Sunday, October 5, 2008


"Wild in the Streets" director Barry Shear's pulsating blaxploitation thriller "Across 110th Street" (*** out of ****) is a gritty, realistic crime caper about three trigger-happy African-Americans that heist $300-thousand of illicit drug money from the Mafia during a secret meeting in Harlem. Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto play the two high-ranking N.Y.P.D. officers that scramble to nab the trio before Mafia kingpin Anthony Franciosa can lay his hands on them with help of local black hoodlums. Apparently, it looks like Shear shot about 90 per cent of this white-knuckled actioneer on location in the ghettos of Harlem. None of the settings look like they were constructed on a sound stage. When people are wounded in "Across 110th Street," they bleed bright red blood and the body count is reasonably high for this 1972 movie. The single drawback to this no-nonsense, high-octane, shoot'em up is the shortage of sympathetic characters. Essentially, there is nobody to identify with in Luther Davis's screenplay and nobody emerges as a role model. Quinn gives a gruff performance as a thirty year veteran police captain that would rather beat a confession out of a suspect than coddle him. Kotto strives to stick with the rule book. Actually, Kotto's Lieutenant Pope is the most likable character. Conversely, Anthony Franciosa steals the movie as the son of a Mafia boss who has to prove his mettle and does he ever. He castrates one of the thieves and dangles another off the side of a high-rise under construction.The action gets off to a violent start as a group of black and white buttoned down African-Americans and Italians are counting greenbacks in a seedy apartment building. Two N.Y.P.D. cops hammer at the door and warn the occupants about a parking violation. When one of the black gangstas tries to bribe them, the two cops burst into the room. Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin of "Escape from Alcatraz") and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard of "Blue Thunder") masquerade as New York's finest. Harris wields a lightweight machine gun and covers the five mobsters while his partner stuffs wads of cash into a suitcase. Look closely and you see future "Rocky" co-star Burt Young as one of the Italians. One of the African-American hoods makes a play for his automatic pistol, and Harris mows down everybody in sight with his machine gun fire. They plunge down the stairs and scramble into an old checkered cab painted black. Getaway driver Henry J. Jackson (Antonio Fargas of "Cleopatra Jones") careens away from the tenement only to run into trucks that block his route and cops come sprinting out of nowhere. Harris wipes a black cop and a white cop with bursts of machine gun fire before the villains can extract themselves from their predicament.The Italian Mafia isn't happy about this hold-up, and Nick D'Salvio (Anthony Franciosa of "Rio Conchos") is sent into Harlem to make an example of these three. Initially, Nick runs afoul of local Harlem kingpin Doc Johnson (Richard Ward of "Mandingo"), whose resemblance to legendary Harlem racketeer Bumpy Johnson is unmistakable. Later, the cops arrive in droves with Captain Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn of "The Guns of Navarone") heading up the investigation until another officer (Tim O'Conner) pulls him aside and points out that a younger guy, Lieutenant Pope (Yaphet Kotto of "Live and Let Die") has been assigned to the case for political reasons because he is black and the crime occurred in Harlem. A thirty-year veteran who conducts an investigation his own way, Mattelli rubs Pope the wrong way, but he knows the ropes better and gets results that Pope cannot because he doesn't have as well oiled a machine. As it turns out, Mattelli is on the take and likes to take a snort when things get tough. Comparably, Pope doesn't drink and he is honest. Meanwhile, D'Salvio makes more headway than either Mattelli or Pope. He catches Henry J. having the time of his life at a local brothel and tortures the hopped up thug, eventually castrating him. When they learn about Henry J.'s unfortunate fate, both Logart and Harris decide it is time to head off for greener pastures. D'Salvio catches up with Logart and throws him off a building. The more sympathetic of the thieves, Harris, appears to be home free but he forgets to take his medication with him and the mob tracks him down.Director Barry Shear pulls no punches. "Across 110th Street" is all about paying the consequences for your actions and everybody—but Lt. Pope—has to pay the price before this riveting law & order opus is over. As well-made but unsavory as "Across 110th Street" is, the film didn't do much for Shear's career. He spent most of his life shooting name dropping television series, but "Across 110th Street" holds up for the most part and squeamish spectators should stay away from this bloodbath.

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