Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Mean Streets (1973)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Mean Streets (1973)

In Martin Scorsese's episodic breakthrough crime drama about low-life gangsters and hustlers in New York's Little Italy, with the director's ground-breaking use of pop tunes in the narrative, such as the Ronettes' "Be My Baby":

  • the classic opening voice-over (of director Scorsese) under a black screen ("You don't make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bulls--t and you know it"), and then the view of a startled-awake small-time mob collector Charlie Cappa (Harvey Keitel), a Mafia apprentice
  • the flashback to the past - the playing of Charlie's 8 mm home movies under the title credits, to the tune of the Ronettes' 'Be My Baby'
  • the sub-titled introduction of each of the film's characters, in typed CAPITAL letters, including the stunning entrance of self-destructive trouble-maker John "Johnny Boy" Civello (Robert De Niro) blowing up a USPS mailbox
Sub-titled Introduction of Characters
Loan Shark Michael
(Richard Romanus)
Johnny Boy
(Blowing Up Mailbox)
(Offering Penance)
  • the introduction of Charlie - as he offered penance in church and felt conflicted Catholic guilt, and the memorable image of him holding his hand in the flame of a votive candle before an altar (and also with matches and other burning objects) to test himself against the fires of hell (accentuated by the reddish hues of many of the following scenes): ("Okay, I just come out of confession, right? Right. And the priest gives me the usual penance, right? Ten 'Hail Marys', ten 'Our Fathers', ten whatever. Now, you know, the next week, I'm gonna come back and he's just gonna give me another ten 'Hail Marys' and another ten 'Our Fathers' and I mean, you know how I feel about that s--t. Those things, they don't mean anything to me. They're just words. Now, that may be okay for the others, but it just doesn't work for me. I mean, if I do somethin' wrong, I just want to pay for it my way. So, I do my own penance for my own sins. Whaddya say, huh? It's all bulls--t except the pain, right? The pain of hell. The burn from a lighted match increased a million times. Infinite. No, you don't f--k around with the infinite. There's no way you do that. The pain in hell has two sides: The kind you can touch with your hand. The kind you can feel in your heart. Your soul, the spiritual side. And ya know, the worst of the two is the spiritual")
  • to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Tell Me," Charlie gyrated through the crowded table area to the small bar stage where two strippers (topless with pasties) were slowly dancing; he stepped up and joined a beautiful black stripper Diane (Jeannie Bell), whom Charlie later complimented - with semi-racist reservations: ("She is really good looking, but she's black. You can see that real plain, right? Well, there's not much of a difference anyway, is there? Well, is there?")
  • local, vengeful loan shark Michael "Mikey" Longo asked the level-headed Charlie why he provided protection and cover for Johnny Boy: "I don't understand why you hang around with a punk kid. I mean, he's the biggest jerk off around"
  • the entrance scene - when Charlie watched jealously as pork-pie hat-wearing Johnny Boy entered (in slow-motion to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash"), with a bohemian-looking female on each arm
  • the scene in the bar's back room, where Charlie dragged Johnny Boy, to insist and demand that he pay his debt to Michael "Mikey" Longo: ("You can't bulls--t people that way. You give your word, you gotta keep it"); Johnny Boy rambled incoherently about why he didn't have the money; afterwards, Johnny Boy falsely assured Mikey that he would soon be paid the debt owed: ("I know what you're gonna say, but don't say it because, number one, I'm not payin' for these drinks. They're all on the tab. And I'm gonna see ya, Tuesday payday, I swear on my mother. Not only on my mother, but Jesus Christ and... Okay?...Don't worry, it ain't gonna get out of hand")
  • during an extended classic pool hall/bar brawl scene (shot kinetically with a hand-held camera following the action around the perimeter to the tune of The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman"), Charlie and his buddies were attempting to collect from a pool hall owner, Joey 'Clams' Scala (George Memmoli); after Joey called Mikey a "mook" and punched him, Johnny Boy and the rest of the gang engaged in a major brawl with Joey and his cohorts around the pool hall and on the tables (with an 30 second uninterrupted fight sequence); Johnny Boy jumped up onto a pool table swinging a broken pool cue, and gesturing with wild karate kicks
  • Charlie's secret love relationship with Johnny Boy's epileptic cousin Teresa Ronchelli (Amy Robinson) who lived in an adjacent apartment; he first watched her undress through her window, then was seen naked in bed with her; he pointed his finger at her in the position of a gun (on the soundtrack, a gunshot was heard) - a subliminal statement of his ambivalence towards her; he was positioned in a crucifix pose with his arms outstretched on the bed's headboard (with a venetian blinds or jail-bars shadow over him - a meaningful juxtaposition of his life of faith and crime); he watched her through his parted fingers covering his eyes in a V-position, as she began to dress
