A gripping New York-lensed crime drama marrying the Blaxploitation and mob movie genres, Barry Shear’s ACROSS 110TH STREET makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber.
In a Harlem apartment, three black men are counting out thousands of dollars worth of earnings with two Italian mobsters for whom they work for. Disguised as police officers, two armed black men -- Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin, FRIDAY FOSTER) and Joe Logart (TV actor Ed Bernard, THE HOT ROCK) -- bust in, shoot the five men to death and take off with $300,000 in banded wads of cash. Outside the building, their cohort Henry L. Jackson (“Starsky and Hutch” star Antonio Fargas, I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA) collects them in the black-painted getaway car, killing two patrolmen in the process. When the mafia quickly discovers what happened and that they’re out all that loot, they recruit dapper fortyish “family man” Nick D'Salvio (Anthony Franciosa, TENEBRAE) and his two henchmen to bring down those responsible. D’Salvio drives across 110th Street to visit Harlem crime lord Doc Johnson (Richard Ward, THE JERK) and despite the tension between the two, they join forces and do everything necessary to track down and terminate the trio who crossed them.
In the meantime, the NYPD’s 27th precinct is mounting its own investigation of the seven murders that were committed. Semi racist Italian-American police veteran Captain Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) is teamed up with African American Lieutenant Pope (Yaphet Kotto. LIVE AND LET DIE) who is put in charge of the case (“for political reasons” as Mattelli’s superior dictates) and does things very much by the book. There’s opposition from Mattelli (as the much younger Pope is also vying for his job) who likes to rough suspects up and use racial slurs when questioning them. But despite their differences, Mattelli and Pope have to learn to work together and have each other's back during their investigation, and more importantly, bring in the three guilt criminals before D’Salvio and his gang get a hold of them and extract retribution mafia style!
Based on the novel “Across 110th” by Wally Ferris, ACROSS 110TH STREET was competently directed by Barry Shear (a television director with such diverse features as WILD IN THE STREETS and THE TODD KILLINGS under his belt) and shot entirely in Manhattan (at a time when parts were considerably run down and quite frankly, scary), giving it an authentic grittiness which greatly compliments its dark, brooding and underlying “crime doesn’t pay” standpoint. Its blend of different genres (police/crime drama, urban cinema and mob movie) was very fitting for the time it was released, with such pictures as THE GODFATHER, SERPICO and the SHAFT series also in play, but the film went underappreciated and still doesn’t seem to have gained the recognition it deserves. Although the storyline might be routine, the manner in which the film is executed and the way the well-crafted characters intertwine makes this gripping viewing, not to mention all the tense violence (the opening heist has the room of victims taken out by a machine gun) and street dialog that’s eloquently racy and anything but politically correct. For a film set in New York in the early 1970s, ACROSS 110TH STREET has actually aged gracefully (though there’s no denying it’s of its era) and its use of handheld cameras in scenes involving crowded precinct houses and tight-spaced tenements are innovative when considering the TV crime dramas which would often employ this technique years later (a great scene in which Quinn’s Mattelli makes his way through the precinct while individually addressing a string of eccentric characters on the way, seems improvised and realistically so).
ACROSS 110TH STREET is not only well paced and full of great action scenes (the climatic cops vs. robbers chase is unrelenting), the acting is more than commendable, especially in the lead actors. Quinn, who was by this time a Hollywood legend, also served as an executive producer and is terrific as the aging but tough-as-nails and gruff captain, and Kotto (who had just gained critical accolades and instant stardom for appearing in Larry Cohen’s BONES) is also great as the contrasting, no-nonsense lieutenant at the start of his police career. Bernard and Benjamin are also intense in their roles, with Benjamin playing his mass killer role with a sense of empathy (and he’s epileptic to boot), but it’s Fargas as the slick Jackson who steals the show, spending his loot partying with hookers and easily getting pinched by his tormentors (his role here almost seems like an archetype for the longer screen time he would have in such Blaxploitation classics as CLEOPATRA JONES and FOXY BROWN). Out of everybody, Tony Franciosa’s D’Salvio seems at times the most like a caricature (especially in the year of THE GODFATHER), but he makes the well-dressed gangster deliciously psychotic and he definitely adds another dimension to the film. Look for a very young Burt Young (right after he did CARNIVAL OF BLOOD) in a non speaking role during the film’s opening, and there’s also appearances by “Buck Rogers in the 21st Century” star Tim O’Connor, Ken Lynch (I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE), Gloria Hendry (BLACK CAESAR), Charles McGregor (SUPERFLY’s Freddie) and George DiCenzo (HELTER SKELTER). J.J. Johnson provides a nice score that gets funky when it has and the late Bobby Womack performed the unforgettably soulful title track.
Kino presents ACROSS 110TH STREET on Blu-ray in a presentation which utilizes MGM’s HD transfer (the film was originally released by United Artists and is still an MGM property). It’s presented 1080p in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film has always been gritty looking, but colors and nicely stable throughout and the image is crisp and free of excessive print damage. Filmic grain is on display but is subdued and unobtrusive and detail is impressive. The single audio option comes in English language DTS-HD 2.0 mono track, which displays a decent enough mix; dialogue is reasonably clear and sound effects and the music score is replicated in fine shape. No subtitle options are present, and the only extra is the original United Artists theatrical trailer. (George R. Reis)
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