After making the interesting WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? and working for Roger Corman on BOXCAR BERTHA, Scorsese exploded onto the scene with this remarkable low-budgeter about the lives of small-time hoods in New York's Little Italy. The film centers on four guys who aspire to hit it
big in business or crime. Tony (Proval), the big friendly one, runs the neighborhood bar; Mike (Romanus) likes to rip off naive teenagers from Brooklyn; Johnny Boy (De Niro) has a penchant for blowing up mailboxes and borrowing money from loan sharks he never intends to repay; and Charlie
(Keitel), nephew of the local mafia boss (Danova), wants nothing more than to run his own restaurant. Charlie is torn between the life of the streets and the life his uncle can give him. He is also deeply religious, patterning himself after St. Francis of Assisi--testing his faith and seeking
penitence for his sins on the streets. This testing takes the form of trying to "save" Johnny Boy and being kind to his crazed pal's epileptic sister Teresa (Robinson), neither of whom his uncle likes.
MEAN STREETS is a brilliantly made film--terrifically acted, sharply photographed and crisply edited. Stand-out moments include an extended fight scene in a pool hall (the fight starts amusingly enough, over someone being called a "mook"--the guys aren't quite sure what it means, but they fight
anyway), in which Scorsese uses long takes to emphasize the chaos and a wild tracking shot to follow a pair fighting throughout the room. Other highlights include Charlie's drunk scene at a party; the guys at a movie theater watching THE SEARCHERS; Johnny Boy shooting a gun from a roof; and the
scene when Teresa has an epileptic fit and Charlie chooses to chase after Johnny instead of staying with his girlfriend (he leaves her in the care of an elderly woman played by Scorsese's mother). The hilarious scene in which Charlie and Johnny Boy argue about Johnny Boy's debts in the backroom of
a bar (a scene that was improvised) is alone worth the price of admission.
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- Released: 1973
- Rating: R
- Review: After making the interesting WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? and working for Roger Corman on BOXCAR BERTHA, Scorsese exploded onto the scene with this remarkable low-budgeter about the lives of small-time hoods in New York's Little Italy. The film centers… (more)