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Warner Home Video presents
Mean Streets: Special Edition (1973)

Charlie: What's this?
Johnny Boy: What's what?
Charlie: This.
Johnny Boy: What?
Charlie: That. What does this look like? Huh?
Johnny Boy: What?
Charlie: Where'd ya get this?
Johnny Boy: What?
Charlie: Where'd ya get this!?
Johnny Boy: Where?
Charlie: This.
Johnny Boy: What? This?

- Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: September 24, 2004

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro
Other Stars: David Proval, Amy Robinson, Richard Romanus, Cesare Danova, Victor Argo, George Memmoli, Lenny Scaletta, Jeannie Bell, David Carridine, Catherine Scorsese
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, strong language, nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:51m:51s
Release Date: August 17, 2004
UPC: 085391912729
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Martin Scorsese's brutal and benevolent Mean Streets is a milestone of American cinema. Its release in 1973 pronounced the realization of a major talent in contemporary cinema, and the film has lost none of its potency, containing as much strength and heart now as it did over three decades ago.

During the Feast of San Gennaro, the streets of Manhattan's Little Italy become an inferno of desire, emotion, and violence. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) works for his Mafia boss uncle, Giovanni (Cesare Danova), as a money collector. His job leads Charlie into the grime of society, and he spends most of his time at his friend Tony's (David Proval) strip club, night after night, and Tony works hard to keep the place clean from heroin addicts and the violent antics of Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro, in his breakout performance). Unlike those around him, Charlie has aspirations outside of crime and petty theft, holding out hope that his uncle will aid him in his quest to own a restaurant.

Charlie is one of Scorsese's most complex characters, because he is a nice guy who wants to break out of the confinements of the world around him, but ultimately is unable to do so, due to his own prejudices and pride. The film opens with him looking into the mirror, feeling overwhelmed by guilt for some unknown reason. Charlie believes in the Catholic Church, despite the scrutiny his sometimes naïve faith receives from Tony, and comes to the conclusion that he must pay for his sins in the street. Proudly, Charlie takes it upon himself to help his longtime friend Johnny get out of debt from the low-level hood Michael (Richard Romanus).

As part of his design, Charlie foolishly vouches for Johnny to Michael. As a result of this action, he is now responsible to Michael for Johnny's inability to pay off the debt. This predicament is only worsened by Johnny's violent inclinations, which come out of nowhere with a terrifying intensity. Scorsese's handling of a brawl in a pool hall cuts right into the viewer, showing the ugliness and allure of violent resolution. The scene, set skillfully to The Marvelettes' Please Mr. Postman, is a prime example of how to portray such brutality on film. It does not judge the men who engage in the activity, but presents the audience with all of the facts—both the lethargic, chaotic confusion and the testosterone fueled fun—and leaves it up to them to figure out the consequences of such a lifestyle. Things are further complicated when we learn that Charlie is secretly sleeping with Johnny's cousin, Teresa (Amy Robinson), an epileptic with dreams of leaving Manhattan for a better life. The city has hardened her, as evident by her rather foul mouth, into behaving just like the men—a sad portrayal of male power corrupting femininity, showing Teresa as a victim of her surroundings. The only way she can survive in this world, as the film subtly conveys, is to become even more masculine than the men around here.

The narrative's primary focus, however, is the relationship between Charlie and Johnny Boy. It's complex, containing many levels of manipulation and brotherly love that might necessitate multiple viewings in order to fully comprehend and appreciate. Both men use the other, but also offer each other something that keeps their friendship strong. Johnny allows Charlie to act out, and vicariously live his childish fantasies, while Charlie's sway with Michael keeps Johnny alive. Yet, ultimately, Charlie can only keep Johnny out of trouble for so long. The final 30 minutes of Mean Streets are some of the most riveting, heartbreaking, and enlightening ever put to celluloid.

This film marked the first collaboration between director Scorsese and star De Niro. Johnny's first scene, in which he blows up a mailbox, is a great beginning for this duo: it's explosive, just like everything else these two men teamed up to do. De Niro's roll as Johnny Boy is one of his best, conveying the ignorance, fear, and sadness of his character with believable grace. The scene between Johnny and Charlie in the hall of Johnny's apartment building, where the two come to blows, is tour-de-force acting. Keitel in this scene takes his performance to a whole new level. The first half of the film allows Keitel the opportunity to showcase Charlie as a contemplative man, but in this scene he fully conveys the effect of New York's Little Italy on Charlie. By nature Charlie isn't a violent man, but he is more then capable of adapting to the violent world that's engulfing him.

Scorsese's work on this film is one of his best accomplishments. He finds the truth of his subject, revealing it clearly to the audience and challenging the viewer with its content. His direction of the actors is top notch, creating seemingly impromptu performances that are so convincing in their freshness that one imagines they must have been painful to create. The visuals are striking and vibrant (Tony's club appears to be the precursor to GoodFellas' Copacabana) and set beautifully to the tunes of The Rolling Stones, among others, to create a highly stylized, yet realistic atmosphere. Sid Levin's editing creates a taut pacing that takes hold and never lets go.

It is a rare occasion that a critic is able to review a film without any noticeable flaws (though reviewers often choose to downplay, if not ignore, the weaknesses of films they admire). Mean Streets is one of those exceptions, with a fantastic script (by Scorsese and Mardik Martin), powerful acting, striking filmmaking, and an undeniable force on its audience. Great films tend to stick with the audience long after the closing credits, and Mean Streets lives up to this measurement. Most directors only wish they could have made this film.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The prior DVD release of Mean Streets was a disappointment, with a nonanamorphic and dirty transfer. This special edition has a newly mastered anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image preserving the original aspect ratio. The scratches, dirt, and compression artifacts are now gone. Immediately the difference is noticeable, with solid blacks and strong contrast throughout. The red lighting of Tony's club looks great, with no noticeable color bleed. Some of the footage is grainy, but this is largely due to the source material's lack of light, and, in a way, the grain adds to the story's immediacy. This is a stellar accomplishment by Warner and the best the picture has looked on home video.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono sound mix of Mean Streets is presented here in a clear, solid transfer. The dialogue is clean and well balanced with the songs. Ambience comes across well in this strong mono mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Amy Robinson, Martin Scorsese
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:51m:37s

Extras Review: Like the other titles in the Martin Scorsese collection, Mean Streets has a new audio commentary and a couple of other supplemental features. The commentary, by Scorsese and actress Amy Robinson, is of selected scenes (totalling about 80 minutes). Scorsese spends most of his time explaining the context of the film, chronicling his life and career up to that point in time. He does offer interesting anecdotes about the making of the film, such as Francis Ford Coppola giving him the money to shoot during the Feast of San Gennaro, but this is largely an autobiographical account. Robinson offers some interesting insights to her prep work for the role, but Scorsese largely dominates this track.

There also is a featurette from 1973 about the making of the film. Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block (6m:55s) contains home movies of Scorsese returning to his old neighborhood and talking with his friends. The men speak in voice-over, with his friends commenting on the accuracy of the film. The original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

After years of disappointing home video versions, including a prior DVD release, Mean Streets finally gets its due with this new special edition from Warner. The image is a fantastic restoration that is accompanied by a solid mono sound mix. The extras are not extensive, but the featurette and commentary are well worth a look. Highly recommended for all film buffs.


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