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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

ACROSS 110TH STREET (1972)

Scrambling back to features after drifting into some unexceptional tv work (a tv film; a failed series), Anthony Quinn might have pulled off this urban-decay policier if only its intriguing ‘Blaxploitation’ vibe got past skin-deep appliqué. Or if tv director Barry Shear, who also co-produced with Quinn, showed the clear-eyed competence Joseph Sargent brought to similar elements in THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE/’74*. (No doubt, Quinn didn’t want a strong hand second-guessing him or he would have gone with someone like Sidney Lumet. Note his 'territory marking' freeze-frame tag.) But there’s still lots to groove on in this Harlem tale of three desperate locals who shoot up five mob guys & a couple of cops when they grab 300 thou in 'dirty money.' This sets up a heavy-on-the-violence chase with four different branches of enforcers tailing the three separated thieves. Two Mob Teams: One Black; One White. And Two Cop Teams: One Black; One White. Sometimes cooperating, sometimes at cross-purposes. It proves a bit much for director Shear. Quinn never quite finds his stride as the aging, id-driven urban dick, but Anthony Franciosa positively glows with every sadistic act as a MidTown mob power, while the always great Yaphet Kotto is alive to each new threat or any hint of racial condescension as the junior detective ordered to run the investigation. Excellent casting up and down the line, with fine Super Fly touches in the more flamboyant joints, and some of the blightiest urban blight of the era.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, PELHAM ONE TWO THREE gets the whole depressing '70s-era NYC/Fun City gestalt even better, and runs a dandy caper in the process.

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