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Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, working his way up the ranks of a local mob. Amy Robinson is Teresa, the girlfriend his family deems unsuitable because of her epilepsy. And in the starmaking role that won Best Supporting Actor Awards from the New York and National Society of FIlm Critics, De Niro is Johnny Boy, a small-time gambler in big-time debt to loan sharks. This is a story Martin Scorsese lived, a semi-biographical tale of the first-generation sons and daughters of New York's Little Italy.
Audio Commentary:by Martin Scorsese
Featurette:"Back on the Block"
- All-new digital transfer
- Vintage featurette: "Back on the Block"
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The movie has a thin plot, or tangle of thin plots. Charlie is a young, rising petty criminal in the Mafia who has strong Catholic convictions together with guilt about his apparent path in life. He is a faithful friend of another young man, Johnny Boy, headstrong, selfish, impulsive, and half-crazy. Johnny Boy is deeply in debt to another rising and menacing young criminal, Michael (Richard Romanus). At great risk to himself, Charlie tries to help out Johnny Boy. Charlie is also involved with a young epileptic woman, Teresa, (Amy Robinson) related to Johnny Boy. Charlie's boss, his uncle and a higher figure in the criminal ranks, Giovanni, (Cesare Danova) warns his young protege to steer clear of both Johnny Boy and Teresa. The film builds to a violent ephiphany of a conclusion which reminded me of the ending of Henry Roth's novel, "Call it Sleep".
The film is difficult to follow for viewers with the expectation of a linear, straightforward story. The movie rewards more than one viewing, as I took the opportunity to do through Amazon's rental program. With careful viewing, the film has a powerful, cumulative impact.
"Mean Streets" is set in the bars, restaurants, go-go clubs, apartments, and, in particular, the streets of Little Italy. Most of the action takes place at night. The movie is improvisatory and episodic. It consists of a number of small, carefully developed vignettes which at first may seem unconnected to one another. The different themes develop slowly and indirectly. The religious themes are suggested throughout as the movie explores Charlie's tormented character. Each individual scene has a great deal of tension and atmosphere, as the characters alternate between cameraderie and barely suppressed violence in the unforgiving world of Little Italy. The cinematography and lighting add immeasurably in defining the action and were unusual for their time. The movie includes an insightfully appropriate musical score consisting largely of doo-wop songs from girl groups of the early 1960's.
The film offers a rough, raw picture of streets and of crime, combined with a hovering feeling of religious grace. Scorsese explored these themes in many subsequent movies. "Mean Streets" stands on its own without needing comparison to his latter efforts. "Mean Streets" is a tough, suggestive film for viewers with a passion for exploring the meaning of American urban life.
Blu-ray transfer is quite good. Audio quality is very clean with excellent fidelity considering the state of modest budget monaural cinema audio in the mid-1970's.
Giving the film 4 stars as his next film with similar gritty urban content - Taxi Driver - shows more refinement and polish in the story and his film making style.
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