Mean Streets (1973) – Martin Scorsese

Some people, when you say New York, think Woody Allen. Me, I think, Scorcese, gritty 70s images, and tough guys like Pacino, DeNiro, Keitel and Walken. The next film on the What Else to Watch list from DK Canada’s The Movie Book following its recommendation of Taxi Driver has four of those things, Scorsese, 70s, Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel.

You can tell its early days for all of them, they’re all young, and Harvey Keitel is the lead with Robert DeNiro is in the supporting role.

The story follows a small-time hood, Charlie (Keitel) who leads a conflicted life as he trues to balance his Catholicism with his own aspirations and illegal activities working for Giovanni (Cesare Danova).

Added to the mix is his younger friend, Johnny Boy (DeNiro) who is a bit of a screw-up and owes money to countless bookies around town. Charlie is also having a romantic relationship with Johnny’s sister, Teresa (Amy Robinson) who suffers from epilepsy, and is consequently seen as damaged goods by those who would judge Charlie.

With the loan sharks circling, the trio decide to make a run for it to Brooklyn, but things aren’t going to work out for the trio.

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You can make a number of predictions about how things are going to play out judging by who made it and when it was made, and you can tell that it is going to be gritty every step of the way.

It is all of those things, and it’s also a solid film with a great soundtrack, including some iconic tracks by the Rolling Stones.

And while it may not be Scorsese’s strongest film, it is very recognizably his film, and his iteration of New York. You can’t help but imagine dirty cabs, trash swept streets, crumbling tenements, wide collars, and tough attitudes.

Both Keitel and DeNiro are top form in this one, and I like the dilemma that Charlie finds himself dealing with, because it is the core reason I dislike most mob movies. They, generally, come from strong religious backgrounds, and yet are so willing to commit so many atrocities. How do they live with that? And how do they rationalize that to themselves and others?

Mean Streets remains a solid and impactful film, and very much a product of its time. It looks at the 70s in a violent and desperate way, the America that viewers knew in the 50s has begun to crumble away, and leave behind a state of decay and bleakness that transitioned into the cinematic storytelling of the time.

Scorsese has always been one to watch, and DK Books’ The Movie Books is making sure I see some of his fantastic work! Pick up a copy today and find something new to you to watch, or rediscover an old fave.

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