Mean Streets is a 1973 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and co-written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin. The film stars Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. It was released by Warner Bros. on October 2, 1973. De Niro won the National Society of Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Johnny Boy" Civello.
Theatrical re-release poster
|Directed by||Martin Scorsese|
|Produced by||Jonathan T. Taplin|
|Story by||Martin Scorsese|
|Cinematography||Kent L. Wakeford|
|Edited by||Sidney Levin|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|October 14, 1973|
|Box office||$3 million|
Charlie is a young Italian-American man in New York City. He is hampered by his feeling of responsibility towards his reckless younger friend Johnny Boy, a small-time gambler who owes money to many loan sharks.
Charlie works for his uncle Giovanni, a powerful loan shark and political fixer, mostly collecting debts. He is also having a secret affair with Johnny Boy's cousin Teresa, who has epilepsy and is ostracized because of her condition—especially by Charlie's uncle. Charlie's uncle also wants Charlie not to be such close friends with Johnny, saying "Honorable men go with honorable men."
Charlie is torn between his devout Catholicism and his illicit work for his uncle. Johnny becomes increasingly self-destructive and disrespectful of his creditors. Failing to receive redemption in the church, Charlie seeks it through sacrificing himself on Johnny's behalf.
At a bar, Michael, a small time loan shark, comes looking for Johnny to "pay up". To his surprise, Johnny insults him. Michael lunges at Johnny, who pulls a gun. After a tense standoff, Michael walks away, and Charlie convinces Johnny that they should leave town for a brief period. Teresa insists on coming with them. Charlie borrows a car and they drive off, leaving the neighborhood without incident.
A car that has been following them suddenly pulls up, Michael at the wheel and his henchman, Jimmy Shorts, in the backseat. Jimmy fires several shots at Charlie's car, hitting Johnny in the neck and Charlie in the hand, causing Charlie to crash the car. An ambulance and police arrive at the scene, and paramedics take Charlie, Teresa and Johnny away.
Apart from his first actual feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door, and a directing project given him by early independent film maker Roger Corman, Boxcar Bertha, this was Scorsese's first feature film of his own design. Director John Cassavetes told him after he completed Boxcar Bertha: "You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit." This inspired Scorsese to make a film about his own experiences. Cassavetes told Scorsese he should do something like Who's That Knocking At My Door, which Cassavetes had liked, and then came Mean Streets, which was based on actual events Scorsese saw almost regularly while growing up in New York City's Little Italy.
The screenplay for the movie initially began as a continuation of the characters in Who's That Knocking. Scorsese changed the title from Season of the Witch to Mean Streets, a reference to Raymond Chandler's essay "The Simple Art of Murder", wherein Chandler writes, "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." Scorsese sent the script to Corman, who agreed to back the film if all the characters were black. Scorsese was anxious to make the film so he considered this option, but actress Verna Bloom arranged a meeting with potential financial backer Jonathan Taplin, who was the road manager for the musical group The Band. Taplin liked the script and was willing to raise the $300,000 budget that Scorsese wanted if Corman promised, in writing, to distribute the film. The blaxploitation suggestion was to come to nothing when funding from Warner Bros. allowed him to make the film as he intended with Italian-American characters.
The film was well received by most critics; Pauline Kael was among the most enthusiastic critics, calling it "a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking" and "dizzyingly sensual". Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said that "the acting and editing have such original, tumultuous force that the picture is completely gripping". Vincent Canby of The New York Times reflected that "no matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heartbreaking the narrative, some films are so thoroughly, beautifully realized they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter". Time Out magazine called it "one of the best American films of the decade".
Retrospectively, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times inducted Mean Streets into his Great Movies list and wrote: "In countless ways, right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows, Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies." In 2013, the staff of Entertainment Weekly voted the film the seventh greatest of all time. In 2015, it was ranked 93rd on BBC's "The 100 greatest American films" list. James Gandolfini, when asked on Inside the Actors Studio (season 11, episode two) which films most influenced him, cited Mean Streets among them, saying "I saw that 10 times in a row...."
The film holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.9/10 and the consensus: "Mean Streets is a powerful tale of urban sin and guilt that marks Scorsese's arrival as an important cinematic voice and features electrifying performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro."
Mean Streets was released on VHS and Betamax in 1985. The film debuted as a letterboxed LaserDisc on October 7, 1991 in the US. It was released on Blu-ray for the first time on April 6, 2011 in France, and in America on July 17, 2012.
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- Kael, Pauline (1991). 5001 Nights at the Movies. New York: Holt Paperbacks. p. 473. ISBN 0-8050-1367-9.
- Mean Streets. The Chicago Reader
- Canby, Vincent. Oct. 3, 1973. Movie review - Mean Streets (1973) The New York Times Archived 2010-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
- Mean Streets (1973) Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine Time Out London Archived 2009-11-26 at the Wayback Machine
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