Charlie's Secret Relationship with Johnny Boy's
Epileptic Cousin Teresa Ronchelli
  • at the beach, he discussed his dislikes and likes with Teresa: ("I hate the sun. Come on, let's go inside, will ya?...I hate the ocean, and I hate the beach, and I hate the sun. And the grass and the trees and I hate heat!...I like spaghetti and clam sauce. Mountains. Francis of Assisi. Chicken with lemon and garlic. Uh, and John Wayne"); when she reminded him: ("You know, there aren't any mountains in Manhattan"), he answered before kissing her: ("Tall buildings. Same thing. And I like you"), and his insistence that he must help her "crazy" cousin Johnny Boy before moving uptown with her and away from the neighborhood - Charlie felt he had a spiritual, selfless mission (as part of his personal penance): ("Who's gonna help him if I don't? "Who's gonna help him if I don't?...Nobody tries any more...tries to help us all, help people"); she disagreed: "You help yourself first," but he felt otherwise - that he must live a life like St. Francis of Assisi: "Bulls--t, Teresa. That's where you're all wrong! Francis of Assisi had it all down. He knew"; Teresa quipped back: "What are you talkin' about? Saint Francis didn't run numbers"
  • the sequence of a drunken Charlie, seen in a close-up of his face, staggering through a bar (to the tune of The Chips' "Rubber Biscuit"); the woozy camera shots followed him as he tipped over and fell to the floor
  • the scene of volatile Johnny Boy raging at life by shooting with a .38 Special at the lights of the Empire State Building from the nightclub rooftop and then incoherently shouting an apology to a woman who ran for cover from his wild gunfire: (""Hey, lady, I'm sorry. Lady, I didn't mean it, I swear to God! I'm very sorry...I hit that lady. I tried to get her clothesline"); after Charlie was able to persuade Johnny Boy to stop, the two went to a nearby cemetery, where Charlie stressed how important it was for Johnny Boy to show up the next Tuesday payday to clear his debt with Michael; prophetically, Johnny Boy laid prone on a gravestone
  • shortly later, Johnny Boy raised his fists against the dark night skies and heaven from a rooftop, and then suddenly appeared at the fire-escape window of Charlie (with Teresa visiting)
  • the sequence of Johnny Boy's climactic fist-fight with Charlie when he was late to his appointment to pay Mikey; tempers began to flare when Johnny Boy teased them about getting engaged, and then asked an absurdly inappropriate and insulting question in the apartment hallway: "I've always wondered about her. This is the God's honest truth. I always wondered about what happens when she comes. She get a fit? What happens when she comes, I mean"; when Charlie slapped Johnny Boy in the face, the two began yelling and striking at each other: Charlie: "I'll tear your f--kin' eyes outta your head!" Johnny Boy: "Now, I'm gonna kill you bastard!"; Teresa tried to break them up, and then began to experience an epileptic attack and fell to the floor
  • the volatile loan argument sequence in the bar when Johnny Boy offered only a $10 dollar bill as payment for his $2,000 dollar loan debt; Mikey asked: "Where's the rest?"; Johnny Boy made a series of insulting comments: ("I borrow money from you because you're the only jerk off around here that I could borrow money from without payin' back, right? Right? You know, 'cause that's what you are, that's what I think of you: a jerk-off. You're smilin'. Like you're a jerk-off. You're a f--kin' jerk-off! You're a f--kin' jerk-off. And I'll tell 'ya something else, Mikey. (Johnny Boy lit the $10 bill on fire) I f--k you right where you breathe, 'cause I don't give two s--ts about you or nobody else") - and then Johnny Boy foolishly brandished his gun at Mikey, called him "f--k-face" - and taunted him: "I'll put this up your ass"; Mikey dared him: "You don't have the guts to use that" - and then exited
  • the final retributive shooting sequence upon Charlie's car driving through Brooklyn; Charlie was accompanied by Teresa (in the middle of the front seat) and Johnny Boy at the window; suddenly, a second moving car, driven by Michael, pulled along side; he cued his henchman-hitman in the backseat, Jimmy Shorts (director Martin Scorsese), to begin firing with "Now's the time!"; six shots were fired point-blank at Charlie's adjacent car, hitting Johnny Boy in the side of the neck (causing arterial spray) and Charlie in the arm, and Teresa's fist flew through the front windshield; the drive-by attack caused the car to spin out and crash; all three survived with serious injuries, although Johnny Boy's injury would probably be fatal

Devout Catholic Charlie's Hand Held in Votive Candle Flame

Charlie With Strippers on Bar Stage

Johnny Boy With His Loan Shark Michael Longo

Pool Hall Brawl Scene

Charlie with Teresa at the Shore: "I hate the sun"

Drunken Charlie in Bar Scene

Cemetery Scene - Johnny Boy Prone on a Gravestone

Johnny Boy Raising His Fists to Heaven From Rooftop

Stand-off: Johnny Boy Foolishly Brandishing a Gun at Loan Shark Mikey

Retributive Drive-By Shooting


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