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Mean Streets: Special Edition

Mean Streets (1974) may not be Martin Scorsese's first film, but it's not hard to see how the director as he is known today emerged from this one low-budget bit of guerrilla filmmaking. Harvey Keitel stars as Charlie Cappa, an up-and-coming wiseguy in New York's Little Italy who must balance his loyalties between a local mob chieftain, who wants him to run his new restaurant, and his friend 'Johnny Boy' Civello (Robert De Niro), an erratic two-bit hood who never pays his debts and has a bad habit of crossing the wrong people. Charlie's loyalty to Johnny Boy stems from his own conflicted morality, which forces him to believe he should help those who are most in need of it, even though Charlie's girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson) is Johnny Boy's cousin and thinks he's a burnout, while two other members of Charlie's crew, bar-owner Tony (David Proval) and racketeer Michael (Richard Romanus) think Charlie's pet head-case is bad for business. Among the most quintessential of New York films shot during the peak of the New Hollywood era (although some of it actually was shot in Los Angeles), the plot of Mean Streets can be erratic at times, with Scorsese's script so character-driven that it simply moves from one scenario to the next, often without a clear sense of narrative purpose. For that, it lacks the intricately knotted tension to be found in the director's subsequent masterworks such Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. But the cast of then-unknowns, headed by Keitel and De Niro, make the experience worthwhile — De Niro for one is a real treat as Johnny Boy, crafting the sort of self-destructive character he would revisit in so many later films (albeit here it's with a slick street-patter and disarmingly loopy grin). But serious Scorsese fans will simply enjoy finding the director's well-known signature on nearly every scene — the '60s radio soundtrack, the haymaker punches, the overcranked cameras when Johnny Boy walks in to Tony's bar, and Keitel's thoroughly strange drunk scene, performed with a camera strapped to his torso. Warner's second DVD release of Mean Streets, a special-edition upgrade, features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a source-print that looks very good for its age, while the monaural audio is provided on a DD 1.0 track. Supplements include a commentary with Scorsese and actress-turned-film producer Amy Robinson (which regrettably is not feature-length but limited to select scenes), the vintage featurette "Back on the Block," and a theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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