Across 110th Street is a nasty piece of business, directed with gritty verisimilitude and intensity by Barry Shear, and sporting an extremely focused screenplay by Luther Davis which maximized violence, attitude, and down and dirty action. Based on the novel by Wally Ferris and released in 1972 to both acclaim and controversy, the amazing team at Kino-Lorber made it a point to include this overachieving Blaxploitation gem in their tremendous catalog of titles, and it’s easy to see how the aesthetics utilized by the filmmakers would go on to inspire many other directors in countless films that would be released after this game-changer saw the flicker of movie projectors. Set in Harlem and chronicling a rather brutal back and forth between honest and corrupt cops, gangsters, mafia hoods, pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, and general city scum, this is the sort of movie that makes you want to take a long, hot shower after watching it, as it was clearly shot on real locations that were very dangerous, with little set-dressing probably required. And the fact that there aren’t easy to root for characters makes the film an even richer experience than it might otherwise have been.
The in-your-face cinematography by Jack Priestly rubbed your nose in the muck and sleaze, Byron Brandt’s viciously tight editing kept the pace moving at a fast clip, the morally and ethically questionable characters all operate by their own sense of internal code which may or may not be a good or bad thing, and the general level of grim fatalism on display is rather bracing to behold; this is a picture that must’ve seemed very ahead of its time when it first was released. An amazing cast was along for the sordid ride, including a steely Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Koto doing understated, slow-burn work, Anthony Franciosa in a hugely entertaining performance, and Paul Benjamin, Antonio Fargas, Ed Bernard, Richard Ward, Gilbert Lewis, Norma Donaldson and many others rounding out the colorful supporting cast. Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson’s influential title song would later be sampled by Quentin Tarantino during his hugely memorable opening to Jackie Brown, and by Ridley Scott in his excellent crime opus American Gangster. Across 110th Street operates as a unique early buddy-narrative while dipping its toes into true exploitation waters, supremely delivering on both fronts.