“Across 110 Street” (1972)
Barry Shear’s “Across 110th Street” walks the precarious line between the gritty urban cop thriller for which the standard was set by the previous year’s “The French Connection” and the trashiest of blaxploitation, that unwittingly goes to great lengths that oily haired mobsters and watered down genre tropes don’t make for a satisfying mix. Shear’s predilection toward handheld camera shooting intends to weld a docudrama immediacy to the proceedings à la Friedkin, but all that results is a strained, incompatible visual aesthetic whose grittiness only makes the B-movie artificially of the characters all the more unpalatable.
As the result of a deadly Harlem robbery, which results in the death seven men, including two police officers, an energetic search for the perpetrators is led by Mafia psycho Nick D’Salvio (Anthony Franciosa) whose interest in indulging in graphic, extended torture is only equalled by his acting the caricature of every overly emotive bad gangster performance including a particular affinity toward expressing every shade of human emotion with a death’s head toothy grimace. On the side of the proverbial angels is police Capt. Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), a veteran cop whose delicate technique of beating witnesses results in not a single lead but effortlessly maintains the film’s provocative but needless my consistent level of brutality. Partnered with Mattelli’s old-school persona (by way of secondary corrupt film noir flatfoots) is the more satiric contemplative Lt. William Pope (Yaphet Kotto), whose gentler forbearance also fails to yield; with the resulting generational, racial and temperament frisson between the two reduced to a mere matter of appearance, with Pope looking quite dapper, whereas Mattelli continually looks as if he’s just fallen out of a Murphy bed.
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