Mean Streets

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Mean Streets
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Scorsese
Screenplay by
Story byMartin Scorsese
Produced byJonathan T. Taplin
CinematographyKent L. Wakeford
Edited bySidney Levin
Taplin-Perry-Scorsese Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
October 14, 1973
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
LanguagesEnglish, Italian, Neapolitan
Box office$3 million[2]

Mean Streets is a 1973 American crime drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, co-written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin, and starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. It was produced by Warner Bros. The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 2, 1973, and was released on October 14.[3] De Niro won the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Johnny Boy" Civello.

The film was the first of several collaborations between Scorsese and De Niro. It was also Scorsese's first critical and commercial success. In 1997, Mean Streets was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]


Charlie Cappa, a young Italian-American in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City, is hampered by his feeling of responsibility toward his reckless younger friend John "Johnny Boy" Civello, a small-time gambler and degenerate who refuses to work and owes money to many loan sharks. Charlie is also having a secret affair with Johnny's cousin Teresa, who has epilepsy and is ostracized because of her condition — especially by Charlie's Uncle Giovanni, a powerful mafioso, and is told to stay away from her. Giovanni also wants Charlie to distance himself from Johnny, saying "honorable men go with honorable men."

Charlie is torn between his devout Catholicism and his illicit Mafia work for Giovanni. Johnny becomes increasingly self-destructive and disrespectful of his Mafia-connected creditors. Failing to receive redemption in the Church, Charlie seeks it through sacrificing himself on Johnny's behalf. At Tony's bar, a loan shark and friend named Michael comes looking for Johnny again to pay up: he has been doing so for a few days and is increasingly getting frustrated, thinking Johnny is taking advantage of him and that he is not going to pay up, with Charlie promising to convince Johnny. To his surprise, Johnny insults him and tells him he is not going to pay back the money. Michael lunges at Johnny, who pulls a gun. After a tense standoff, Michael walks away and Charlie convinces Johnny that they should leave town for a brief period. Teresa insists on coming with them. Charlie borrows a car and they drive off, leaving the neighborhood without incident.

A car that has been following them suddenly pulls up, with Michael at the wheel and his henchman, Jimmy Shorts, in the backseat. Jimmy fires several shots at Charlie's car, hitting Johnny in the neck and Charlie in the arm, causing Charlie to crash the car into a fire hydrant. Teresa is injured in the crash, Johnny is seen in an alleyway staggering toward a white light which is revealed to be a police car, and Charlie gets out of the crashed vehicle and kneels in the spurting water from the hydrant, dazed and bleeding. Paramedics take Teresa and Charlie away while Johnny's fate remains unknown.



Apart from his first actual feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door, and a directing project given to him by early independent film maker Roger Corman, Boxcar Bertha, this was Scorsese's first feature film of his own design. Director John Cassavetes told him after he completed Boxcar Bertha: "You've just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit." This inspired Scorsese to make a film about his own experiences.[5] Cassavetes told Scorsese he should do something like Who's That Knocking at My Door, which Cassavetes had liked. Mean Streets was based on events Scorsese saw almost regularly while growing up in New York City's Little Italy.

The screenplay 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 Chandler 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, the road manager for The Band. Taplin liked the script and was willing to raise the $300,000 Scorsese wanted if Corman promised, in writing, to distribute the film. The blaxploitation suggestion came to nothing when funding from Warner Bros. allowed him to make the film with Italian-American characters.[6]


Director Martin Scorsese
Director Martin Scorsese

Mean Streets received immense critical acclaim. Pauline Kael was among the enthusiastic critics, calling it "a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking" and "dizzyingly sensual".[7] Vincent Canby of The New York Times reflected that "no matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heartbreaking the narrative, some films are so thoroughly, beautifully realized they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter".[8] Time Out magazine called it "one of the best American films of the decade".[9] David Denby, writing for Sight and Sound, praised the film's acting, saying that Scorsese had used improvisation "better than anyone in American movies so far." He concluded by saying that: "Scorsese's impulse to express all he feels about life in every scene (a cannier, more prudent director wouldn't have started his film with that great De Niro monologue), and thus to wrench his audience upwards into a new state of consciousness with one prolonged and devastating gesture, infinitely hurting and infinitely tender. Mean Streets comes close enough to this feverish ideal to warrant our love and much of our respect."[10]

