Mean Streets


Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin.
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, David Proval, Richard Romanus, Amy Robinson, Cesare Danova, David Carradine, John Carradine, Victor Argo, George Memmoli, Lenny Scaletta, Jeannie Bell, Martin Scorsese.

“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it”

Although Mean Streets wasn’t Martin Scorsese’s directorial debut it can often feel like it was. He’d already done Who’s That Knocking at My Door in 1968 and Boxcar Bertha in 1972 but this was the film that not only began his illustrious collaborations with Robert DeNiro but it was his first film to delve into the gangster sub-genre and displayed all the embryonic, stylistic trademarks that he has now become synonymous with. Quite simply, Mean Streets showcased the talents of Scorsese and fully confirmed the arrival of one of the greatest American directors while becoming hugely influential on future films and filmmakers alike.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a small time criminal trying to work his way up the local mafia food chain. However, his religious beliefs continually cause him to question his choices in life and as his conscience gets the better of him, so too does his misjudged loyalty to his lowlife friends.


Some may find the style and fashion of this early 70’s classic as dated but Scorsese’s flamboyant skills and style are far from it. This was a young, relatively inexperienced director who was way ahead of his time and displayed approaches to filmmaking that are now taken for granted. That said, when you look back at Mean Streets and consider just how early Scorsese delivered this, it still packs a punch and is, without doubt, one of the most pivotal and impressive films from the decade.  

Following on the heels of Francis Ford Coppola’s sweeping crime classic The Godfather in 1972, Scorsese took us to a more personal, working class criminal environment. It feels raw, even claustrophobic, when compared to Coppola’s epic proportions. The characters in Scorsese’s tale are more real and easier to identify with. They’re not throwing elaborately expensive weddings or severing horse’s heads to send messages, they’re just trying to get by, day to day, and turn a coin from whatever petty criminal activity comes their way.
 
At it’s core, it’s anchored by two excellent performances: Keitel shoulders the brunt of the film’s narrative as Charlie; basically a good guy who has chosen a life of crime that leaves him in a tortured state due to his religious upbringing and near constant state of catholic guilt. He struggles with the choices he makes in life and struggles even more with those of his self-destructive friend, Johnny Boy, played with real electric verve by a young DeNiro. Even though Keitel delivers a solid lead performance, it’s DeNiro’s recklessness that really stands out. There’s not a moment where he doesn’t command your attention with his maniacal and random fits of rage and immaturity. (One of the many great moments they share can be read and viewed in one of my Classic Scene’s collection, here). 
As this proved to be the moment that Scorsese came to everyone’s attention, it done the same for DeNiro. His improvisation and natural ability does in front of the camera what Scorsese was doing behind it. Both of their work seems to mirror and compliment one another and this became the birthing of one of cinema’s greatest, long term, partnerships.

Mark Walker

Trivia:When raising money for the film, Martin Scorsese was offered a healthy sum by his mentor Roger Corman on the condition that he shoot the movie with an all-black cast, giving it a Blaxploitation vibe. Scorsese turned him down and went with the advice of John Cassavetes in creating something more ‘personal’.


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47 Responses to “Mean Streets”

  1. Great post Mark. It’s been a long time since I saw this and after reading your post I think it might be time for a re-watch. What I remember most about it are the performances and a dark tone that’s hard to escape after watching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Natalie. I was the same. I hadn’t seen it for about 20 years and after watching it again recently, I was drawn to make my first blog post in months.

      It’s a marvellous film and showcases just what Scorsese and DeNiro were capable of. It still stands up today!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to see you back Mark! Great review, this is one of my favorite Scorsese movies and features two of my favorite performances by De Niro and Keitel.

    Like

    • Thanks Charles! I thought I’d sneak this one out there and see if I can catch the blogging vibe again.
      I’m with on favourites: this is still one of Scorsese’s best films and DeNiro is just outstanding. It’s easy to see why everyone sat up and took notice of these guys after this. It was a real game changer!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good to see you back buddy, hope all’s good with you.
    Of course I’m right with you on this one…Mean Streets is a belter, and sadly a film I haven’t watched for many a year. Maybe next year I’ll put a week aside and just re-watch all those 70s classics I haven’t seen in ages (The Godfather, The French Connection, The Conversation, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver etc. etc.) The ‘mook’ scene in the pool hall is one of the genre’s finest!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks bud! I’ve been away too long, man. Still wasn’t sure I was ready to post anything but thought I’d test the water and see how things go.

      I watched this recently and felt a little praise was needed on my site for this 70’s gem. I love it. Just love it. It’s so full of energy, the most of like was never really seen before. The 70’s is still my favourite decade for film and Mean Streets is most definitely included in those favourites. Can you imagine how much of a revelation Scorsese was at this time? DeNiro as well! It’s still one of his best performances.
      I love the “mook” too but the one I linked to (the exchange between Keitel and DeNiro) is still my favourite. That said, there’s are so many great scenes.

      Hope you are well too, my friend! My heartfelt condolences on your recent loss.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cheers Mark, that’s very kind.
        I imagine Scorsese breaking through in the 70s, or Coppola, was very much like Tarantino in the 90s. A real breath of fresh air. Guy’s a genius.

