CRIMEWATCH: Across 110th Street
During a mob meeting, two men disguised as police officers bust in and hold the gangsters at gunpoint. When one of the crooks moves, they are all gunned down and their $300,000 in racket money is stolen. The holdup men incognito are Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard). As they try to flee the scene with their getaway driver Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas) they are spotted by two real cops who they kill, after which they almost crash then stall the clunky car.
When the Mafia is informed about the heist, they send Nick D’Salvio (Anthony Franciosa) to Harlem where he makes it known to the gravelly voiced crime boss of the borough Doc Johnson (Richard Ward) that he expects his help to find the culprits and offers him $5,000 as incentive. It’s clear there is animosity between the two. On his way out, D’Salvio is insulted by Doc and laughed off as a “punk errand boy”, and leaves filled with even more rage.
While D’Salvio’s men seek information on who was behind the stickup, the police are also on the case. They are led by the young Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto) and a veteran Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn). Mattelli is a very brash man whose own unrestrained methods of law enforcement are very old school. He has no qualms about beating up his suspects and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. A by the book Pope doesn’t share this outlook and this makes the co-workers a very explosive pair. They begin to fight each other as much as they try to solve the case.
When the getaway car is pulled out of the river, Pope and Mattelli get the break they needed and begin questioning the man who sold it to Jackson. This interrogation shows how far Mattelli will go to get information. One of D’Salvio’s men gets word from a secret connection on the force that it was Jackson that bought the car and it leads to one of the films most violent sequences. D’Salvio pays a personal visit to the Harlem brothel/club where Jackson is flaunting his cash and proceeds to brutally beat him as onlookers watch in horror. A mortally wounded Jackson is questioned by Mattelli and Pope on the way to the hospital but he dies in the ambulance.
As Pope and Mattelli begin narrowing down the suspects, The ruthless D’Salvio is also closing in and it’s only a matter of time before Jim and Joe will be arrested or killed. Much of the emotional impact of the story comes from Benjamin’s Jim Harris who is a criminal but one we gain sympathy for. His faithful girlfriend Gloria (Norma Donaldson) wants him to give the stolen money back but he refuses. Jim angrily conveys to her that his life is a dead end and that the robbery was his only way to have any kind of future. Jim wants to leave the rundown tenement he’s been working in as the caretaker behind but soon realizes he has to stay put and hide while the mob and cops are looking for him.
Across 110th Street is a superbly scripted and directed crime film from the early 1970s with high levels of action and tension that are constant from the explosive opening to the shocking finale. While it’s often categorized as being part of the Blaxploitation genre, this is incorrect as it contains a story with a multi-racial cast and surpasses most of the thematic trappings associated with those lower budget films. The relationships in the police and the criminal worlds is explored with a visceral, no holds barred viewpoint and the pacing is excellent. In classic 70s style, the police are shown to be every bit as nasty as the crooks they apprehend. There are no winners or happy endings in this story, just desperate people who do whatever they can to survive.