Monday, June 11, 2012

Across 110th Street (Barry Shear, 1972)

I like to call Across 110th Street "the greatest Blaxploitation film that wasn't." Blaxploitation is a fairly specific genre, and while it could be argued that a film designed to attract a Black audience is by its nature a Blaxploitation film, particularly if it were made when Blaxploitation was a present and popular genre, I would argue that this film is a Black-centric film which draws upon the appealing qualities of the genre without stooping to some of its lower nature.

Across 110th Street has some of the true heavyweights of Blaxploitation appearing in it. Not necessarily the big names. There is no Fred Williamson, Bernie Casey, Jim Brown, or Pam Grier in it, but it has some of the strongest actors that are genre staples. Antonio Fargas (Foxy Brown, also portrayed "Huggy Bear" in Starsky & Hutch), Paul Benjamin (Friday Foster, Leadbelly), Richard Ward (The Jerk, Mandingo), Gloria Hendry (Hell up in Harlem, Blackbelt Jones), and the big star of the film, Yaphet Kotto. To be fair to the rest of the cast, there are really almost no slouches here, even in minor roles. Granted, this was an MGM film rather than AIP, so they had a budget and perhaps a desire to get the best actors they could hire (though MGM put out some really questionable Exploitation films in the '70s)

The story is pretty simple. Three men rob some Italian mobsters working the numbers game in Harlem, getting away with $300,000. The mob has moved in on the Black mobsters, who are now their local agents. Naturally, they want their money back. On the other side of the law, the police want to figure this out as two police officers were killed prior to, and associated with, the robbery. Veteran actor Anthony Quinn plays a Detective Captain who discovers he will be under orders from a Detective Lieutenant, Yaphet Kotto. Psychotic gangster with something to prove, Nick D'Salvio (Anthony "Tony" Franciosa, Tenebre, The Long Hot Summer), is the driving force behind much of the action and adds to the Blaxploitation argument. He is highly racist and not shy about showing it, but is also an incompetent who got his status by marrying the boss' daughter. The butt of his rage is directed at Harlem boss, Doc Johnson (Richard Ward) who winds up getting most of the information which eventually leads them to the thieves.

Despite showing its age a bit, this is an excellent police thriller/crime drama which I think sits nicely with other nouveau-police dramas of the day, such as Fort Apache The Bronx in the way modern crime dramas are constructed. Be sure to look out for "Shevvy" (Gilbert Lewis) who gets quite a bit of screen time as Doc Johnson's right hand.


Ninja Dixon said...

I reviewed this for the Yaphet Kotto week, another of my seventies favorites!

Darius Whiteplume said...

I will take a look. He is a favorite.

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