Across 110th Street

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Across 110th Street
Across 110th Street.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Barry Shear
Produced by Anthony Quinn
Fouad Said
Barry Shear
Written by Luther Davis
Based on Across 110th
by Wally Ferris
Starring Anthony Quinn
Yaphet Kotto
Anthony Franciosa
Music by Bobby Womack
J. J. Johnson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • December 19, 1972 (1972-12-19)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $10,000,000[1]

Across 110th Street is an American crime drama released in 1972. It was directed by Barry Shear and stars Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa and Paul Benjamin. The film is set in Harlem and takes its name from 110th Street, the traditional dividing line between Harlem and Central Park that functioned as an informal boundary of race and class in 1970s New York City. Focusing on a heist, murder and their subsequent investigation, Across 110th Street takes inspiration from both the blaxploitation films of the 1970s as well as the film noir genre. Across 110th Street is remembered in part for its soundtrack, which features a classic song of the same name by soul artist Bobby Womack.

Plot[edit]

The film begins with a heist. Jim Harris, played by Paul Benjamin, goes with his partners to steal $300,000 from a Mafia-controlled policy bank in Harlem while disguised as police officers. The robbery goes wrong and results in the slaughter of seven men — three black gangsters, two members of the Italian mafia, and two police officers. Yaphet Kotto stars as Lieutenant William Pope, the straight-laced black police officer put in charge of investigating the case. He is assigned to work with the aging Captain Frank Mattelli, a street-wise but racist Italian-American cop played by Anthony Quinn. Captain Mattelli is a rough, old-school type of cop who embodies a “shoot first, ask questions later” ethos. Although Lieutenant Pope works strictly by the books and states throughout the film that he is the one in charge of the investigation, Pope repeatedly struggles to restrain Mattelli as his partner jumps to attack suspects and witnesses to coerce their statement. Mattelli, a cop on the take, receives money in exchange for cooperation with Doc Johnson, the leader of black organized crime in Harlem. Over the course of roughly twenty-four hours, Pope and Mattelli race to get to the criminals before they can be hunted down by the Mafia, which is also searching for Harris’ crew. These Italian gangsters are led by Nick DiSalvio (played by Anthony Franciosa), a savage capo who takes pleasure in beating and abusing his victims. 

Cast[edit]

Themes[edit]

Racial tensions[edit]

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time when racial tensions ran deep, and often exploded into riots. In the summer of 1964, a riot erupted in Harlem after a white off-duty police officer murdered a black teenager.[2] The “hot summer” of 1967 saw riots rip through the country, in major cities throughout the West and the North, as black communities responded in anger to poverty and police brutality.[3] In 1968, just three years before the release of Across 110th Street, numerous businesses and storefronts in Harlem were set on fire as residents reacted in frustration and grief after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.[4]

The 1970s were also a time when feelings of black power were everywhere in African-American communities across the United States. The black power ethos seeped even into the underworld of organized crime, as evident in Across 110th Street, where black gangsters like Doc Johnson are coming to believe that black people should control the organized crime circuits within their neighborhoods rather than the racist Mafia bosses.[5]

New York City in the 1970s[edit]

Across 110th Street portrays New York City of the 1970s, a decade when crime, drug use and poverty was at an all time high. The city economy was broke, its infrastructure crumbling and pimps and prostitutes filled Times Square.[6] Harlem itself was a place of little opportunity. Middle class residents fled the neighborhood in large numbers, leaving the poor to abandoned buildings and empty storefronts. Burned out buildings were visible on nearly every block of Harlem’s major avenues, 24% of the area’s population was living on welfare, and between 1976 and 1978 the population of east and central Harlem fell by almost a third.[7] In 1971, an estimated 60% of Harlem’s economic activity depended on cash flow from gambling — the illegal “numbers” racket controlled by organized crime.[8]

During a potent scene in the film, Jim Harris explains to his girlfriend why he was forced to turn to robbery to make ends meet. As a middle aged black man, formerly incarcerated, with a health problem and no formal education or highly-paid skills, Harris’ only options are to work a demeaning, low-paying job with no future or to turn to crime. Even the cop Mattelli justifies the bribes he receives as supplemental income for his meager wages as a police officer.

