August 21, 2019


1970S NOIR: THE CULT CLASSICS: Time to revisit some of the most criminally underappreciated neo-noir of the 70s. (HOWARD MICHAEL GOULD, 8/14/19, Crime Reads)

The Late Show (1977)

The comedy is more deliberate in this charmer written and directed by Robert Benton (whose resplendent resume includes Bonnie and Clyde and KRAMER VS. KRAMER).  Ira is an old-time gumshoe who calls women "dollies" and low-level criminals "gumballs."  It's the Robert Mitchum role, only it's not Mitchum, it's Art Carney, and Margo, the dolly, is Lily Tomlin, hippie-dippy and talking way too much for the old guy about karma and her period.  Though it's built, and mostly plays, like old school noir, when these three legends swing for a laugh, they hit the ball clean.  "I feel like I just dropped acid," Tomlin says to Carney at one point.  "Have you ever dropped acid?"  "Well," he deadpans, "not in the last ten minutes."  In time they warm to each other, of course, and Tomlin even begins to conjure a future as a private eye duo, but Carney knows this is his last ride.  When it looks she's about to meet her end, too, she warns one of the baddies, meaning it: "If you lay a hand on me, I'm telling you, you're going to pay for it in your next life."  Screenwriting doesn't get more elegant than that. [...]

Across 110th Street (1972)

This one, on the other hand--also about indie thieves ripping off the wrong guys and getting more than they bargained for--ages like wine, thanks to its subject and stylistic grit.  (Barry Shear directed a script by Luther Davis, from a novel by Wally Ferris.)  A heist goes wrong for a black crew and turns them into equal-opportunity killers, gunning down Italian mobsters, black gangsters working for them, and a couple of cops, too.  It sets off a battle for Harlem on both sides of the thin blue line: the Mafia tries to hold onto increasingly hostile turf, while the NYPD tries to control the racial tinderbox by assigning a black lieutenant to oversee the white captain who's ridden herd over the precinct for years.  The movie never flinches, the bleakness of the world driving the story and infusing a host of great performances.  Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto, those two earthy giants, smolder and surprise as the officers in charge; Ed Bernard and Paul Benjamin break your heart as decent men driven to a desperate crime and more a desperate escape; and, as the local boss beholden to white overbosses, Richard Ward--talk about criminally underappreciated--is galvanizing, equal parts greed, compromise, and pride.

The theme from 110th Street alone is worth the price of admission.

Posted by at August 21, 2019 12:01 AM