) is an early Martin Scorsese
film starring Robert De Niro
and Harvey Keitel
. De Niro won the National Society of Film Critics
award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as John "Johnny Boy" Civello.
In 1997, Mean Streets was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Charlie (Keitel) is an Italian-American
man who is trying to move up in the local mafia and who is hampered by his feeling of responsibility towards his childish and destructive friend Johnny Boy (De Niro). Charlie works for his uncle Giovanni (who is the local mafia caporegime
), mostly collecting debts. He is also having a hidden affair with Johnny Boy's cousin, Teresa, who has epilepsy and is ostracized because of her condition - especially by Charlie's uncle. Charlie is torn between his devout Catholicism
and his Mafia
ambitions. As the film progresses, Johnny becomes increasingly self-destructive, growing continually more disrespectful of his creditors. Failing to receive redemption in the church, Charlie seeks it through sacrificing himself on Johnny's behalf.
Aside from his student film project Who's That Knocking at My Door
and Boxcar Bertha
, a directing project given him by early independent maverick Roger Corman
, this was Scorsese's first feature film of his own design. Director John Cassavetes
told him after he completed Boxcar Bertha
, to make films he wanted to make, about things he knew. Mean Streets
was based on actual events Scorsese saw almost regularly while growing up in Little Italy
The screenplay for the movie initially began as a continuation of the characters in Who's That Knocking. Scorsese changed the title from Season of the Witch to Mean Streets, a reference to Raymond Chandler's essay "The Simple Art of Murder," where he writes, "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." Scorsese sent the script to Corman, who agreed to back the film if all the characters were black. Scorsese was anxious to make the film so he considered this option, but actress Verna Bloom arranged a meeting with potential financial backer, Jonathan Taplin, who was the road manager for the musical group, The Band. Taplin liked the script and was willing to raise the $300,000 budget that Scorsese wanted if Corman promised, in writing, to distribute the film.
According to Scorsese, the first draft of Mean Streets focused on the religious conflict within Charlie and how it affected his worldview. Along with fellow writer Mardik Martin, Scorsese wrote the whole script while driving around Little Italy in Martin's car. They would find a spot in the neighborhood to park and begin writing, all the while immersed in the sights, and sounds of what would eventually appear on-screen.
Once the financing was in place, Scorsese began to recruit his cast. De Niro had met the director in 1972 and liked what he had seen in Who's That Knocking at My Door. De Niro was impressed with how the film had so accurately captured life in Little Italy, De Niro had grown up in a similar area, Hell's Kitchen. Scorsese offered the actor four different roles, but he could not decide which one he wanted to portray. After another actor dropped out of the project, Scorsese cast Harvey Keitel in the pivotal role of Charlie. Keitel was also responsible for convincing De Niro to play Johnny Boy.
The film was very well received by the critics in general. Some even hailing it as one of the true original American films of all time.(1) Pauline Kael being the most enthusiastic of them all calling it "a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking" and "dizzyingly sensual".(2)
- Both David Carradine and his brother Robert Carradine appear in this film as Drunk and Drunks Killer.
- Robert De Niro claimed he used big pauses between his lines while in close up, so none of his lines could be cut from the film.
- Martin Scorsese appears uncredited as "Jimmy Shorts", the gunman who shoots at Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.
- All exterior shots of the film were shot in New York City. All interior shots were shot on soundstages in Los Angeles.
- The movie was not a box office success in spite of its superb reviews, largely because Warner Brothers was focused on the upcoming marketing and release plan of its major film of 1973, The Exorcist and thus did not give this film a great deal of advertising or promotional attention.