Across 110th Street (1972)

Directed by Barry Shear
Two New York City cops go after amateur crooks who are trying to rip off the Mafia and start a gang war.

A still undiscovered classic

26 May 2002 | by rufasff (Los Angeles CA) – See all my reviews

This movie sweats. Early on in the mostly pandering “blacksplotation” film cycle of the seventies, came this incredibly violent, hate filled drama of three small time crooks who stumble on a big score and their hopeless attempt to survive it. The film is utterly dark and features nary a cheap shot or moment of easy cynicism.

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In one scene Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto go to the apartment of one of the crooks lovers, already slain, to look for information and break the news. This is one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever put on film, a model of restraint and economy in a film that is busting at the seams. Actors who were probably barely in another movie give magnificent performances. The neglected Kotto was never better.

Great gangster depiction from the early 70’s

9/10
Author: Bogey Man from Finland
25 July 2002

Barry Shear directed and Luther Davis wrote (after a novel by Wally Ferrsi) Across 110th Street in 1972 and the film stars Anthony Quinn as Mattelli and Yaphet Kotto as Pope. Pope and Mattelli are two police detectives, Mattelli white and Pope black, who investigate a bloody machine gun murder that took place in Harlem, in a location in which there rarely are any white people doing something else than business.

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Somebody stole big amount of Italian mafia’s money and it all ended up in the bloody shoot out, and only the thieves got away alive. The two lead characters try to solve this thing before it is too late, since the mafia is willing to use violent ways in order to get its money back..This is a premise for this classic film.

I really love the atmosphere in this film since it is something that totally lacks in most of today’s films. The setting in Harlem is very ugly, dirty and gritty and therefore true to life. This film doesn’t hide anything, it shows the true faces of life in this big city and all the diseases from prostitution to murder that live inside it. This film is pretty close to Don Siegel’s masterpiece, Dirty Harry (1971) which also showed very gritty urban setting without any bit of humor or something to ease the realistic and merciless atmosphere. The photography is also very great and technically there are no worth mentioning flaws in this film. The action scenes are exciting – albeit not too plenty – and everything in this film is as powerful and effective as the director and screenwriter intended to.

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The most tragic character is Quinn’s Mattelli, who is 55 and not so willing to continue his life in police and with all this scum. Kotto’s character is younger and still willing to keep on, but at the end of the movie, he may have another thoughts about his life, too. The end scene is very powerful and memorable mostly because it is so tragic and sad and also intelligent and thought-provoking. The whole last 10 minutes is very remarkable as the tension is in top and no one knows how this will end and, more importantly, who will be alive at the end. Bullets when fired do their jobs and never leave anyone alive in this violent and greedy world.

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The performances are totally wonderful, and I personally like Quinn the most in this difficult film. He acts very convincingly and has some hard scenes and segments, which show his abilities as an actor. The violence despite being brutal in mental way, is very strong physically, too, as the mafia tortures people without remorse in order to reach its target, but also they should have finished before it became too late. Violence and crime never pays, and this is again one movie to depict and tell about it. This film may not be too “graphically violent” by today’s video game and R rating standards, but compared to most of today’s films, violence is far stronger and emotionally challenging in this honest film, which never glamorizes its brutality with stupid one liners and humor efforts. This is among the most realistic crime films I’ve ever seen. The moneybag at the end leaves some hope for tomorrow, even though the hope is for most of the protagonists themselves too late.

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Across 110th Street has some pretty non-believable scenes and segments, which are not explained too carefully and seem little unconvincing, but they are very few and are easy to forgive after all the merits and positive things this film gives. This film is as classic as Dirty Harry and I give this 9/10 rating and recommend it very highly for lovers of gritty gangster and crime films, which never have any stupid efforts to amuse and entertain the audience with humor or other popcorn methods.

Harlem at its most Hellish …

9/10
Author: Coventry from the Draconian Swamp of Unholy Souls
9 April 2009

Unlike in most reviews there are to find on “Across 110th Street”, I will try not to participate in the debate about whether or not the film classifies as a genuine Blaxploitation effort. I will, however, elaborate as much as I can on all the things that “Across 110th” does represent … and that is quite a lot!

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This is a bona fide gritty, vile, uncompromising and unceasingly violent action-thriller from the glorious early 70’s. It’s a hardcore-to-the-bone tale of corruptness and survival with solid acting performances and a tight screenplay, yet without pushy morality lessons or unnecessary sentimental interludes. “Across 110th Street” is arguably the best Blacks Vs Italians thriller ever made, and this intervened with a strong story about two completely unmatchable cops that are forced to work together results in an unimaginably powerful and unforgettable movie; albeit one that only can be enjoyed by people with strong stomachs and nerves of steel as the bloodshed is relentless and the level of suspense is unremitting. Petty thief Jim Harris and his two accomplices decide to steal a large sum of money from the Italian Mafiosi that are running the show in Harlem.

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The heist goes terribly wrong, though, and Harris kills no less than five gangsters and two police officers. The Italians send their most lethal psychopath to Harlem and the black gangster community organizes their own manhunt as well. Meanwhile the police force deals with internal racial issues. The aging and corrupt but veteran Captain Mattelli is forced to hand over the investigation to Lieutenant Pope, who’s fresh out of university and still full of ideals. This is one of the grittiest and frighteningly realistic depictions of the crime-infested New York City district during the early 70’s. There are hardly any amiable characters in the entire film, the ambiance is constantly on the verge of depressing and the downbeat ending comes a massive slap in the face.

