Harlem Nights - Wikipedia Harlem Nights - Wikipedia

Harlem Nights – 12 Interesting Facts About The Movie!

Have you watched the movie Harlem Nights? If you have, have you noticed what we have? If not, here we have some interesting facts you should know about Harlem Nights.

Harlem Nights is a 1989 American crime comedy-drama written, directed, and also starring Eddie Murphy. The movie is about a gambling nightclub run by two people and their encounter with police officers, gangsters, and people of corrupt nature to stay in business.

Even though they win against the enemies, they eventually leave the city to live in some foreign land. The movie was claimed to be told in broad cliché that you would keep on waiting for the fun part but would never reach it.

It is also claimed to have no original idea in any part of the movie.

Facts About The Movie – Harlem Nights

Despite all of this, the movie was a great hit and a cult classic known for its dialogues. And here are some facts that would amuse you.

1. Three Generations of Actors

The movie has cast three generations of African-American comedy actors; Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy.

Harlem Nights - Wikipedia
Woody Omens

Redd Foxx (John Elroy Sanford)

Redd Foxx (John Elroy Sanford) was an American stand-up comedian who was best known for his portrayal of Fred. G. Sanford, in the famous television, shows Sanford and Son. He was recognized during the 50s and 60s. 

Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor was an actor and a Director. He is even regarded as the most influential stand-up comedian of all time. He was most active in the 60s, 70s, and, 80s. 

Edward Regan Murphy

Edward Regan Murphy, an American actor, comedian, and singer, was active from the 80s to the present. He is also the greatest stand-up comedian of the time. 

Three Generations Together

So you see! The Harlem Nights brings together the most celebrated comedians from the 50s to the present. At the age of 67, 49, and 28, these three men came together to create the most legendary movie of all time.

They were all similar in their approach to comedy but yet had their unique styles. 

2. The Real Incident Behind The Story

Harlem, as we all know, is famous for its African-American heritage. But earlier, it was occupied by Jewish and Italian Americans. And with the arrival of African-Americans in the 20s and 30s brought about the famous Harlem Renaissance. 

In the Harlem Nights, there is an Irish mobster Bugsy Calhoune who tries to take over the nightclub owned by Sugar Ray to control the black-dominated Harlem.

The movie was inspired by a real-life dispute between a Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz and a black gangster Bumpy Johnson in the mid-1930s.

How it all went down?

A speakeasy nightclub owner Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) and his adoptive son, Quick (Eddie Murphy), ran a club in the final days of Prohibition.

Gangster Bugsy Calhoune (Michael Lerner) hires corrupt detective Phil Cantone (Danny Aiello) to shut down Club Sugar Ray after finding out that it is bringing in more revenue than its own business, the Pitty Pat Club.

This story follows nightclub owner Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) and his son Quick (Eddie Murphy) as they struggle to avoid going out of business due to a brutal mafia and a dishonest police department.

Three decades of comedy legends star in this story. When Quick develops feelings for Calhoune’s gun moll, Miss Dominique La Rue (Jasmine Guy), it doesn’t exactly help the issue.

3. Cult Classicism

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Harlem Desire

The Harlem Nights was much critiqued by film critics. It pulled down for its slow pace and lack of comedy. Many believed that the film showcased the setting and costume of the time, but people criticized it for the use of dialogue in the movie.

Many of the conversations and cuss words were not a trend then and were contemporary. Yet the film celebrated these dialogues and became famous.

It was just because of these dialogues; the film became a cult classic of the time. The discussions were witty and influenced the audience. 

4. Eddie Murphy – The Allrounder

The Eddie Murphy movie, Harlem Nights, was merely a director’s work. He had always wanted to work with Pryor, who he thought was his biggest stand-up comic inspiration, and to direct and star in a historical piece. Everybody enjoys seeing  Eddie Murphy act in movies.

Who is he?

Eddie Murphy is the Director, the Executive Producer, the writer, and a star supporting cast in the film. It was his only work as a director. He always wanted to work as a star in the movie he leads and to share a screen with Pryor.

For his sole directing effort, Murphy received a nomination for “Worst Director” at the 10th Golden Raspberry Awards, and the movie.

5. Introduced Metal Detectors in Theatres

When the movie opened at the AMC Americana 8, a patron shot two people in the theatre. This led to so much commotion. Two police officers later killed him.

This incident made the theatres cancel the showings of Harlem Nights. After this, the theatres installed permanent metal detectors.

Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn blamed the film for the riot that was started shortly after the cancellation of the shows. Flynn also commented that the movie glorified violence.

6. Soundtrack

The movie’s soundtrack introduced seven classic tracks by the renowned African-American pianist, composer, and Jazz player Duke Ellington.

