“Across 110th Street” is not for the squeamish. From the beginning it is a virtual blood bath. Those portions of it which aren’t bloody violent are filled in by the squalid location sites in New York’s Harlem or equally unappealing ghetto areas leaving no relief from depression and oppression. There’s not even a glamorous or romantic type character or angle for audiences to fantasy-empathize with. Boxoffice potential draw is only the violence which is likely to turn more people away than on.
Technically, the Film Guarantors Inc. production, United Artists release, is well-made, realistic in presentation and effect with uniformly good portrayals from actors, but depressingly lacking in a sympathetic focal point for audiences to grasp. Possible moments for this necessary ingredients are only cursorily touched upon in the character make-up of three participants but are passed over and forgotten. Star Anthony Quinn and director Barry Shear were co-executive producers. Ralph Serpe and Fouad Said produced.
Shear’s direction of the Luther Davis script, based upon the novel, “Across 110th,” by Wally Ferris, is strong and relentless in its pursuit of violence. He incorporates side characters and situations into group scenes which give authenticity to the feel and moods of the overall production. Perhaps it’s too real.
With the knock-over by three Harlem blacks, Paul Benjamin, Ed Bernard, Antonio Fargas, of “the family’s” $300,000 take from the streets, Anthony Fraciosa, uncool son-in-law of org’s head, goes out to “teach them a lesson.” He smashes a glass in the face of Fargas, beats and tortures Bernard for info then drops him down 20 stories with sadistic grin.
Quinn, aging police captain on the take with a strange sense of responsibility to the law, is relegated to working with Yaphet Kotto, black lieutenant after captain’s bars and as yet, uncorrupt, as it seems every other cop is.
With the race on between cops and “family,” for third member of trio, Benjamin hides out in condemned building and is located when girlfriend Norma Donaldson brings his epilepsy medicine. Police arrive after he has given Franciosa and pals a few hundred rounds from machine gun. Before expiring from police bullets Benjamin tosses loot into ghetto schoolyard, returning it to the streets. Quinn gets his in the temple from sniper’s bullet as he stands over the body and the fade out is on the black hand of Kotto holding the white of Quinn’s.
Quinn’s performance is controlled, but the character is not clearly defined. Kotto relies on understatement for majority of film while Franciosa is bravura in a role written with paranoia overtones. Benjamin pulls for sympathy but is submerged in the violence. Richard Ward as a Harlem head for the “family” is a standout with extremely well modulated portrayal.
Lensing of Jack Priestley captures the squalor of every site utilized and Byron Brandt’s editing is tight and effective.