Although it is often lumped in with the blaxploitation boom of the early '70s, Across 110th Street is actually a gritty police procedural with a strong element of social commentary. The cast attacks the material with straight-faced gusto, with the central focus being the fiery, compelling battle of wills between straight-arrow newcomer Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn as his good-hearted but corrupt older partner. Anthony Franciosa also makes a frighteningly vivid impression as an aging small-time mobster whose hunger for power drives him to psychotic brutality in his pursuit of the hapless thieves. Across 110th Street is also notable because it allows drama to take precedence over the action instead of vice versa. Scenes of Kotto and Quinn grappling over issues of racism and corruption in the police department are just as important to the film as the central story line of the mafia chasing the thieves. This doesn't mean that the film skimps on action, in fact, it is full of tough, tightly edited action scenes like the opening tenement apartment heist and an explosive rooftop shootout. However, these moments eschew the comic-book tone of most action films in favor of a raw, unflinching sense of brutality likely to make even the toughest viewers squirm in their seats. Barry Shear's atmospheric direction weaves the many subplots together in a skillful fashion and effectively captures the grimy, claustrophobic feel of the story through a combination of location shooting and mobile, often handheld camera work. Finally, the film's tough but emotional style is sealed by a bittersweet soul score from Bobby Womack (years later, Quentin Tarantino chose this film's title song to open and close Jackie Brown). All in all, Across 110th Street is a powerhouse effort that succeeds both as an incisive social drama and an intense police thriller.
by Donald Guarisco review