A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Charleston Blue set out one morning in 1932 to do away with a gangster named Dutch Schultz. He planned to cut the Dutchman's throat with one of the elegant razors that were his trademark: blue steel, ivory handle made to order in Charleston. But apparently something went wrong, maybe because a razor was no match for a tommygun, and Charleston Blue dropped out of sight and became a Harlem legend.
That's the way "Come Back, Charleston Blue" tells it, anyway, and the movie begins in 1972 when the legend has apparently returned to Earth. His mission this time is similar to his original one; to drive the white mob out of Harlem and take over the drug traffic for himself. This is plainly a case made to order for Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, who are simultaneously the most famous and infamous detectives in Harlem.
We met them a few years ago in "Cotton Comes to Harlem," which was one of the first current group of black-oriented features. It was different from its successors, however, because of a certain lightheartedness and a willingness to go for comedy rather than violent action. "Come Back, Charleston Blue" has the same qualities, and gives us another look at Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as the most laconic team of detectives since "Dragnet."
The movie has been photographed lovingly on location in Harlem, and shows this as a place of beauty and ugliness, pride and corruption, community building and drug pushing, all side by side. Sometimes this makes the movie seem a little schizo. One of the characters, for example, is a palm-reading neighborhood adviser who seems to be out of Amos 'n Andy, while another is a brilliant 12-year-old chemist who single-handedly outsmarts the drug runners while lecturing cops on the Bill of Rights.