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March 22, 2011

Across 110th Street - Classic Film Pick


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Across-110th-Street Veteran television director Barry Shear had made a name directing TV shows ranging from "Tarzan" to "The Mod Squad" when he helmed what was to be the grittiest Blaxploitation film of the genre. The set-up is simple. It's the early '70s. A pair of Italian mobsters get robbed splitting up a week's $300,000 take from their African American criminal associates in a Harlem brownstone. The heist goes bad. Dressed as cops, two black thieves kill everyone in the room with a machine gun. During their escape, the getaway driver (Antonio Fargas) runs down a real cop. What transpires over the course of the story is a race between New York City detectives and Italian mobsters to track down the three men guilty of the crime.

The local Harlem police precinct puts Lieutenant Pope (Yaphet Kotto) in charge of the case. Pope is black. This doesn't sit well with Anthony Quinn's aging racist cop character, Captain Frank Mattelli. Mattelli likes to use violence against black suspects he refers to as "boys" or with the "N" word. For their part, the mobsters put the boss's son-in-law Nick D'Salvio (Anthony Franciosa) in charge of locating and exacting revenge against the bandits. Nick is every bit as racist as Captain Mattelli. They might as well be the same person even though they theoretically represent opposite sides of the law.

Both Mattelli and D'Salvio must meet with Harlem kingpin Doc Johnson (Richard Ward). Both men soon regret the lack of respect they show while doing so. "Across 110th Street" (1973) slyly loads its thematic dice with the personal lives of the thieves. The desperately impoverished plight of each man reveals them to be pawns in a system they barely comprehend. The economic, psychological, and physical brutality they suffer is effectively expressed in the eyes of the supporting characters who witness their treatment. As exaggerated as the violence appears, it is in keeping with the social climate of the time. No punches are pulled, and rightly so.


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