The soundtracks were:

i.Black Beauty”

ii. “Mood Indigo”

iii. “Take The ‘A’ Train”

iv. “The Gal From Joe’s”

v. “Sophisticated Lady”

vi. “Drop Me Off In Harlem”

vii. “It Doesn’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” 

7. Setting

SAVE EAST HARLEM - The Human-scale City on Vimeo
Old Harlem

Harlem is a neighbourhood in New York City. Despite this, the entire movie is in Los Angeles. Harlem had a historical significance, and it is no wonder that the place’s name comes in the title.

Harlem itself is a character in the movie. It was a shame that the film could not be shot in Harlem. Even though the movie tells about the lives in Harlem, it lacks the soul of Harlem.

The luxury of Los Angeles will not be able to provide the essence of Harlem and what the people did go through. 

8. Release

Harlem Nights was released in 1989, which was fifty-one years later than the period in which the movie is from; 1938.

When the film begins, it was an incident in the past twenty years before the beginning of the movie, which was seventy-one years before the movie was released. 

9. Profanity

As said above, the movie was iconic for its usage of dialogue. Many obscene words, including ones with sexual connotations, were used in the film. Because of this, Harlem Nights was an R-rated movie.

Another reason was the use of racist comments in the film. We know that Harlem was famous for the occupants of the African-American community, and they had to struggle a lot to gain recognition.

So it would be obvious to include racial issues in the movie despite setting it in a location like Harlem. 

10. Story of The Black

Harlem Nights came out at a time when the Black cinema was going through a sort of Renaissance. There were many other movies like Lean On MeDo the Right Thing, and School Daze.

By telling different stories of the black through these movies, Black cinema leads the world into a new decade. 

The lives of Blacks were threatened from the beginning. When the movie ends, we could see the group winning against the rivals. But unfortunately, they have to leave Harlem to live in another foreign land.

What is the use of winning if they had to leave the place? They are still not free from the racist chains. Their fight was to claim the area in the first place. Maybe this could be one of the reasons the movie has no story at any point. 

About the Movie

The historical movie Harlem Nights focuses specifically on a portion of the Black experience in late 1930s Harlem. It occurred in the midst of Black neighbourhoods fighting segregation by relying on one another for support and resources during the conclusion of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of strong creative change. These resources ranged from Black-owned pharmacies and food stores to discreet hangouts where folks could find momentary relief.

11. Worst Awards

Harlem Nights is famous for receiving the worst awards. It won the Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Picture, the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay, and the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director.

Harlem Nights may be the worst big-budget film of 1989, earning low scores for repulsive dialogue, staging, and characterizations as well as suffocating monotony. Despite being marketed as an action-comedy, “Harlem Nights” struggles to successfully combine the two genres.

It is still a mystery how the movie got such acclaim. But who cares when one receives the support of fans and gets to see their name four or five times in the movie credits? 



12. Bars, Lounges Restaurants, and Costumes

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Harlem Tavern – Harlem Nights

After the release of the movie, many bars and lounges opened in the name of Harlem nights. Most of them were in NYC, Atlanta, and various parts of the United States. Also, the costumes of the movie gained popularity.

The costumes were the only thing that had synced with the time of its release. 

From most of the facts, we get the idea that the movie was not an excellent experience for severe moviegoers. The film was a financial success only because of Eddie Murphy’s star power.

But it did not get great critical acclaim. There were even comments that if he wanted to keep on doing worst movies like Harlem Nights, it’s better he write and direct them. But still, it is a celebrated work all over the world. 

There is also an overdose of violence in Harlem Nights. As the movie goes on, the pile of bodies increases and the joke doesn’t sink in. Murphy’s character seems to be a rival of women whom he beats and punches all the time.

He also beats up many others in the movie. The rise of his character itself begins with an assassination where he killed a man when he was only seven years old. 

Trailer Of The Movie – Harlem Nights

Harlem Nights - Trailer


Final Verdict

Whatever the critics claim about Harlem Nights, it remains a classic of the time. With a budget of 30 million dollars, the movie earned a profit of 95 million dollars in the movie market.

With such legendary trivia in the casting, the film gives the audience a history of African-American stand-up comedy over five decades.

It is the representation of the Black community in mainstream movies and a memorial of the Harlem Renaissance. It would remain as a movie that brought about a fresh perspective at the time it was released. 

This is all that I could reveal about the movie without giving out too much. Do watch the movie and let us know about your take and understanding of Harlem Nights, whether it was worth your time or not in the comment section. 

Last Updated on by alishbarehman


  1. In my opinion Harlem Night was a symbolic classic for Black Americans who lived this exact same life style as was portrayed in the movies. The critics who dismissed the true point regarding winning but still having to leave their home are in denial as to what true racism was about. They didn’t understand the difference between winning and merely evening the playing field because in actuality they didn’t win anything. They just prolonged their lives. To Black America this film was a classic depiction of the way life was for Blacks back then and racism today and a tribute to 3 exceptionally talented black comedians and cast who brought Black lifestyle to the forefront.

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