A Rage in Harlem (1991) from Tuna

A Rage in Harlem (1991) is a genre film that I adored from beginning to end. There were three reasons for this:

  • Superlative set decoration.

  • Cinematography by Toyomichi Kurita.

  • Robin Givens looking absolutely amazing. She only shows cleavage, and a long look at her bottom as co-star Forest Whitaker licks it, but she is hot in every scene she appears in.

Let me set up the plot.

A black gang and a white gang make a deal involving stolen gold ore in a backwater Mississippi town. The deal goes awry; the police show up; and Robin Givens grabs the gold and heads to Harlem. She thinks the rest of her gang is dead or in jail, and doesn't much care. She approaches Danny Glover to sell the gold, but she needs a place to spend the night. As luck would have it, the undertakers' ball is being held in his establishment, and Forest Whitaker looks like a perfect patsy to her. He is overweight, doesn't drink or smoke, is an avid church goer, and is still a virgin. But his brother, Gregory Hines, is a major player. When Given's old boyfriend shows up looking for her and the gold, the plot gets a little crazy on the way to finding out who will get the girl, the gold and the money.

IMDB calls it crime genre. I saw it more as a comedy. Ebert saw it as a love story, and liked it. Come to think of it, it should probably be called romantic comedy/crime. Although the plot was somewhat preposterous, and some of the characters were much larger than life, I was thoroughly entertained.


In addition to the long look at Givens's buns. we see breasts from some assorted strippers/hookers.

Scoop's notes in yellow:

Many of Chester Himes's novels can fairly be called crime/comedy, I guess. He wrote exaggerated crime stories filled with offbeat elements and larger-than-life characters. (Or maybe life itself was actually larger in his world than in ours.)

Himes knew crime from the inside. He spent seven years in prison for armed robbery, and it was in jail that he started to write. He did write many crime stories filled with quirky characters and lots of sex, but he's considered to be more than just a black version of Dashiell Hammett. Inside all of Himes's stories is a central core which portrays the potential of black people being consumed by both white racism and black self-loathing, a position which ensured that he would offend both white and black readers in America, where he stayed relatively unknown and unpopular during his lifetime. You might think to yourself, "well, so he offended black people and white bigots, but didn't he get an audience among white liberals?" No, not really. He managed to piss them off too. In addition to his genre fiction, Himes wrote serious books about the complicated, uneasy relationships that American blacks had with pet liberal causes like trade unions and socialism.

Given the fact that he managed to offend almost every special interest group in America, Himes ended up living in Paris. Fortunately for him, his books were popular in Europe, especially in France.

He is probably more popular in America now than he was in his lifetime. His works are often featured in "contemporary literature" courses in the top universities. I guess we've all had enough time to distance ourselves from those days, and can look back and see that he was right about a lot of things.

One website biographer wrote:

Several features make Chester Himes a significant writer. If He Hollers Let Him Go and Lonely Crusade offer the most vivid and coherent picture of World War II Los Angeles in American fiction. Cast the First Stone is an important contribution to the special genre of prison fiction. Finally his Coffin and Gravedigger novels made a unique contribution to detective literature.

He wrote several novels which became films:

  • Cotton Comes to Harlem.

  • The Heat's On, which became Come Back, Charleston Blue as a movie, and is a sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem. Himes wrote more than half dozen stories about the same characters, police detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones.

  • A Rage in Harlem. The book version of "A Rage in Harlem" features Gravedigger and Coffin Ed more prominently, but they are relegated to cameo roles in the screenplay, which chose to direct its focus elsewhere.

  • If He Hollers, Let Him Go. (One of Himes's serious books, about racism in the defense plants in WW2.)

When I was a student, Himes's book of erotic fiction, Pinktoes, was a popular read within the university set. I remember enjoying it, but it has never been made into a movie, perhaps because its attitudes toward interracial sex are still too controversial.

On a separate matter ...

Bill Duke also directed the highly regarded Deep Cover (three and a half stars from Roger Ebert) about a year after this film (three stars from Ebert), but Duke was not able to translate that success into fame, and has not been able to sustain the success he enjoyed in that era.

The Critics Vote

  • Roger Ebert 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed about $10 million in America.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Top-notch offbeat romance/gangster/comedy film.

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