Across110th Street

The movie opens on a tense stand-off between a roomful of men in suits counting out a bagful of cash and two men, dressed as cops, armed with a pair of machine guns. The men with the money are mobsters and the cops are actually robbers. What happens next is a bloodbath that sparks a deadly game of cat and mouse that will cross neighborhood boundaries and upend the balance between criminals who run Upper Manhattan. As the tagline on the film’s posters read: “If you steal $300,000 from the mob it isn’t robbery. It’s suicide.” The movie is “Across 110th Street” (1972), featured July and August (2022) on MGM HD.



“Across 110th Street,” introduced by Bobby Womack’s influential title song, refers to the street that separates Central Park North from Harlem; the line between territories controlled by Italian mafia and African-American crime bosses. It also divides the “haves” living in their high-rises from the “have-nots” surviving in a gutted ghetto. It’s a border riddled with crime and troubled by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and racial tensions. Desperate to maintain law and order, is veteran detective, Captain Frank Mattelli played by Anthony Quinn (pulling double duty as star and producer). Mattelli is old school, managing his marginalized citizens with a mix of beleaguered compassion and brutality. But when the $300,000 heist occurs, the mayor’s office puts Lt. William Pope (Yaphet Kotto) in charge of the investigation. Pope is a young African-American detective who, in contrast to Mattelli, does his business methodically and by-the-book. Together the two men must race against time to find the thieves before a racially-charged gang war breaks out on their beat.



In “Across 110th Street,” nearly every character is corrupted by the surrounding urban decay – with the exception of Kotto’s Lt. Pope. Kotto stands out for standing still, a quiet center of the storm. After nearly a decade of working in television, Kotto’s star was rising and he more than held his own against the formidable Anthony Quinn with a performance that brimmed with the assured talent and charisma that would serve him well in a run of films throughout the decade, including “Live and Let Die” (1973), “Truck Turner” (1974), and “Friday Foster” (1975) – all of which can be found in the MGM library.



“Across 110th Street” is a gritty neo-noir thriller with as much in common with the early-seventies urban police dramas from writers like Ed McBain and directors like Sidney Lumet as it does with the “Soul Cinema” genre of the era. The rooms are seedy, and the atmosphere is chaotic. Like many of the films of the early-seventies, the language and attitudes reflect the times. The movie was shot on location in Harlem with light cameras that allow the viewer an almost documentary style view of a specific time and place.



So, take a ride “Across 110th Street” airing July and August (2022) on MGM HD.