Mean Streets (1973) from Tuna

Mean Streets (1973) was written, produced and directed by Martin Scorsese, and is the film that put him on the map. It is semi-autobiographical, created from memories of growing up in Little Italy in New York. The leads include two future stars, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.
 Keitel plays Charlie, who is a small time hood who does collections and other odd jobs for his uncle, who is a local mafia head. He is a close friend of and protector to Johnny Boy Cervello (De Niro) who is more than a little crazy, and a compulsive gambler in debt up to his ears. Charlie secretly dates Johnny's cousin Teresa (Amy Robinson), but his uncle doesn't approve because Teresa is epileptic ("sick in the brain"). Charlie struggles with the contrast between his Catholicism and the way he makes a living, and tries to be everyone's savior. Johnny won't take his debt seriously, and as the film progresses, we sense that it won't end "happily ever after."


There is a lengthy nude scene with Amy Robinson, who only acted in 2 films total, but produced 11 more.
Critics are pretty much in agreement that this is a 4 star effort. Even though it is a little rough around the edges, partly because of a low budget ($150,000.00), it shows the emergence of a Scorsese style. This is a must see for the serious filmgoer.

Scoop's note: I won't disagree with Tuna's assertion that you should see the movie if you are a serious film buff, but I think the reasons are:

  • It showed what a great director's work looked like in its earlier stages.
  • It represented a real breakthrough at the time for personal filmmaking.
  • Its techniques and themes provided the jumping-off point for Scorsese's career as well as an inspiration for many other subsequent filmmakers.
  • It introduced De Niro, Keitel and Scorsese to mainstream audiences.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1, plus a fullscreen version

  • mono sound, no special features

It's my opinion that the four star reviews are for Scorsese's career, not for this film. It is a good early movie made by a director who would become great. I think Scorsese probably regrets some of the techniques he used here. (Like the filtered lenses)

The DVD is a real disappointment. I'm not sure how much is lost on the DVD compared to the theatrical presentation, but the sound is poor, and the film is sometimes blurry and undercontrasted.

The DVD letterboxed version simply blocks off information at the top and bottom of the full screen version, and the matting is not done exactly right, because the ratio is not exactly 1.85

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 4/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.6, not far from the top 250.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

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