Across 110th Street Reviews
I could ramble about this one for a while, but just for the sake of time, I'll just try to keep it short and say that I love how this film manages to be gritty, violent (I was surprised at how violent this ended up being), and entertaining, yet still retain a hearty dose of intelligence and substance. That's probably why this film usually gets a fair amount of praise from the critics and intellectuals who normally look down upon blaxploitation and urban crime films. There's tons of subtext, yet none of it is too heavy handed or preachy.
Another great thing about this one is the acting. Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto each give wonderful performances that are multilayered and believable. The music and cinematography are also quite nice, although I feel it necessary to give a mild jeer over the fact that the climactic ending is supposed to be in Harlem but was actually shot on location on the Lower East Side. The rest of it was filmed in Harlem, so why not the whole thing?
Three down-at-heel blacks - Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin), Joe Logart (Ed Bernard) and Henry J. Jackson (Antonio Fargas) - disguise themselves as cops and storm into a Mafia-controlled numbers bank where they proceed to steal $300,000. However, the heist turns violent and the three robbers end up killing everyone in the room, including a few Mob guys, several blacks, and even a couple of real cops who happen by. The Mob send in a small-time hood with big-time ambitions, the violent and trigger-happy Nick D'Salvio (Antony Franciosa), to find the three crooks. Meanwhile, Harlem gang lord Doc Johnson (Richard Ward) puts his own guys on the trail of the trio of robbers. Caught up in the hunt too are cops Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) and Det-Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto), the former an aging hard-nut who uses violence and intimidation to get results, the latter a young and honest black officer who prefers diplomacy wherever possible.
Rarely has New York been portrayed as such a living hell, certainly for those living in poverty and squalor. Initially, the viewer is repulsed by the three robbers for what they've done, but quickly they are made to look positively sympathetic as the truly repulsive supporting characters are introduced - Franciosa, chillingly psychopathic; Ward, ruthless and manipulative; and Quinn, totally lost in corruption and aggression. Only Kotto's character shows any grain of decency and optimism in this ugly society. Viewed nowadays, the film has a slightly dated feel to it which lessens the relevance of some of the social comment being explored. Quinn and Kotto don't get enough time on-screen either, which is a shame as their volatile working-relationship isn't explored as much as it could be and the twist ending lacks impact because their characters haven't been sufficiently developed. However, Across 110th Street still deserves to be seen for its ground-breaking violence, its hard-boiled action, and its relentlessly damning views of New York's ethnic wasteland in the early '70s.
As a side note, Richard Ward's role as the quintessential black crime-boss is one of the best in the genre.
[font=Century Gothic]"Across 110th Street" is a violent crime drama with a political edge. It does a very good job of showing a city that is divided between black and white.(Also, it shows how desperate a person has to be to pull off a robbery like this.) Harlem's people do not trust the policemen who have too long brutalized them. New cops like Pope are making a difference in how the police do their jobs. [/font]
A layered story that focuses on several characters and subplots, this film juggles more than I expected, and apparently more than it can handle, because although the film isn't necessarily uneven, or especially undercooked, the film takes on too much to fully flesh out, thinning out certain areas of exposition that would have reinforced your investment in the film, even though this film is slow enough without its breaks to meditate upon more thorough characterization. I won't go so far as to say that this film is strait-up dull, but when it slows down, it really limps out, slipping into quiet dry spells that meander along and often leave you wondering just when things are going to pick up. Rest assured that when the film does pick up, it's worth patience that is not all that firmly demanded, due to their being compensation for plenty of slow spots throughout the film, but make no mistake, this film is surprisingly a bit of a slow one that drags along with disengaging blandness to accompany disengaging conventions. Coming along in the early '70s, when films of this type were really starting to become abundant, this effort wasn't exactly trite for its time, and still touched upon aspects that weren't exactly explored inside and out by then-forthcoming brethren, but even for its time, this film had a tendency to succumb to tropes, and by now, what refreshing notes there are have become pretty dated, so it's hard not to look at this film - especially in retrospect - as just another member of the "Harlem Crime Drama Movement" (TM), complete with some questionable areas in dramatic storytelling. Many consider this effort a blaxploitation film, and if it is, then the evidence is limited, with one of the most glaring reflections of blaxploitation elements being subtlety issues, particularly in dramatic areas, but not with the typically over-the-top flavor that makes other, more formulaic blaxploitation films more forgivable, thus making the dramatic shortcomings extra disconcerting. Don't get me wrong, there is enough that is compelling about this film for the final product to win you over as borderline rewarding, but all-out goodness cannot quite be achieved, as the film undercooks too much, meanders too often, hits too many tropes and faces too many dramatic shortcomings, until it finally fizzles out as kind of underwhelming. Still, while the film doesn't quite kick as much as it potentially could have, it still comes close to the status of rewarding on the wings of enough competence to keep you going, or at least keep your eyes attracted.
