Tuesday, March 7, 2017
BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Across 110th Street (1972)
Across 110th Street” was in the opening credits of “Jackie Brown.” I suspect this is true of many other people too. At first I figured Bobby Womack's soulful, sad theme song was a stand alone song but quickly learned it was from an older film. When “Across 110th Street” was first released, it was considered to be just another entry in the growing genre of blaxploitation. Yet the reviews were good, better than expected. Some critics went so far as to say “Across 110th Street” rose above the designation of "exploitation." The film's reputation is positive enough that I wondered if it was a good fit for this marathon. Yet I was really curious about “Across 110th Street” and knew now was the best time to watch it.
A routine exchange of drug money between the Harlem crime syndicates and the Mafia goes wrong. Three men – Jim Harris, Joe Logart, and Henry Jackson – break in, shoot all involved dead, and make off with the money. The men are hoping to use the cash to leave the slums, to give themselves new lives. The mob, meanwhile, is on their trail. Soon, each one is tracked down, paying for the crime they committed. A pair of New York cops, one black and one white, are also on the case, hoping to get to the thieves before the Mafia does.
incompetent wannabes. Both types usually end up dead. “Across 110th Street” is closer to reality, a gritty crime thriller that doesn't leap into comic book silliness.
It's also an incredibly empathetic film. The script examines the motivations behind its criminal anti-heroes. Each one gets a speech devoted to what they hope to do with their stolen cash. When his girlfriend questions him about the heist, Paul Benjamin's Jim delivers a powerful tirade about what few other options he has. As a black, diabetic ex-con, he believes crime is his only option. Later, the more quiet Joe, played by Ed Bernard, recounts the robbery and how weak in the knees the violence made him. At the same time, he looks forward the hopeful future the cash can give him. What of Antonio Fargas' Henry Jackson? He takes the money, buys flashy clothes, and spends an evening in a brothel. Each man sees this pile of money as his escape from a short, brutish life.
the buddy cop genre, though a particularly grim example. Pope and Mattelli don't get a happy ending.
For that matter, nobody gets a happy ending in “Across 110th Street.” Some contemporary critics chastised the film for its violence. People are cut down by machine gun fire but not in a clean, movie-style way. Instead, people bleed, struggle, gasps for breath, and die ugly. On their quest to find the thieves, the mob enforcer brutally beats two of Jim's friends. Both beatings are extended and graphic. The conclusion features a character going on a violent spree through the streets of Harlem. But it's not a cathartic release. Instead, it's painted as self-destructive. That the guy absorbs a dozen bullets on the way down doesn't help. Death in “Across 110th Street” isn't pretty.
[THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 9 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
 Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
 Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
 Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang