In this new series of articles, our writers are watching classic films for the first time. This time we have Louise catching up on Martin Scorsese‘s 1973 film Mean Streets.

Released three years before Taxi Driver and 13 years before Goodfellas, Mean Streets feels thematically as though it sits somewhere between the two. Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a small-time local Mob member who collects debts for his uncle. He’s surprisingly sweet-natured when compared to some of Scorsese’s other Mafia characters, and this, unfortunately, is his downfall. He decides to help out a friend, Johnny, played by a baby-faced Robert De Niro.

De Niro seems to be really flexing his muscles here as an early incarnation of Travis Bickle, not quite as dangerous but certainly as unpredictable. Fast-talking and forever in debt, Johnny is a disaster waiting to happen as his debts, and his mental wellbeing, spiral completely out of control.

While not quite as rich a tapestry of mob life as Goodfellas, Mean Streets instead looks at the lives of the lower rungs of the Mafia ladder. This is a far grittier, dirtier take on things – you can almost smell the 1970s New York streets that Charlie and Johnny wander. Still living with family members and carrying out menial tasks for bosses, Mob life never looked less glossy.

By 1973, Scorsese had already developed his own unique style. Even this early in his career we have his famed slow motion pans and long takes, letting us drink in the characters and the world he’s expertly crafted, and will continue to build on in the likes of Goodfellas, Casino and The Irishman.

Perhaps seen as a lesser version of Goodfellas, Mean Streets is truly iconic in its own right. Keitel and De Niro may have been at the start of their careers, but still give perfectly nuanced performances, and put Scorsese well on his way to being one of the greatest directors of all time.


Available to watch on: Netflix 


CAST: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

WRITERS: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin

SYNOPSIS: A small-time hood aspires to work his way up the ranks of a local mob.