Okay, perhaps Jack Priestley's cinematography isn't all that great, as several of its stylish lighting aspects have dated as hazy in some parts, and emphatic of technical limitations in others, but on the whole, Priestley's efforts remain fairly handsome, boasting a subtle glamour in the midst of grit that proves to be complimentary to both the tone of the film and attractive aesthetic punch-up, further complimented by the musical aspects that are, in some ways, more recognized than the film itself. As I said, the film is often a bit too quiet for its own good, as quietness further dries up the final product's limp atmosphere, so you "Jackie Brown" fans shouldn't expect this soundtrack to be as explored as you might hope, yet do expect the moments in which the soundtrack is, in fact, played up, to be lively ones, anchored by anything from J. J. Johnson's stylish and often fairly tasteful score, to entertainingly funky songs, both commercial at the time and original. Whether they're Johnson's efforts, or Bobby Womack's efforts, or the efforts of other stars of mainstream black music at the time, the music in this film, when actually used, colors up an atmosphere that is generally dried into limpness, and while the final product's musical and photographic strengths aren't enough to make this effort as rewarding as it could have been, they help, though not as much as the telling of this tale that is ironically as hurt as it is because of storytelling. Luther Davis' script is heavy with tropes and histrionics, and Barry Shear's directorial storytelling all too often limps out, but when things are done write in storytelling, you get a taste of what could have been, whether it be through tastefulness in what characterization there is, or through intense moments of atmospheric handling that actually are pretty effective, fleshing out the story as fairly engaging, with a well-established sense of consequence. If this is a blaxploitation film, then it, like the critics say, overcomes plenty of its limitations, of which there are still too many for the final product to reward, but not so many that you can't give glimpses of a compelling thriller that break up a consistent fair degree of engagement value, reinforced by a certain aspect that is stronger than it usually is in films of this type: acting. As a "blaxploitation" film, this film's acting could have either fallen as nothing special or kind of disconcertingly over-the-top, but when given their chance to shine, the talented performers behind this effort deliver more than expected, with range, restrained intensity and distinguishing soul that may be more than this film deserves, and fleshes out the characters more than script itself, to where you'd be pressed to not become invested in the fair deal of subplots throughout this somewhat layered dramatic thriller. Were the film as effective as its performers' acting, it would have rewarded as a thoroughly engaging crime drama, but as things stand, the acting is just one of several aspects that power the film as enjoyable, with high points that firmly secure decency, no matter how much it goes shaken.
"I got one more thing I'd like to talk to y'all about right now", and that is, well, a rehashed mentioning of the exposition issues, slow spells, conventionalism and subtlety issues that lay heavy blows upon compellingness and drive the final product just short of good, but not so short that decency isn't secured by the handsome cinematography, lively, if underused score and soundtrack, rich high points in writing and direction, and myriad of surprisingly strong performances that make "Across 110th Street" a generally reasonably compelling dramatic crime thriller that could have been more, but proves to be pretty enjoyable on the whole.
2.75/5 - Decent
A very well-done crime drama, well worth a look.
Give it a rental.
