From ''Mean Streets'' to ''Thelma & Louise,'' the actor's best offbeat and intimidating films

By Ty Burr
Updated November 27, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Harvey Keitel has been in an awful lot of movies, accent on the ”awful.” Remember The January Man, Saturn 3, and The Pick-Up Artist? But he has also acted in some of the most offbeat and intimidating motion pictures of the last 25 years, many of them directed by Martin Scorsese. In fact, the actor has been even more of an alter ego to Scorsese than the more celebrated Robert De Niro has. Here are the best Keitel/Scorsese collaborations, plus a few other winners, all on video.

*Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1968) A startlingly young Keitel debuts in Scorsese’s first feature film, as a Catholic teen torn between lust and love and guilt and machismo. A-

*Mean Streets (1973) Another New Yawk kid balancing his buddies, the mob, and a girl. The essential Scorsese Everyman in the director’s first masterpiece. A

*Taxi Driver(1976) Almost unrecognizable in a hippie hat and scraggly hair, he’s the personification of street evil as the pimp to Jodie Foster’s prostitute and target to De Niro’s cabbie. A-

*The Duellists (1977) A change of pace: Keitel is miscast but game as a ven- geance-obsessed French officer in Ridley Scott’s luxurious tale of violent 19th-century folly. B+

*Fingers (1978) Another Little Italy headcase, this time for writer-director James Toback. Keitel is frightening as a combination concert pianist/Mafia bag man (it’s that kind of movie). B

*The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Keitel brings his Brooklyn honk to the part of Judas (at right, with Willem Dafoe as Jesus) in Scorsese’s controversial film. Call it miscasting (some did), but it actually vindicates the director’s faith in a favorite actor. B+

*Thelma & Louise (1991) The fatherly cop who tails the title duo is hands down the nicest character Keitel has played in his entire career. Either he has mellowed or we’ve caught up. A-