Harlem Nights

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Harlem Nights is a 1989 American crime comedy film written, executive produced and directed by Eddie Murphy.

He co-stars with Richard Pryor as a team running a nightclub in late-1930s Harlem, New York while contending with gangsters and corrupt police officials.

The film also features Michael Lerner, Danny Aiello, Redd Foxx (in his last film before his death in 1991), Della Reese and Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie Murphy.

Murphy received a nomination for "Worst Director" at the 10th Golden Raspberry Awards, his only directorial effort and the film "won" Worst Screenplay.

He had always wanted to direct and star in a period piece as well as work with Pryor, whom he considered his greatest influence in stand-up comedy.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

In Harlem, New York, 1918, Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) has a dice game. Nearly killed by an angry customer, Ray is saved when seven-year-old errand boy "Quick" (Desi Arnez Hines II) shoots the man. After being told that his parents are dead, Ray decides to raise Quick.

Twenty years later, Ray and Quick (Eddie Murphy) run a nightclub called "Club Sugar Ray" with a brothel in back run by madam Vera (Della Reese).Smalls, who works for the gangster Bugsy Calhoun (Michael Lerner) and Miss Dominique LaRue (Jasmine Guy), Calhoun's mistress, arrive.

Smalls and LaRue have come to see the club and report to Calhoun. Later, Calhoun sends corrupt detective Phil Cantone (Danny Aiello) to threaten Ray with shutting the club down unless Calhoun gets a cut.

Ray decides to shut down, but first, he wants to make sure he's provided for his friends and workers. An upcoming fight between challenger Kirkpatrick and defending champion (and loyal Club Sugar Ray patron Jack Jenkins (Stan Shaw) will draw a lot of money in bets. Ray plans to place a bet on Kirkpatrick to make Calhoun think Jenkins will throw the fight.

Ray also plans to rob Calhoun's booking houses. A sexy call girl named Sunshine (Lela Rochon) is used to distract Calhoun's bag man Richie Vinto (Vic Polizos). Calhoun thinks Smalls is stealing and has him killed. Quick is noticed near the scene by Smalls' brother Reggie (Arsenio Hall) who tries to kill him. Quick kills him and his men.

Calhoun sends LaRue to seduce and kill Quick. Quick realises that he is being set up and kills LaRue. He has Club Sugar Ray burned down. Sunshine seduces Richie Vinto and tells him she has a pickup to make.

Richie agrees to pick her up on the way to collect money for Calhoun. Richie gets into an accident orchestrated by Ray's henchman Jimmy (Charlie Murphy). Ray and Quick (disguised as policemen) attempt to arrest Richie, telling him that the woman he's riding around with is a drug dealer.

Quick attempts to switch the bag that held Calhoun's money with the one Sunshine had placed in the car, but two white policemen arrive. Richie explains that he's on a run for Bugsy Calhoun, so they let him go.

The championship fight begins and two of Ray's men blow up Calhoun's club to retaliate against Calhoun for destroying Club Sugar Ray. At the fight, Calhoun realizes it was not fixed as he thought, and hears that his club has been destroyed.

Quick and Ray arrive at a closed bank. Cantone arrives, having followed them. Ray's crew seal him inside the bank vault. Richie arrives to deliver Calhoun's money, but tells Calhoun that the bags of money had been switched with bags of "heroin" which turns out to be sugar.

Then, Calhoun deduces that Ray was behind the plot. Vera visits Calhoun and tells them (as part of an act) where to find Ray and Quick. Believing her, Bugsy and his men arrive at Ray's house. One of his men trips a bomb, killing them all.

Ray and Quick pay off the two white men who disguised themselves as the policemen earlier. Ray and Quick take one last look at Harlem, knowing they can never return and that there will never be another city like it. They depart for an unknown location as the credits ensue.


  • Eddie Murphy as Vernest "Quick" Brown
  • Desi Arnez Hines II as young Quick
  • Richard Pryor as Sugar Ray
  • Redd Foxx as Bennie Wilson
  • Danny Aiello as Phil Cantone
  • Michael Lerner as Bugsy Calhoune
  • Della Reese as Vera
  • Berlinda Tolbert as Annie
  • Stan Shaw as Jack Jenkins
  • Jasmine Guy as Dominique La Rue
  • Vic Polizos as Richie Vento
  • Lela Rochon as Sunshine
  • David Marciano as Tony
  • Arsenio Hall as Reggie
  • Thomas Mikal Ford as Tommy Smalls
  • Charlie Murphy as Jimmy
  • Robin Harris as Romeo
  • Uncle Ray Murphy as Willie
  • Michael Buffer as Ring Announcer
  • Reynaldo Rey as Gambler
  • Don Familton as Referee
  • Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Daryl


Box Office

Opening in North America in mid-November 1989, the film debuted at # 1 in its opening weekend, grossing $16,096,808 during those first three days and would go on to collect a total of $60,864,870 domestically at the box office.

Despite a fair gross, the film was considered a box office bomb by the studio, earning roughly half of Murphy's earlier box office successes Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop II from the previous two years.

Critical Reception

Review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes reports a 21% score with an average score of 3.8/10.

Gene Siskel was both bored and offended by it and later called it one of the worst films of 1989.

Michael Wilmington noted in the Los Angeles Times that the "production design lacks glitter. The movie also lacks the Harlem outside the gaudy gangland environs, the poverty, filth, pain, humanity, humor and danger that feeds these mobster fantasies."

Theatrical Trailer

Harlem Nights Trailer
Harlem Nights Trailer
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