ACROSS 110TH STREET (1972)
A brutal, high-energy urban crime drama that in many ways hits the marks SHAFT failed to do.
ACROSS 110TH STREET concerns the theft of $300,000 of mafia money by three black men and the street war that breaks out in pursuit and revenge for it in New York by the sadistically zealous Anthony Franciosa. Caught in the crossfire is the thrown-together caustic relationship between a buttoned down by-the-book policeman Yaphet Kotto and the racist, quick-tempered older officer Anthony Quinn. Both are excellent contrasts. Kotto is self-contained and under control while Quinn impulsively talks with his fists to suspects and roars with paranoid frustration at the knowledge he is on borrowed time in an ageist force. The theme of age is mentioned a number of times on both sides of the fence; characters’ ages and consequent vulnerabilities are referenced in their flinty duologues.
Paul Benjamin is also terrific as the nervy junkie of the three thieves who makes it all the way to the final rooftop stand-off with the police. Genre stalwart Antonio Fargas gives flamboyant value for money in his familiar role as a pimp with the sartorial flair to sport an impressive harlequin coat that the Pied Piper would envy. This may partly be what gets him beaten to a pulp by Franciosa later on.
Bobby Womack provides a great score, including the title song (an even better version of which is homage as the opening theme of Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN).
What impresses most about ACROSS 110TH STREET is its commitment, being full of energised, motivated performances by the whole cast who really inhabit their roles with gusto and high stakes. Time feels like money and the leisurely cool-cat strutting of John Shaft wouldn’t last five minutes on these deadly streets. There is also no shying away from violence, no coy disguising of the visceral effects of beatings on suspects and stoolies in the film. Machine-gunned mobsters are satisfyingly peppered with garish blood-squibs rather than misleading bloodless cut-aways. Franciosa at one point dangles an informant from a skyscraper girder and even when possessed of the information still allows him to fall to his death.
The shocking slo-mo downbeat ending, so characteristic of the early 1970s, also offers no sugar-coated typical Hollywood happy ending. Tragically, not all partnerships have time to develop in a war zone.
‘A helluva tester’ are the mean streets in the title song’s lyrics, but this hard as nails crime movie is a tough bad-ass pleasure.