Ha ha, paisano, it’s Burl here! I’d like to review the first fully-formed Martin Scorsese picture, Mean Streets, which I recently watched for the first time in many, many years! Turns out it’s a pretty good picture, even better than I remembered!
Yes, it’s a low-budget movie, and was at one time going to be an exploitation picture for Roger Corman, like Scorsese’s previous movie Boxcar Bertha! Ha ha! But Corman wanted to make the characters black, because that was big at the time, and Scorsese decided that wasn’t in keeping with his vision of the picture, which was meant to be a memoir of his own youth in Little Italy!
It’s a strange movie without much narrative drive – a hangin’ out picture, as some might describe it! It’s set in a section of New York whose inhabitants seem to be perpetually celebrating some saint or another’s feast day! Against this background we meet a quartet of, for lack of a better word, friends, who all seem to operate on the fringes of the mob world we see so much more of in other Scorsese movies!
That was something that surprised me, actually! The rascals in this picture – Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and a couple of other fellows – are mostly just peeking in through the venetians at the real mobsters, and engaging in their own extralegal struggles like children playing at imitating the adult world! Keitel’s character is the most mature and likeable of the pals, but he’s plagued by insecurity, indecisiveness and some vague but powerful feelings of guilt! He’s taken on De Niro’s volatile Johnny Boy as a sort of project whereby he can achieve some kind of redemption! But Johnny Boy is a difficult project, since he owes money to just about everybody and seems, in his cavalier refusal to pay any of it back, almost to have a crazy death wish!
In the meantime, Keitel is having an af*air with the young lady who lives next door, who happens to be De Niro’s cousin and a sufferer of ep*lepsy! He’s got to keep this a secret from everybody, since his Moustache Pete of an uncle disapproves of dating ladies who are, as he puts it, “sick in the head!” Of course it all comes to a violent climax, which is notable for being one of the few gun-violent scenes in the picture! Ha ha, speaking of gun violence, there’s an amusing apropos-de-rien sequence in which a drunken David “Armed Response” Carradine is gunned down by a longhair played by his own brother, Robert “The Pom Pom Girls” Carradine, and for a while simply refuses to die!
It’s an excellent picture, rich and atmospheric, with all the kinetic energy we’d expect from Scorsese! It’s certainly for the best he didn’t do the blaxploitation Corman version, but I do admit I’d like to see how that one would have turned out! Ha ha, for its verve and accomplishment, I give Mean Streets three and a half spraying neck wounds!