Release[edit]

The film earned an estimated $3.4 million in North American rentals in 1973.[9]

  • In 1973 it was banned by the South African Publications Control Board.
  • In 2001 it was released on DVD.
  • In 2010 it was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.
  • In September 2014 it was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Reception[edit]

Across 110th Street opened to mixed reviews and moderate success at the box office. In a 1972 review Variety magazine commended the film for its realism, tight editing and solid performances.[10] While some white critics panned the film[11] it was reasonably popular among black audiences. In 1973 veteran black Chicago journalist Lu Palmer opened his alternative newspaper, Black X-Press Info Paper, with a review of Across 110th Street. He reflected that the film was particularly thoughtful and well-acted compared to the majority of the low-budget blaxploitation pictures of the era, and noted that “this flick ought to be carefully studied — again, for its images and messages.”[12]

Soundtrack[edit]

Across 110th Street Soundtrack
Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street.jpg
Soundtrack album by Bobby Womack and J. J. Johnson
Released December 16, 1972
Recorded 1972
Genre R&B
Length 30:13
Label United Artists
Producer Bobby Womack
Bobby Womack and J. J. Johnson chronology
Understanding
(1972)Understanding1972
Across 110th Street Soundtrack (1972) Facts of Life
(1973)Facts of Life1973

The soundtrack of Across 110th Street reflects the mood and historical context of the film. The songs were written and performed by Bobby Womack, while the score was composed and conducted by J. J. Johnson. Made up of gritty and brooding funk, the soundtrack echoes the dark themes and imagery of the film.

The critically praised title song was a No. 19 hit on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart in 1973 and was later featured in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown. Its lyrics reflect the broader themes of impoverishment and desperation in the film, where characters feel beaten down by poverty and must do whatever it takes to stay alive.

  1. "Across 110th Street" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace) (US #56, R&B #19)
  2. "Harlem Clavinette" (performed by J. J. Johnson and his Orchestra)
  3. "If You Don't Want My Love" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace)
  4. "Hang On In There (instrumental)" (performed by J. J. Johnson and his Orchestra)
  5. "Quicksand" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace)
  6. "Harlem Love Theme" (performed by J. J. Johnson and his Orchestra)
  7. "Across 110th Street (instrumental)" (performed by J. J. Johnson and his Orchestra)
  8. "Do It Right" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace)
  9. "Hang On In There" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace)
  10. "If You Don't Want My Love (instrumental)" (performed J. J. Johnson and his Orchestra)
  11. "Across 110th Street – Part II" (performed by Bobby Womack and Peace)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Across 110th Street, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  2. ^ "New York Race Riots". crdl.usg.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  3. ^ McLaughlin, M. (2014-03-20). The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America. Springer. ISBN 9781137269638. 
  4. ^ Risen, Clay. "The Night New York Avoided a Riot - The Morning News". themorningnews.org. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  5. ^ Boyd, Todd (2007). The Notorious Phd's Guide to the Super Fly '70s: A Connoisseur's Journey Through the Fabulous Flix, Hip Sounds, and Cool Vibes That Defined a Decade. Harlem Moon/Broadway Books. ISBN 9780767921879. 
  6. ^ CNN, Deblina Chakraborty,. "When Times Square was sleazy". CNN. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  7. ^ Sterne, Michael (1978-03-01). "In Last Decade, Leaders Say, Harlem's Dreams Have Died". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  8. ^ Cook, Fred J. (1971-04-04). "The Black Mafia Moves Into the Numbers Racket". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  9. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  10. ^ Staff, Variety (1972-12-27). "Across 110th Street". Variety. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  11. ^ "Movie Review - - Racial Violence Is the Theme of 'Across 110th Street' - NYTimes.com". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-11-28.  line feed character in |title= at position 15 (help)
  12. ^ Butters, Gerald R. (2016-01-31). From SWEETBACK to SUPER FLY: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago's Loop. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 9780826273291. 

External links[edit]