buys it back and gives it to the girl.
The story becomes a wild chase all over Harlem, during which Deke’s girlfriend – the voluptuous Iris (Judy Pace) – and Mabel Hill (Emily Yancy) become involved, and all are out to get their hands on that bale of cotton which, it turns out, contains the lost money.
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.
This Blaxploitation suspense comedy was based on the novel and famous detective characters created by Chester Himes. A huge commercial success, the 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 Himes’ novels.
Coffin Ed Johnson
Raymond St Jacques
Rev Deke O’Malley
J D Cannon