Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto in 1972's "Across 110th Street."

Across 110th Street September 29, 2022

DIRECTED BY

Barry Shear

 

STARRING

Anthony Quinn
Yaphet Kotto
Anthony Franciosa

Paul Benjamin

Richard Ward

RATED

R

RELEASED IN

1972

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 42 Mins.

I

n Across 110th Street (1972), a bleak, sobered police procedural where there exists, unusually for the genre, no clear-cut “good side,” two cops with a mismatched working style are brought together for an investigation on a case that likely ranks among the most complex — and dangerous — either has worked on: a criminal raid of a Harlem-based, Mafia-controlled policy bank by a trio of desperate civilians (Paul Benjamin, Ed

Bernard and Antonio Fargas). That trio managed to get away with $300,000. But they’re also responsible for the deaths of seven powerful men — including Mafia members, some on-site police, and members of a formidable Harlem gang — who happened to be there. One of the investigating officers, Italian-American industry vet Capt. Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), has been doing his job for upward of 30 years, and has gotten the results he wants typically through force and corner cutting. The other, a younger Black lieutenant named William Pope (Yaphet Kotto), in contrast joined the force about two years ago and pointedly practices a more civilized kind of law enforcement. 

 

They seldom see eye to eye. The movie doesn’t force the trope impressed on many police-procedural situations like theirs: that eventually they’ll learn to get along, and that their different approaches will soon have a way of complementing one another. This speaks to what’s most admirable about Across 110th Street: it tends across the board to avoid the orthodoxies we’re used to. Morality’s gray, the police characterized less as a force for good than, predominantly in this Harlem setting, a flame fanner. And the story is neither that neatly told nor overly concerned with whether it’s being adequately thrilling. (Though there are a few requisite chases by foot backed by exciting music.) 
 

Across 110th Street seems above all driven to make its milieu feel textured and convincing. The film is profuse with characters belonging to the many factions the central crime has upset; Across 110th Street, not one to let a stereotype get the last word, makes it a point to see through the thinking and motivations of people that in another movie might be viewed as disposable compared to their noisier personality traits. (The movie relishes in a gravelly, delightfully wicked cackle let out by a Harlem boss played by Richard Ward, but only long after it’s established him beyond his outward expressions of menace.) 
   

It’s unexpected that Across 110th Street’s director, Barry Shear, mostly worked in TV, a medium whose relationship to the crime drama is most often awash in propaganda. But he gives the movie a pragmatism and a reasonable amount of grime (his heavy use of hand-held camerwork and close-up effectively telegraph how much he wants this to mimic the wobbliness of reality), abetted by a stark, often unflinching screenplay from Luther Davis, who would never again pen a movie script. Across 110th Street is now best remembered not because of its own merits but for its Bobby Womack-helmed soundtrack. The latter is excellent — unambiguously one of the decade’s best. But it shouldn’t obscure this high-water mark for the 1970s procedural. B+