Admirers of Mean Streets may have wondered how Scorsese came by his dizzy vision of nervy New York neurotics: Cassavetes' first film may well have been a strong influence. As in the later film, what matters is less the story - two brothers and a sister working out various tensions between themselves and other friends and lovers - than the electric atmosphere and edgy performances. The trio trudge through their seedy city lives (smoky nightclubs, pretentious parties, disastrous sexual encounters, brawls, and beery beatnik conversations) suffering from heady hypertension, although what is now so surprising about this milestone of improvisational cinema is that it is often very funny. The jumpy editing, free-focus camerawork, and naturalistic dialogue (made the same year as Godard's Breathless, it centres around many of the same impulses towards a new form of film-making) may no longer shock, but back in '59 must have been a revelation. With a blue and moody Mingus soundtrack and steel-grey photography, it's still a delight.
Cast and crew