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Squalid, tragic, violent thriller...,
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This review is from: Across 110th Street [DVD] (DVD)
Two cops, the frazzled, corrupt Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) and straight-arrow Pope (Yaphet Kotto) track down three black thieves who have ripped off the mob in this violent, realistic thriller. As a movie this finds a middle ground between the documentary-style action of The French Connection (1971) and the Blaxploitation movies that would shortly hit American cinema screens. The movie is unique because it does not give the audience a hero figure with which to identify. Quinn's character is a brutal burn-out with ties to the Mafia, whilst it becomes clear as the movie progresses that Kotto's seemingly incorruptible college-graduate detective won't be able to keep his hands clean for very long. This is a very downbeat movie, which shows in detail the poverty of the Harlem slums in the 1970s, and the hateful criminals who prey on it both from within and without. The black gangsters are as cold-blooded as any in cinema, whilst the portrayal of the Mafia as a set of ultra-violent, racist thugs who torture and kill without feeling in the pursuit of their stolen money is a far cry from the sensitive portrayal of, say, The Godfather (1972). Anthony Franciosa gives a shot-fused, psychotic edge to his mob enforcer character Nick D'Salvio, a small-time hood determined to make the most of his grubby `search and destroy' mission; notice the seedy way in which he licks between his fingers when his blood is up. Paul Benjamin is also impressive as the epileptic leader of the thieves, whilst an even dumber than usual Antonio Fargas turns up, only to be crucified and castrated by the vengeful mob. And yes, the theme song is the same track used by Tarantino during the opening credits of Jackie Brown.
Rough around the edges generally, the film does show several signs of harsh editing, especially in the mid-section. After Franciosa and his men grab Fargas in a brothel, we quickly cut to the screaming, dying Fargas in the back of an ambulance with Quinn and Kotto. We then go to the office of black crime boss Richard Ward, where Quinn accuses him of murdering Fargas. We are given no clue as to why Quinn suspects Ward, or a reason why he would bring the straight, honest Kotto (who he has known for only a few hours) face-to-face with the man who gives him his pay-off money. However, the film gets back on track after this and ends in a memorably down-beat fashion, with a confused shootout in which several innocent people are sprayed with machine-gun fire and all the wrong characters are killed. A far cry from the vacant swagger of the dramatically lightweight Blaxploitation films it is usually associated with (the movie has been released as part of Blaxploitation collections on VHS and DVD, and is usually referred to as such in TV listings), Across 110th Street is a hard-boiled crime classic.