ALTHOUGH labeled a blaxploitation film, "Across 110th Street" transcends its genre with subtlety and urban grit.
Blaxploitation films like "3 The Hard Way" (previously reviewed in this column) tend to be fantastic in sensibility and boisterous in tone.
"Across 110th Street" is neither. It has more in common with the contemporaneous "new Hollywood" movies by Martin Scorsese ("Taxi Driver"), George Lucas ("American Graffiti") and Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather").
This is especially notable for two reasons. The first is that unlike other blaxploitation films, this movie has a universal moral sensibility that gives it a timelessness. Others in its genre feel hopelessly dated.
"Across 110th Street" could be un-ironically remade today with only a few tweaks to make it up to date. That wasn't true of its most famous brethren, "Shaft," whose 2000 remake basked in its cultural legacy rather than inherit merit.
The other reason is that Barry Shear, who directed "Across 110th Street," didn't go on to do any other films of note.
But like them, he confronts its characters faults, bravely revealing them in all the people who occupy the frame. There are main characters in this movie but no heroes.
On one side of the law we have an aging captain (Anthony Quinn) with a deep knowledge of his beat but little regard of the law. He is deeply hurt when it's revealed he's being replaced by a young black lieutenant (Yaphet Kotto) whose moral rectitude is recognized by his name (the Pope).
Although Quinn is deeply hurt, he is empathetic to Kotto and tries to help him in the ways he thinks best. And although Kotto wants to assert his independence, he respects Quinn's hard-nosed approach and experience.
On the other side of the law, we have similar struggles of egos that navigate racial and socio-economic tension. It includes the underachieving son-in-law of a mafia don (Anthony Franciosa) and the black gangster head (Richard Ward) who doesn't want to take orders from the mafia anymore.
Although these are all compelling characters, the trio of burglars are the most interesting. Each represent a different motivation for a life of crime that asks important questions about how to assess people who take up crime.
The movie title conveys a sense polarity: you're either over here, or past the street that separates Harlem from Manhattan in New York. But the movie itself shows how life on either side is more similar than it may seem.
'Across 110th Street' (1972)
Where to see: Dada (115 Xingfu Rd, near Fahuazhen Rd)
When to see: June 4, 9pm
What to see: One of the most critically acclaimed blaxploitation films, movies released in the 1970s to appeal to urban African Americans. It looks at the aftermath of a US$300,000 heist by 3 black burglars in a mafia-connected operation.