The first film by Martin Scorcese that truly wore his mark, Mean Streets is a small and personal tour de force, held together by a killer jukebox score and the explosive on-screen meeting of Robert De Niro (as the ne'er-do-well gambler, Johnny Boy) and Harvey Keitel (as Charlie, a conflicted small-time Mafia loan collector).
Scorcese himself, not Keitel, provides the 1973 film's narrative voice, and the director is said to have worked on the script while driving through Little Italy, taking in its familiar feel while setting the scene on paper.
There are brawls...
And what's probably the best drunk scene ever, in any movie.
Like Johnny Boy himself, Mean Streets is fast and loose and hyperactive, shot with a handheld camera, unfolding with visceral, unvarnished performances, particularly from the young De Niro (in his first collaboration with Scorcese) and Keitel.
Their interplay is as familiar as the street corner where you and your friends hung out in the hood, a street-smart battle of yin and yang battling it out against a complicated backdrop of honor and family and bars and cheap hoods and bad religion. Through it all, right down to a violent denouement, there's a long glimmer of what will come from Scorcese as his filmmaking career blossomed.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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