Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 9. 1st May 1974
Among the more interesting dichotomies in the America of the celluloid world is the traditionally antithetic roles played by California and the East Coast. The former remains, with one or two exceptions the new and better land, the latter sticks with its reputation for worldliness and corruption. Consequently, the Golden West rarely supplies the setting for the heavyweights crimethriller (although the vogue for San Francisco in the mid sixties and saw a spate of hip thrillers like 'Bullit') and concetrates on tried and true melodrama, leaving it to New York, which has ousted Chicago as the paramount sin city, to carry the burden of the oppressing locations for the dirty work. This opposition percieved in the world projected by film-makers may parallel something in the world projected by sociologists: but not that it really matters. What does is the rash of films like The French Connection, The Mechanic, The Stone Killer, The Seven Ups, etc, etc, and the trendier black equivalents, Superfly, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cleopatra Jones. And, of which 'Across 110th Street' is one more.
'Across 110th Street' mixes the black and white strains found in New York crime flicks, on some vague understanding that two is better than one perhaps, and in spite of the suspect nature of such an argument, has the makings of a good film. It has a straightfoward plot spelling action all the way, some of the best negro actors working today, and some of the seediest locations ever put on the screen. But these things are not quite enough, and all the makings were not made, much to the chagrin of producer Anthony Quinn, no doubt, who, from the way he doubles in the lead role, must have thought it was quite sufficient.
The problems lie in the script, for the main, It was built for action, as said before, but on top of it someone has tried to lay a sheen of significance, which means that a number of scenes meander on quite blind to their actual emptiness. Thrills and spills would have been enough, and might have even disguised the indifferent quality of much of the acting. Mr Quinn misses the mark, and Tony Franciosa, unused to heavy roles, doesn't even bother aiming at it. For these two, the rushes must have made embarrassing viewing. But in seeing them they would have seen the confusion that plagued the whole enterprise. They may have also seen how to make a film about a $300,000 robbery in Harlem. Or they may have seen how to make a $1 robbery at the Majestic and left it at that.
No amount of backsliding can rescue "Boccarcio" from the charges on is bound to lay against it however. Sullenly acted and sullenly directed, this cash-in on the popularity of Pasolini's 'Decameron' is bad in almost every aspect. A flagrant disregard for historical accuracy, an excess of theatricality, and an and an overall miserliness in the production offend most, and to list the other impertinances would be pointless and tiresome. Even the things at which one can record a little gratification — the attempt to weave the disparate stories into one action, the refusal to make the Middle Ages look like the Marx Bros on a Zefferelli set — seems unnecessary. The film just does not work because it is slipshod from conception to execution, and that, sadly is that. It is also sad that this rich source seems incapable of finding a director and translator to give it a new life on the screen. Or is all 'great' literature like that, and the task necessarily impossible.