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The racial tension between the “main” police officer characters is always present and noticeable, yet moral values and speeches are never shoved down the viewers’ throats. The performances are incredible, particularly Anthony Franciosa as the crazed mafia killer and Paul Benjamin as the small thief turned murderer. But the utmost respect is for Anthony Quinn, for courageously illustrating a dismal and raw cop-character with his status in Hollywood. The soul soundtrack is amazing and the actual Harlem filming locations make the film all the more authentic. Barry Shear’s direction is surefooted and tight, and I can’t believe I haven’t checked out some of his other work yet. I still have a copy of “The Todd Killings” lying around, so I hope it’s as masterful as this film!

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What’s the frequency Kenneth?

9/10
Author: Andy (film-critic) from Bookseller of the Blue Ridge
3 August 2008

“Across 110th Street” was more than just a cliché (yet it was full of them), it was deep and developed (yet had a simplistic story about cops and criminals), it was gritty and honest (yet overly-so enough to make you gasp, not laugh), and it was pure, uncut, cinematic genius from beginning to the wildly unseen ending. There were plenty of pitfalls for “Across 110th Street” to fall into, but it continually saved itself by being genuine and dark throughout. While the editing, albeit pure 70s cinema, was completely tangent, the film itself demonstrated the raw force of truth, giving us a rare (yet fictional) story of the changing of the guard in Harlem, the truth of its streets, and the minds of its criminals.

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Sounding like a scene right out of “Dead Presidents”, our story begins with three African Americans stealing money from the mob, only to transform the simple robbery into a battleground, equipped with machine gun fire and plenty of cops caught in the line of fire. Needless to say, both sides – the Italian mob who currently has a strong hold on the crime in Harlem – as well as both the upcoming African American police Lieutenant (played by Yaphet Kotto) and the decaying corrupt Captain (played by Anthony Quinn) – are ready to do whatever it takes to bring these men to justice. Our plot device suddenly becomes a ticking clock, with our minds in constant question as to who is going to get to the finish line first. What keeps this cliché device from sounding stale is director Barry Shear’s ability to take us through each of the three story lines with nobody eating from the sweet cake of victory at any given time.

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“Across 110th Street” is not a comfortable story. The characters are flawed, the imagery is sandpaper rough, and the language is honest. Shear has made this film during a time where corruption is used to represent the mindset of the community. Harlem is not shown in a productive light, but then neither is the police nor the mob. What makes “Across 110th Street” feel like a science experiment is that you see the decay of the community implode systematically. From the simple thugs who begin the robbery, to the Italian mob who is just as brutal but with better suits, all the way to the police who use the same tactics, but are protected (supposedly) by a badge, this film explores the explosion of corruption in a bold new way that eliminates cliché, yet builds on honesty.

Shear’s ability to build the story into the camera’s frame is only the stepping stone of this film. The unrelenting ending could only have occurred with the power of the actors in front of the camera. Their work is simple, at times one could even call it amateurish, but Quinn and Kotto do a phenomenal job of keeping the story, and their characters, grounded at all times. Their beats could have been tightened, but their flaws build upon the chaos of this story.

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Their facial expressions alone are worth their weight in gold, especially Quinn’s ending glare. As Quinn and Kotto were our leads for this film, what stands out is how similar they are to their flawed mobsters and criminals. With our lead mobsters racism coupled with our medial issues of our criminals, we see a blend between them all. While they are all different characters, Shear brings them all together with small similarities. For someone jumping into the middle of this film, one would have trouble guessing who were the “real” bad guys, the guys with the guns or the guys with the badges. That is the next layer of “Across 110th Street” that could be used in any film studies class across the nation. Not just the visuals of a time filled with racial disgust, but also the fact that the racial divide wasn’t in just black and white. Harlem owns the police, yet they are there to uphold the law – while perhaps not exactly like that in Harlem today – one can see this happening throughout the world in modern society.

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Finally, one cannot end a review of “Across 110th Street” without mentioning the music – which was icing on the hypothetical cake. To me, the sounds captured the era, the chaos of the music coupled well with the violence happening on screen. The two blended perfectly together, giving us not just a taste of an explosive Harlem, but also the sounds that may have accompanied it. As a child of the 80s, I never was witness to this – so to see it (albeit in a form of fiction) only helped to heighten the awareness of this era in NYC.

Overall, “Across 110th Street” was a violent, loud, and turbulent film that was laced with clichés that were forgotten by the next scene. One could easily watch this film on late-night television and never quite see the power behind Shear’s camera, or Quinn’s acting ability (that final scene still haunts me), or the challenging music that accompanied our visuals, but watching it on a bright and sunny Saturday, the excellence of this film comes full force.

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The acting was at a perfect pitch for this film, the corruption that Shear demonstrates from across three spectrums adds a level of honesty to a film that could have easily been lost by another director. “Across 110th Street” reminded me of early Scorsese work, the raw grittiness of the city, a city that Shear loved (he filmed in Harlem), coupled with the powerful imagery took me to “Mean Streets” and “Goodfellas”, but not “The Departed”. This is a cannon of a film, one that should be watched and retained for the sheer honesty of the work, while it is fiction it holds a bit of truth to the turbulence of the world.

Grade: ***** out of *****

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Richard Ward and Paul Benjamin steal this one

10/10
Author: Melvin M. Carter from United States
17 October 2003

Richard Ward as the proud Harlem gangleader and Paul Benjamin as Jim Harris the steel of a trio of smalltime thieves who get in over their heads are the stars of this movie which has gotten lumped into the blaxploitation category. Though Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto are the stars along with Tony Franciosa as a middling hood given his last chance to become somebody of respect in the New York Mob get top billing its the above mentioned actors who carry this excellent crime drama which is a far bloodier and grimmer version of The Killing. Doc Johnson isn’t anybody’s flunky and Jim Harris would slaughter all the cops on Law and Order and NYPD Blue combined plus pistol whip the CSI crew too. Top rate.

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