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(Here at Hammer to Nail, we are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week, Brad Cook wanders the streets of a grimy 1970s NYC in the Criterion 4k Blu-Ray release of Martin Scorsese’s film Mean Streets.)

Mean Streets may not make a lot of “top ten Martin Scorsese movies” lists, but, of course, that’s simply because he’s a prolific director who has hit many home runs during his career. If you’re a fan, as so many of us are, then you might want to take a trip back to 1973 and a movie that was not only his first bona fide hit, after a pair of so-so releases, but also the beginning of a collaboration with Robert De Niro that continues until this day.

De Niro plays “Johnny Boy” Civello, who drifts through life jobless and always owing a chunk of cash to various neighborhood loan sharks, thanks to his gambling habit. Harvey Keitel is Charlie Cappa, Johnny Boy’s older friend who feels a sense of responsibility for his buddy’s well-being but is also frustrated by all the bullshit.

Charlie works, but he makes a living as a heavy for his uncle, mob boss Giovanni (Cesare Danova), and he’s having a clandestine relationship with Johnny’s epileptic cousin Teresa. Giovanni disapproves of Charlie being involved with Teresa (Amy Robinson ) and Johnny, and Charlie’s woes are multiplied by the fact that he feels he’s a bad Catholic. (Hey, this is a Scorsese film.)

It’s not hard to see where all of this is headed, especially when a particular loan shark gets sick of Johnny avoiding him and starts playing hard ball. Of course, the fun lies in watching Keitel and De Niro chew the gritty scenery in Little Italy in the early 1970s, along with seeing where so many of the seeds of Scorsese’s later films were planted.

If you’re a Scorsese fan and haven’t seen this one, it’s worth a blind buy, especially this new edition from Criterion, which is available on Blu-ray and 4K UltraHD and sports a new restored print approved by Scorsese and another of his long-time collaborators, editor Thelma Schoonmaker (she didn’t work on this one, but Mean Streets editor Sidney Levin died in 2020).

Like so many of Criterion’s releases, this one is packed with the kind of material that has earned the boutique label their “film class in a box” reputation. The sole new bonus feature is a 30-minute video essay called A Body Among Other Bodies, which is narrated by film critic Imogen Sara Smith and covers the story’s depiction of toxic masculinity (again, this is a Scorsese movie, folks).

The rest of the extras were ported over from prior editions and include:

• Martin Scorsese with Richard Linklater (30 minutes): This is an excerpt from a chat between the directors after a 2011 screening of Mean Streets.

• Selected-Scene Commentary: Recorded in 2004, Scorsese voices over some of the movie’s scenes, talking in particular how he drew on his own experiences growing up in New York City.

• Kent Wakeford (20 minutes): Cinematographer Kent Wakeford talks about shooting Mean Streets with Scorsese.

• Mardik Martin (10 minutes): This constitutes footage drawn from the 2008 documentary Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood, which chronicles the life of Mean Streets co-writer Mardik Martin.

• Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block (7 minutes): Dating to 1973, this is a promotional film that was created by Warner Bros. for the film’s theatrical debut.

The movie’s trailer rounds out the platter while the usual booklet features an essay by film critic Lucy Sante.

– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)

Criterion 4k Blu ray; Martin Scorsese; Mean Streets movie review

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