Across 110th Street ★★★★

The Letterboxd Festival – Film #3

My knowledge of blaxploitation amounts to almost zero. I can't recall having seen a single film in the genre - not for any real reason, it's one of those things I just never really got round to investigating in great detail. I'm not sure I'm Gonna Git You Sucka! can really be counted as a part of the genre, so Across 110th Street, with its fantastic Bobby Womack theme tune, took my blaxploitation virginity. It also tied in quite neatly with the fact that I seem to be watching a lot of stuff with Yaphet Kotto in at the moment.

It seems to be a great place to start. Cops Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto are reluctantly brought together to hunt down three small-time crooks who hit the big time when they knock off $300,000 of the Mafia's cash - before the Mob gets there first. More specifically, before failed mobster Anthony Franciosa gets there first and saves his 'career'.

It's hardly a surprise that it turned out to be so good - the 70s gave us more great crime dramas and thrillers than I've had hot dinners. But what is most interesting about this one is that this is no 'buddy cop' film - Quinn and Kotto are not friends, and they never will be. He thinks he's a racist bastard. He thinks he wants his job. They're both right - but not as right as they think they are.

If anything, the film could have played with their dynamic a lot more thoroughly and, for a pair of leads, they're not on screen as much as you would expect. But in a way that's a good thing as it means that their relationship is never given the chance to lapse into melodrama and they never threaten to over-egg the pudding with feeding us too much of their conflict.

The plot is played out superbly well, focusing especially superbly on black criminals increasingly suffering a conflict of emotions at being forced to work with racist Italian gangsters, and the pursuit of the three that carry out the robbery is beautifully paced and intelligently done. The climax is almost Scarface-esque in its brutality, but a very satisfying ending it proves to be.

Outside of the excellent Quinn and Kotto, especially so in the latter case (what a fine actor that man is, a truly underrated performer), Franciosa is magnificently and believably desperate in the viciousness he deals out, while Antonio Fargas could not have been more perfectly cast as the most irresponsible of the three robbers. Blaxploitation, from what I've read, is never all that fondly spoke of in terms of acting quality, but there are no rough edges here at all. The cast is superb.

Yet another crime and cop drama to add to the Kilimanjaro sized pile that the 1970s built up, and one that belongs reasonably near to the peak.

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