by Terri Bey
Slight Warning: Some language used in this blog is not suitable for work or for young children as I use quotes from an “R” rated film.
On September 19, 1990, Warner Brothers released the classic film, “Goodfellas,” a mob film, based upon the book, “Wiseguy,” written by Nicholas Pileggi about the true story of an Irish/Italian kid named Henry Hill and his life in the mob. The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Ray Liotta as Henry Hill. The rest of the cast include Robert DeNiro as “Jimmy “the Gent” Conway,” Lorraine Bracco as “Karen Hill,” Joe Pesci as “Tommy DeVito,” Paul Sorvino as “Paul Cicero” and the late Frank Vincent as “Billy Batts.” This film is considered by many, including me, to be the most realistic movie about the mob. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Martin Scorsese), but won only one, which was for Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci. That year’s Best Picture was the overly long and boring “Dances With Wolves,” directed by Kevin Costner. This is the second time that Scorsese and his film have lost to a film directed by an actor. The first time was in 1980 when “Raging Bull” lost to “Ordinary People,” directed by Robert Redford. Raging Bull” was way better than “Ordinary People,” in my opinion. Regardless, “Goodfellas,” did win five BAFTA Awards, the British Oscars, if you will, including “Best Picture” and “Best Direction.”
“Goodfellas,” is not only an all-time great film and one of Martin Scorsese’s best, but is one of my favorite films. I have always loved mob and gangster films my entire life. I am talking about watching films featuring James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, when they played gangsters, in films like, “White Heat,” “Angels With Dirty Faces,” and “Little Caesar.” Of course, I LOVE “The Godfather” Trilogy. Alright, I am not that huge a fan of “Godfather, Part III,” but you get the idea. “Goodfellas, was a game changer. This was realistic and I thought this film had everything from the over the top characters, violence and even some humor. This film is considered a classic.
As this year is the 30th anniversary of its release, in this blog, I will be making a list of the things that I love about “Goodfellas,” by Martin Scorsese. They could be scenes, characters, or lines or other aspects of the film. I want to emphasize that this is NOT a list,per se and is NOT in ANY order. I am just writing this blog as a tribute to one of my favorite films and letting my readers know why I love this film so much.
Of course, feedback is welcomed and encouraged.
WHY I LOVE MARTIN SCORSESE’S CLASSIC FILM, “GOODFELLAS:”
The Soundtrack: The use of great music, starting with “Rags to Riches,” sung by Tony Bennett and throughout the entire film was one of the great aspects of this film. The viewer heard all kinds of music from opera to classic rock to the crooners and the musical numbers were placed in the right spots to give the scene the right ambiance. The music is used SO effectively that when I hear some of those songs, I don’t think of them the same way.
The Food: Being that my mother was Sicilian, and many of the main characters were either from Sicily or Italy, food is a huge part of our heritage. The scene where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) goes to Paul Cicero’s (Paul Sorvino) home for dinner and seeing all that food was typical of what Italians would serve. I liked seeing the scenes where Henry Hill is not only worried about the drug deal, but about the sauce he is making, near the end of the film.
“Maury:” Morris “Maury” Kessler (Chuck Low) is the wig maker, whose “wigs don’t come off,” who, at least per the movie, came up with the famous Lufthansa Heist. He was a pain in the neck. I knew he’d get “whacked” or killed. The scene where Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) are in Maury’s place and Conway comes from behind and strangles Maury with the phone cord is a great scene.
Billy Batts: Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) is a “made man,” or a full member of the Mafia. He was considered “untouchable.” In this nightclub, Batts and his friends are having drinks on one end of the bar and Henry Hill (Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) are at the other end. Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) walks in and is not happy to see Batts, who asks DeVito to give him a hug and DeVito reluctantly does it. Batts jokingly comments about DeVito’s ability to “shine shoes” and will “make shoes look like fucking mirrors.” DeVito shows his displeasure and eventually, Batts yells, “Go home and get your fucking shine box!!!” DeVito leaves and later returns and he, Hill and Conway beat Batts up and put him in the car and then kill him, like you see in the very beginning of the film.
Spider: I feel badly for this kid. Spider (Michael Imperiolli) first gets shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Peschi) for supposedly ignoring DeVito’s request for a drink at the card game. Pesci is awesome with, “I ain’t alright, Spider.” Later, Spider then gets killed by DeVito, when this kid gets the gumption to tell the hot headed DeVito, “Fuck You, Tommy.” If you want to see an acting clinic, watch Joe Pesci play this scene, right before his character pulls the trigger. After the Spider character tells him, “Fuck you, Tommy,” Pesci sits in a calm silence, while the other characters are like, “Ooohh.” Pesci acts with just his expression on his face. The Jimmy Conway character says to DeVito, “What’s the matter?” “You’re going to let him get away with that?” “What’s this world coming to?” Tommy DeVito fires his gun and poor Spider is dead. Great scene and great acting.
“Get the Papers.” “Get the Papers.” This is a great line. There is a scene where through narration, Henry Hill (Liotta) is showing all the mobsters who eat there and tells the audience about the high life that they all live and “to live any other way was nuts.” Hill then shows some strange characters, like “Tony Two Times,” who “said everything twice, like, “Get the Papers.” “Get the Papers.”
Lorraine Bracco’s Performance: Bracco’s portrayal of “Karen Hill” is a tour de force. I loved how Bracco played Hill as this naïve wife, who was sucked in by this apparently nice guy in Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). As she realized to what kind of man she was married, she started to rationalize why he did what he did, by saying, in narration, about how he and his crew “went out to get us the little extras.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” What a great opening line, after the death of Billy Batts. Here is Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) stating how he always wanted to be a gangster, which leads right into the film, which starts with him narrating the story from how he started to hang out with the “wiseguys,” as a kid to his life as a gangster as an adult.
The Opening Scene: The rather shocking opening scene, where you see Henry Hill driving the car with Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the backseat wondering what the thumping was and realizing it was the not-quite-dead Billy Batts in the trunk, and then you see DeVito stabbing the pleading Batts to death and Conway shooting Batts had to be one of the most craziest things I have ever scene. I realized that this film was not going sugarcoat this Henry Hill’s story at all. This film was going to make many of James Cagney’s films look like Disney Films.
Joe Pesci’s Performance: I have seen acting performances and films receiving Oscars they didn’t deserve. However, if there were one that deserved the award, this one was it. His acting and portrayal of this psycho was incredible. I mentioned an example of how well he did so in the “Spyder” example.
Great Cast and Supporting Cast: What makes this film outstanding overall is the great cast, Robert DeNiro, Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta. They are all fantastic. What I loved about this film, though, was the supporting cast like Frank Vincent and Paul Sorvino and the many other actors who played the smaller roles, many of whom were onscreen for a few minutes. It is very important to cast the smaller roles correctly as well as the major characters. Depending upon the film, the smaller characters can make or break the quality of the film, in my view.
Scorsese’ Direction: This was a masterpiece. This film was one of Scorsese’s very best. The realism combined with getting great performances out of his cast was amazing. Credit also should go to Scorsese’s long time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker also.
Well, I hope you like this blog as much as I liked writing it. Feedback is below.