Scorsese’s first feature film, not as assured a declaration of style as MEAN STREETS, but very much a seminal statement on deformed masculinity, Catholic guilt, and other Scorsese pet themes. The selfish narrativisation, victim-blaming, Madonna-whore complex, all of it feels infuriatingly real psychologically, and the actors sell it all well – worth noting the film was a debut for Harvey Keitel as well, who completely keys into what Scorsese is doing instantly.
The editing and pacing feel shaggy, it isn’t quite as purposefully formless as something like MEAN STREETS but certainly isn’t a direct plot or anything either. Much of this would seem a product of the film’s confused production – initially it was just the material of J.R. and his friends, then the main story of the romantic relationship was combined with it to make a feature, then a lengthy sex scene (of questionable place in he story) was added to secure further distribution.
What’s impressive is how fully-formed the voice, if not the exact style, of Scorsese is here. From his very first feature, it’s clear how Scorsese is condemning the types of men he so often makes films on. It may not be as nuanced or developed an exploration as something like RAGING BULL, but you can absolutely see the line connecting this film to that one. Three and a half westerns, and a French magazine.