Ossie’s feature debut, after screen acting throughout the 60’s, has great energy and is absolutely packed. Some clunky parts, but the nonstop motion and added comedy (unexpected after finding this in Criterion’s neo-noir section) easily win the day.
Just too much going on to address it all, or I’ll be up all night, but charismatic con man Reverend Deke is robbed, and it’s an inside job, the money stashed in a cotton bale. Deke ditches his girl Iris, who ditches the white cop guarding her by getting naked and pretending to seduce him, then she discovers Deke with another girl and spends the rest of the movie hunting him. The lead cops Grave Digger and Coffin Ed are trusted by the locals despite these nicknames, capably chasing Deke and Iris and the cotton and all the other mysterious characters. As in the next movie I watched, Across 110th Street, the Harlem Black mob guy has an Italian boss afraid of losing control. There’s a lot of punching and whacking and flying through the air, not too much shooting, a bit of blackface, and a surprising amount of bird tossing. The cotton ends up onstage at the Apollo, the centerpiece of a musical striptease act, junkman Uncle Bud gets away with the money and the Italian covers it, so the people get back the cash they were throwing at their beloved con man a couple days earlier.
The two lead cops (and the fool white cop) would return in sequel Come Back Charleston Blue. The Reverend Calvin Lockhart would quit acting after a couple David Lynch movies. Judy Pace (Iris) didn’t get a lot of roles, would costar in Frogs. Comedian Redd Foxx played Uncle Bud, would soon find steady work on Sanford & Son.