The Searchers in Mean Streets
Considering what a legendary cinephile Martin Scorsese is, it’s not surprising that his characters are frequently obsessed with movies, from early in his career (Harvey Keitel, playing his alter ego in Who’s That Knocking At My Door, chats up a girl by talking about John Wayne) to his most recent films (Hugo is essentially a valentine to silent movies). In Mean Streets, the first thing Scorsese’s street hoods want to do after ripping off some suburban kids for $20 is go to the movies. And the movie they see there is The Searchers, John Ford’s acclaimed and masterful 1956 John Wayne western, and a favorite point of reference among Scorsese and his “film brat” brethren. What’s more, its primary struggle is mirrored in Mean Streets: it focuses on a wise yet flawed protagonist (John Wayne/Harvey Keitel) who spends the film trying to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved (Natalie Woody/Robert De Niro). Scorsese would later make a much more explicit Searchers connection when Travis Bickle “saved” prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) in Taxi Driver.