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      • I’ve been through the same loss, mate. I admire your ability to keep going and remain active. Kudos bro!

        As for Scorsese and Coppola breaking through, I totally agree. Not many directors spring to mind that made the same impact. Tarantino is a definite and I’d probably say Paul Thomas Anderson is another that has achieved a “breath of fresh air” feel about them. Scorsese is undoubtedly one of america’s finest and he’s still going strong. A remarkable director. And this film alone shows how streets ahead he was.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cheers buddy, watching films and writing about them has been a nice diversion, I have to say.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good for you, man! The magic of movies is always a good escape.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic sir, fantastic. I fear that admitting to never having seen this might get me banished from this site forever, so I’ll only pretend as if I haven’t seen it. πŸ˜‰

    It’s a testament to the power of Scorsese that he’s held sway over Hollywood for so long, especially when it comes to presenting gangster life in all its unrelenting brutality. An ability that dates back pretty much 4 decades. Incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, sir! I’m just testing the water on making a full time return and thought I’d see how one of my favourite gangster went down before deciding how much I commit myself from now on in.

      That said, I starting to wish I could block people like yourself. πŸ˜‰
      You haven’t seen Mean Streets? I’m shocked, man! Shocked! Get your act together brother. This will not stand! πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Quite the masterful film by the young Scorsese and crew.

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  6. Mean Streets is akin to the wild horse that Scorsese hadn’t tamed yet. It’s wild, crazy, uncontrollable and fascinating. Much like De Niro’s Johnny Boy with Jumpin Jack Flash blaring over his entrance. In its full glory, it’s perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perfect description, Paul. The energy that both Scorsese and DeNiro express is something else. It’s no wonder that they’d go on to be considered two of the very best in the business. Their raw talent is in full view in Mean Streets.

      Thanks for dropping by my friend. πŸ™‚

      Like

  7. The first time I saw it I never got into it and therefore didn’t like it. Guess I should give this a second chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually the same Nostra. I seen Mean Streets when I was in my late teens and thought it overrated but as the years went on and I approached it again and again. It grew on me. On a recent visit it just blew me away. Absolutely outstanding stuff.

      Like

  8. I never cared for Marty’s earlier films. Mean Streets really showed what was to come from Scorsese. I don’t find it dated because it was really of its time not unlike other 70’s gems The French Connection, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, etc. Those film still hold up really well. The film really had an electricity to it.

    I was reading the trivia and was surprised to find out, being such a quintessential NY film that only 6 of 27 shooting days were actually in NY. The rest were in LA.

    Good to have you back Mark.

    Like

    • Hey Dave is a pleasure to converse again.
      To be honest, I haven’t seen Who’s That Knocking at My Door but I wasn’t a fan of Boxcar Bertha. I thought it a pile of shit. That said, I find Mean Streets a real gem. I don’t find it dated either but I reckon some younger film viewers might. But like I said in my review, Marty’s directing style is far from dated. He was way ahead of his time with Mean Streets and DeNiro brought a massive amount of energy to compliment and match Scorsese’s. When you look at this film, it’s easy to see where Goodfellas and all the rest of Scorsese’s crime flicks originated. Brilliant movie!

      Like

  9. Wonderful review Mark, so glad to see you back man. Hope you can check out my site, it’s got naughtier since we last spoke.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great review, I really love this movie too. And you’re so right, De Niro is on fire here. His natural, raw talent is so evident. My god, it’s sensational.

    I never knew that bit of trivia – so interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Alex. Glad to hear you have the same enthusiasm for the film (and for DeNiro’s dynamite performance). The film feels edgy in so many ways. From Scorsese’s inventive direction, his symbolism, use of music and the great performances, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the classics of American cinema!

      Like

  11. Wa-hey! Good to have you back mate! And what a movie to come back with. I see your love of Scorsese hasn’t dimmed πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mark! Thank you sir! I thought I’d test the water with a little film close to my heart. My love of Scorsese certainly hasn’t diminished and nor has my love of DeNiro. In fact, this will be the start of a little DeNiro trilogy from me.

      Thanks for sticking around buddy. I’ll be doing the rounds soon and look forward to reading your stuff again! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You’re back! Good to hear πŸ˜€

    Great post, I love Scorsese but haven’t seen this for many many years. You’ve inspired me re-watch it, all I remember is a sense of reckless abandon. That’s pretty much it hehe

    And again, welcome back!

    Like

  13. Man, I remember digging this when I caught it in my late teens, still pretty fresh to Scorsese’s style – I really should make an effort to revisit now that he’s solidified as one of my favourite directors! Great write-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s a favourite of mine too, Dave. If truth be told, I didn’t take to Mean Streets straight away but after repeat viewings it grew on me. Now I see it as the classic it is.

      I’d highly recommend a revisit. If only to see the Scorsese style that we have become so accustomed to. Mean Streets is jam packed with marvellous scenes.
      Cheers mate!

      Like

  14. Great review Mark, and awesome to see you back! I actually think this is in the Scorsese box set that I bought. I will have to check it out and confirm!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. […] criminal trying to work his way up the local mafia food chain.”, as Mark Walker described in his fine review. A superbΒ Yin to who-know-who’s dangerously electrified […]

    Like

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