In a dreary, rundown Harlem apartment, two white mobsters and three black mobsters are counting the week's take when someone knocks at the door. It's two black cops, or so they think. It's a robbery and when one of the hoods goes for a gun it turns into a massacre as all five men are killed and during the getaway, two cops are killed. The trio of robbers, including the getaway driver, escape with over $300,000 in mob money and it doesn't sit well. The question is who will get to these men first? The cops looking for justice and to put these men behind bars or the mafiosos looking for revenge.
Made in 1972, the movie has a dark, gritty look to it similar to The French Connection, another cop movie that has a similar sinister tone about the world. 110th Street was filmed in New York, and the movie greatly benefits from it. The whole thing feels real, like you're there with the NY detectives walking the streets looking for information. With the filming locations, nothing seems forced, and the story just flows along.
The big name here is Anthony Quinn as Captain Matelli, a veteran NY detective who's seen people at their worse and always gets the job done, even if his methods aren't exactly popular. Yaphet Kotto is a strong counter to Quinn as Lt. Pope, the younger officer assigned to lead the case because of his race. Pope tries to do things by the book because he believes in doing right and to a certain extent, he doesn't know better. The escalating confrontations between Maldetti and Pope provide much of the movie's tension when it comes to racism, but it's just the start.
Joining the supporting cast is Tony Franciosa as Nick D'Salvio, the mafia enforcer given the task of bringing in the three robbers. A gray-haired Franciosa is just the right amount of driven to do his job and then the opposite, slightly crazy and a huge racist. Paul Benjamin (later of Escape from Alcatraz) plays Jim Harris, one of the robbers and the most 3-D of them. Harris is an ex-con with epilepsy trying to make ends meet with his wife when he stumbles upon this mafia bank and tries to knock it off. It's a credit to Benjamin that his character is sympathetic. He's a murderer and a robber, but at the same time you feel for him. Ed Bernard and Antonio Fargas (Starsky and Hutch's Huggy Bear) round out the trio of robbers.
With so many strong performances, the movie never slows down. Each scene has a different character on screen, and the interactions feel natural throughout. Everyone has their motivation whether it be for revenge, doing your job, or even loyalty and survival. It builds to a moving ending on several different levels, especially the final shot which is reminiscent of the ending of The Defiant Ones with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. You can see it here, but obviously there's MASSIVE SPOILERS if you haven't seen the movie.
The DVD is a good purchase. The movie is in widescreen presentation that is grainy but it works for the tone and theme of the film. Don't get me wrong though, it's grainy but still a very watchable movie. Special features is just a trailer that highlights the opening robbery. Don't miss this one, a cop movie tied up in a blaxploitation story that produces an underappreciated semi-classic from the early 1970s.
Across 110th Street (1972): *** 1/2 /****