Retrospectively, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times inducted Mean Streets on his Great Movies list and wrote: "In countless ways, right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows, Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies."[11] In 2013, the staff of Entertainment Weekly voted the film the seventh greatest of all time.[12] In 2015, it was ranked 93rd on the BBC's list of the 100 greatest American films.[13] James Gandolfini, when asked on Inside the Actors Studio (season 11, episode two) which films most influenced him, cited Mean Streets, saying "I saw that ten times in a row."[14] Likewise, director Kathryn Bigelow said that Mean Streets was one of her five favorite movies.[15] In an interview with GQ, Spike Lee named Mean Streets as one of his influences, along with On The Waterfront.[16] In 2011, Empire listed the film as #1 on its "50 Greatest American Independent Films" list.[17] In 2022, the film appeared on "Variety's 100 Greatest Films of All Time" list.[18]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 8.80/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Mean Streets is a powerful tale of urban sin and guilt that marks Scorsese's arrival as an important cinematic voice and features electrifying performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro."[19] According to Metacritic, which assigned a weighted average of 96 out of 100 based on eleven critics, the film received "universal acclaim".[20]

Home media[edit]

Mean Streets was released on VHS and Betamax in 1985. The film debuted as a letterboxed LaserDisc on October 7, 1991, in the US.[21] It was released on Blu-ray on April 6, 2011, in France,[22] and in America on July 17, 2012.[23] The home media releases use the original mono audio track, rather than a modern surround sound mix as is common even for films that originally had mono audio. A May 18, 2015 release in the UK altered the color timing, and included a lossless stereo audio track.[24] The film received a 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection on November 21, 2023.[25] Second Sight is releasing the 4K restoration on 4K Ultra HD in the UK.


Scorsese used mainly vintage pop songs as the movie soundtrack, a revolutionary move at the time. The opening titles along "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, is considered one of the most memorable moments of his career,[26] and according to critic Owen Gleiberman, "arguably the single greatest use of a pop song in Hollywood history".[27]

Other songs that appear on the film are:[28]

No official release of the soundtrack has been published.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mean Streets (1973)". Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  2. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (April 23, 2004). "Gross Oversights". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on January 19, 2007.
  3. ^ "Mean Streets". Afi. Catalog. Details. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  4. ^ "Librarian of Congress Names 25 New Films to National Film Registry" (Press release). Library of Congress. November 18, 1997. Archived from the original on August 11, 2009. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  5. ^ Brown, Mick (March 7, 2010). "Martin Scorsese interview for Shutter Island". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  6. ^ Musto, Michael (November 1, 2011). "Mean Streets Was Almost a Blaxploitation Flick!". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on September 23, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  7. ^ Kael, Pauline (1991). 5001 Nights at the Movies. New York: Holt Paperbacks. p. 473. ISBN 0-8050-1367-9.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 3, 1973). "'Mean Streets' at Film Festival". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  9. ^ "Mean Streets (1973)". Time Out London. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  10. ^ Martin Scorsese: A Life of Movies. 2021. pp. 10–13.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 31, 2003). "Mean Streets Movie Review & Film Summary (1973)". Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  12. ^ "Movies: 10 All-Time Greatest - 7. Mean Streets (1973)". Entertainment Weekly. June 27, 2013. Archived from the original on February 11, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  13. ^ "The 100 greatest American films". BBC. July 20, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  14. ^ Collins, Scott (June 20, 2013). "James Gandolfini dies at 51; actor starred in 'The Sopranos'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  15. ^ "Five Favorite Films with Kathryn Bigelow". Rotten Tomatoes. July 8, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  16. ^ Ofiaza, Renz (August 19, 2018). "Spike Lee Breaks Down His Film Heroes in New Interview". Highsnobiety. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  17. ^ Toy, Sam; Carty, Stephen; Jolin, Dan; White, James; O'Hara, Helen; Plumb, Ali; De Semlyen, Philip (June 30, 2011). "The 50 Greatest American Independent Movies". Empire. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  18. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time". Variety. December 21, 2022. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  19. ^ "Mean Streets (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2023.
  20. ^ "Mean Streets Reviews". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  21. ^ "Mean Streets (1973) [12241]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  22. ^ "Mean Streets Blu-ray (France)". Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  23. ^ "Mean Streets Blu-ray". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  24. ^ Mean Streets Blu-ray (United Kingdom), retrieved February 21, 2023
  25. ^ "Mean Streets". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved August 19, 2023.
  26. ^ "Martin Scorsese: a career in 10 songs". BFI. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  27. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (July 10, 2010). "'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector': If you love pop music, you must see this movie". Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  28. ^ "Mean Streets Soundtrack - Listen to all songs with scene descriptions". Soundtrack Radar. March 31, 2021. Retrieved March 31, 2023.

External links[edit]