Directed by Barry Shear in 1972, Across 110th Street starts off with a powerful opening scene in which a couple of Italian mobsters (one of whom is Burt Young from the Rocky movies) are counting money with some black gangsters they work with in Harlem. Two men dressed as cops, Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard) bust into the room and quickly unleash a hail of bullets. They grab the cash and hop into the getaway car driven by Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas) and after killing two real cops on their way out of the area, escape into the city.
When word of this robbery gets back to the mafia higher ups, they send in Nick D'Salvio (Anthony Francisosa) to take care of it. He's told that they've worked too hard to setup shop in Harlem and they're not going to just hand over their business to the blacks that live there. Nick isn't a nice man at all. He teams up with a few black mobsters on their payroll and hits the streets trying to figure out who was responsible and where they're hiding out. Meanwhile, two NYPD officers are assigned to the case. The older white officer, Captain Matelli (Anthony Quinn, who also executive produced the film), has nothing but disdain for the black residents in the area and isn't very good at masking his racist views while the younger black officer, Lieutenant Pope (Yaphet Kotto) is a little more sympathetic to the people in Harlem. As the two cops start making their beat tensions arise because of their differing views and methods while Nick and his crew start slaughtering their way to the men that stole their money.
Shot entirely on location in Harlem and often times using handheld cameras to give the whole thing a very effective documentary feel, Across 110th Street is grim, violent and pretty unrelenting in its depictions of race relations not just between the different criminal elements in the film but between the cops who are out to stop them as well. Quinn is very well cast as the curmudgeonly old fashioned white man who seems unable to adjust to the changing world he's been tasked with protecting while Kotto is just as good as the younger, educated black man who Matelli can't help but see as a threat to his job. Both men play their parts well and the tension that starts from the moment they start working together anchors the film in interesting ways. Equally impressive are Paul Benjamin and Ed Bernard as the two men on the run. The movie initially posits them as merciless thugs a little too quick on the trigger finger but as the characters evolve, while we never specifically sympathize with their actions we do at least understand how it is that life has forced them into taking those actions. Throw in Anthony Francisosa as the ruthless, racist mobster on the hunt for revenge and you've got yourself a very effective cast that fit right into their completely authentic surroundings.
Occasionally labelled as a Blaxploitation picture really because of when and where it was made, Across 110th Street really only dabbles in those elements by showing off a few colorful characters in over the top outfits. For the most part, this picture completely dispenses with the camp and the unrealistic scenarios that were typical of the genre and instead plays things in a very grounded style. This is closer to The French Connection than it is to Hell Comes To Harlem or Shaft. The pimps and players that inhabit this world are not glamorized and in fact, there aren't really any heroes here at all (the closest we come is with Kotto's character but even he is depicted as a very flawed man). We know very early on that this isn't going to end well.
The Harlem locations are really well shot, adding plenty of gritty atmosphere. The finale that takes place in an abandoned apartment building really shows off the dirt and squalor of what was then a very troubled neighborhood and those who appreciate movies that show off the seedy side of seventies New York will appreciate the look of the film. Throw in a fantastic score and an iconic theme song courtesy of Bobby Womack and this one may be very obviously a product of its time, but that's not a bad thing. It's not a happy film but it is a very fast paced, gritty and exciting one, a fine crime story that accurately depicts racial tensions without sugar coating things or offering easy answers to difficult questions.
Across 110th Street arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and for the most part this is a decent enough picture. Some minor print damage shows up throughout, mostly in the form of small white specks rather than giant scratches or emulsion spots, while colors are nicely reproduced. This is, however, a gritty film that takes place in an urban area so it isn't the most colorful film to begin with. There is plenty of pop in some of the more garish outfits worn by certain characters though. Detail in close ups benefit the most but medium and long distance shots improve here too. You'll be able to note the paint peeling off of the abandoned tenement used towards the end of the film, for example. Black levels aren't quite reference quality but they are certainly solid enough and overall this is a solid high definition presentation. A little more cleanup work would have helped, but otherwise this looks good.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate languages or subtitles of any kind provided. Most of the time the dialogue is pretty clear, easy enough to follow but there are times where it gets muffled and a little tough to understand. The score has a reasonable amount of depth to it and demonstrates decent range. The sound effects, gun shots in particular, are a little heavy in the mix but otherwise sound alright. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and aside from those few spots where the dialogue gets a little buried, for the most part the levels are properly balanced.
Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature and a static menu with chapter selection.
Across 110th Street is a really well made and ultra-gritty crime film that makes the most of its talented cast's strengths and all the tension and atmosphere made available by its authentic locations. It's not a feel good movie nor is it the Blaxploitation picture some might pigeonhole if you're into edgy and realistic thrillers it has a lot going for it. Kino's Blu-ray release looks quite good and offers up acceptable if unremarkable audio. No extras save for a trailer but recommended on the strength of the movie and the transfer.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.