Part of 1973
Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a young man working his way up the ranks of Little Italy’s organized crime syndicate collecting debts for his uncle, has his world thrown into disarray when his girlfriend is deemed unsuitable by his family and his reckless friend Johnny Boy’s (a star-making performance by Robert De Niro) bill comes due. Torn between the Catholic values of his upbringing and the increasingly morally dubious requirements of a life of crime, this semi-autobiographical tale of the first-generation sons and daughters of Italian-Americans gave Martin Scorsese his first major opportunity to work out many of the themes and stylistic trappings that color his extraordinary, five decade-spanning (and counting) oeuvre.
“Today we don’t need the credits to tell us MEAN STREETS is a Martin Scorsese picture — the movie opens with a full-on blast of Catholic guilt, tilted angles, and ‘60s pop music, with a flickering projector thrown in for good measure; you laugh to see how brazenly the director announced his characteristic obsessions even back in 1973. The soundtrack is just one example, with its Kenneth Anger-like use of girl-group pop and swaggering rock as a kind of disembodied consciousness (something Scorsese later perfected in GOODFELLAS). Even in this early work, we see a director capable of both TAXI DRIVER and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. But that’s why MEAN STREETS, regarded by many as the ultimate New York film, can also be considered the apotheosis of ‘70s Hollywood.” —Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene (May 21, 1998)