Across 110th Street transcends the limitations of the blaxploitation genre because even though it follows the traditional style of filmmaking usually implemented into a film of the genre, it is actually a legitimate crime drama that aspires to be something more. Across 110th Street has it's faults, but it actually tries to be better than the same basic blaxploitation film that everybody has already seen in films like Shaft. It adopts the visual style and groovy mood of the standard blaxploitation film and adds them to a film with gritty subject matter and serious intentions so that it grows to be a lot more than people may have once expected from it.
Director Barry Shear actually takes the opportunity really seriously in Across 110th Street, because the way that he integrates both a strong African-American figure like Lt. Pope into the story and teams him up with a semi-racist but streetwise figure like Capt. Mattelli so that the nature of Across 110th Street is versatile and deals with both African-American issues and the involvement of an Italian-American figure in the matters. Across 110th Street is more versatile than the standard blaxploitation film, and though it is not the most consistently interesting film it certainly has its virtues.
As with many blaxploitation films, Across 110th Street has a premise which is fairly formulaic of a crime drama and lacking of all that many surprises along the way. And the handling that director Barry Shear gives the film does not mean that it can transcend the nature of its story or the slow pace. So the script is imperfect, and despite the fact that it has a lot of sufficient dialogue for the actors to work with a plenty of sophistication the story just is not consistently interesting. That kind of has to be expected from crime dramas of the 1970's as many of them were routine and similar, and the fact that Across 110th Street manages to add more to that than the standard film is beneficial but there is still a lot of formulaic elements to it in terms of basic storytelling which a director like Barry Shear is not ready to break free from the limits of.
The fact is that Across 110th Street is a dated film and is not one of the more defining films of the blaxploitation era because it actually makes an effort to be something else, but the style of the film is just terrific. I mean, the cinematography has the same rough-edged gritty style of the standard blaxploitation film as well as being edited at a nice pace. And the action scenes are especially entertaining thanks to the visual style of the film capitalising on them and adding a touch of blood and gore in the right places. And it is all executed against the backdrop of some great scenery which is grey to symbolise the monotonous nature of the crime in the film.
The musical score of Across 110th Street is very energetic as well, and the titular theme song is just so damn groovy, so most of the best aspects of Across 110th Street lie in its technical characteristics and the fact that looking back at them by today's standards reveals a sense of nostalgia.
And thanks to the skilfully crafted dialogue in Across 110th Street, it ends up as a rounding success.
Yaphet Kotto makes a fine lead in. Due to the gritty nature of his line delivery, he supplies a natural sense of rough-edged sophistication. His stature is confident and so he supplies a viable leading man for the story because he deals with all of the material on a very professional level without resorting to stereotypical character elements. He constantly maintains a level of power in Across 110th Street since he has a lot of dedicated strength to the script, and so he leads the story well in a character that defies the stereotypical elements of most African-American blaxploitation heroes. Yaphet Kotto gives it his all in Across 110th Street and it empowers the drama of the film.
Anthony Quinn gives the most memorable performance of the film though. The two time Academy Award winner makes a powerful team with Yaphet Kotto because he is able to create a strong chemistry between the two which is tense due to the different backgrounds of the characters and the nature of the situations they approach, but Anthony Quinn comes out on top with the best performance of the film. He has a sense of humanity in the role, and along with it he also has a certain kind of fearlessness. Anthony Quinn steps up to the role of Capt. Mattelli with every intention of dominating the screen and that is precisely is what he is able to do since his execution is spot on in achieving the mood of the film. Executing a tense ability to interact with all the other characters in the film while also holding his own as a tough and gritty cop, Anthony Quinn finds the right kind of balance between themes in his performance which results in a fine leading effort. It is no surprise that Anthony Quinn's performance in Across 110th Street is powerful, and it is one of the finest aspects of the film.
So Across 110th Street has the flaws of a story which isn't the most consistently interesting and it is limited to being within the normal formula of a crime film from the 1970's, but the genuine fact that it combines elements of both crime drama and blaxploitation so well with powerful acting and true grit makes it worth the viewing.