Two NYC-Set ’70s Cop Thrillers

Paleo Retiree writes:

I just caught up with a couple of cop thrillers from the 1970s that I somehow missed first time around. The first was a chore, the second a gem.


The Seven-Ups

This 1973 NYC-set picture is much loved and has an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon, baby. So despite my reservations it may be something you want to check out. But I thought it was in most respects amazingly poorly done. Its centerpiece car-chase scene, orchestrated by Bill Hickman, the stunt co-ordinator who did equally legendary work on “Bullitt” and “The French Connection,” fully deserves its rep — it’s awesome. When those hulking, creaking ’70s landcruisers skid, lurch and bomb around the streets of NYC, where everyday drivers seldom get above 40 miles an hour, they’re quite a stirring sight. And the look of the film is wonderful: leafless, chilly, gritty — New York City in bleakest November. But the story is impossible to follow and the actors never get any rhythm going. Phil d’Antoni, who produced “Bullitt” and “The French Connection,” was the director on this one and to my mind showed zero directing gift. (He never directed again, and mostly gave up movies too, though he later did a lot of work in TV.) The film has a jacked-up, working-on-your-nerves score by Don Ellis that’s troweled over scenes of not very much happening at all.


Across 110th St.

By contrast I loved this lurid thriller, which back in 1972 was marketed as a blaxploitation picture. Directed by Barry (“Wild in the Streets”) Shear, it has got the drama dial turned up to 11 and a pungent, lurid, beyond-colorful style. Some Harlem smalltimers steal hundreds of thousands of dollars belonging to a partnership between a Harlem gang and the Mob and manage to kill a lot of people while doing so. It’s a canny setup: we get to watch the black gang and the Mob guys try to get their money back while also watching the cops trying to solve the crime. There’s tension a-plenty between the black crooks (Richard Ward is especially memorable as a raspy-voiced kingpin) and the white crooks (embodied mainly in Anthony Franciosa, wearing a smug smile and a sleek white coat); meanwhile, in the station house, corrupt white old-timer Anthony Quinn and black Mr. Clean Yaphet Kotto keep things on the boil. And as they’re being relentlessly tracked-down — they’re like modern versions of the character played by Peter Lorre in “M” — the smalltime thieves everyone is chasing sweat, writhe and hope against hope that they stand some small chance of making it out alive. The film has a brilliant script (by Luther Davis from a Wally Ferris novel), shoot-the-works performances from everyone, ultra-funky grooves from Bobby Womack and J. J. Johnson, and a lot of daring, raw visuals. Using small cameras and compact sound systems, Shear and his team were able to shoot in tighter conditions than movies of that era generally were. The result: Lots of handheld stuff (which for some reason I can’t explain didn’t bother me, as contempo Shakeycam does), lots of naked light sources, and lots of sweat, peeling paint and expressionist-seeming tight quarters. Be warned: the film is quite provocative, inflammatory and out-there (especially by today’s terrified-of-microaggressions standards) about racial matters. The result suggested to me an Ed McBain novel as directed by a young Martin Scorsese.


About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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10 Responses to Two NYC-Set ’70s Cop Thrillers

  1. Will S. says:

    I remember seeing ‘Across 110th St.’ a few years back, stumbled across it on TV one night. I too found it well done, but man, was the level of police corruption demoralizing…


  2. Pelham is wonderful, I’ve adopted Matthau’s “AH SHADDAP” as a refrain in everyday speech.


  3. And 7ups is only good for the car chase, the equal of French Connection and Bullitt in my view


  4. plwinkler says:

    “corrupt white old-timer Telly Savalas” Anthony Quinn, not Telly. Also, Barry Shear.


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