The Cotton Club (1984) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The Cotton Club was a famous Harlem nightclub. This is the story of the people who visited this club as well as the people who ran it, and the film is generously peppered with the jazz music that made the Cotton Club so renowned in the 1920s and 1930s.

  • The parallel and occasionally intersecting stories of Sandman Williams and Michael "Dixie" Dwyer, starting in 1928; the intersections mainly happen at the Cotton Club, a Harlem jazz club where the performers, like Sandman who has a dance routine with his brother Clay, are exclusively black and the patrons, like Dixie--personal musician (jazz cornetist and pianist) to married gangster Dutch Schultz whom he often accompanies to the club--are exclusively white. Sandman's focus on advancing his and Clay's dance career together ends up taking a back seat and threatens their relationship altogether when Sandman meets and falls in love with club singer Lila Rose Oliver, a biracial woman with Broadway aspirations, who can pass for either black or white depending on the situation but doesn't fit wholly into either world. Dixie fell into Dutch's employ by chance and finds getting out difficult; he can't stomach the senseless killing around--and often initiated by--Dutch. Dixie gets into a passionate relationship with singer Vera Cicero, Dutch's girl-on-the-side who, unlike Dixie, can stomach being with Dutch to achieve her goal of owning her own club. When the club's owner, Owney Madden--a gangster himself, with a heart of gold--offers Dixie a way out, Dixie tries to convince Vera that the life he can offer her is better than what she has with Dutch, and in the process keep from being hunted down by Dutch in what he would see as an act of betrayal.



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