Don’t be fooled by its title. The characters in Martin Scorcese’s hit film GoodFellas appeared to be normal people but they didn’t get all their money by being nice. In fact, the gangsters portrayed in the movie were the type of men not to be trifled with. They lied, cheated, stole and murdered at will and it was only through the vigorous efforts of organizations like the FBI which brought their empire down. Released in 1990, GoodFellas starred Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Paul Sorvino as members of the Lucchese crime family based in Brooklyn, New York. It’s based on the early experiences of Henry Hill when he first joined his Mafia “family” in the 1950s.
Henry Hill and his buddies
Hill was a kid of mixed heritage, half Sicilian and half Irish and therefore was never fully accepted into the mob. To enjoy all of the benefits of this criminal fraternity you’re ancestry had to be solely Italian. That didn’t stop Hill, who wanted to join the wiseguys who controlled a cabstand near his home in a poor section of Brooklyn. He started as an errand boy and then gradually moved up the ladder to more serious offences including the infamous Lufthansa robbery and finally drug smuggling. His pals included another gangster who had an Irish background, Jimmy “The Gent” Conway played by Robert DeNiro and the intimidating Tommy DeVito portrayed by Joe Pesci.
They had everything
Crime was a way of life and it afforded them all the good things. They enjoyed swift and preferential treatment at clubs and restaurants and always had a beautiful woman in tow. These guys would bet thousands of dollars at a racetrack on a weekend and go back to extortion and other “protection” rackets at the beginning of the next week. Murder was normal too, it was just business. What good would it do to go to the police if you were being harassed by these thugs? Nothing could be done, because they owned the police and the judges in the courts.
The beginning of the end
After the murder of Billy Batts, a high ranking member of the Gambino crime syndicate, life for the three central characters in the film begins to get shaky. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) serves five years in prison and after his release begins to build a drug business. Hill is warned by Paulie (Paul Sorvino) to stay away from narcotics because it will attract all kinds of unwanted attention. Tommy DeVito is finally killed because he killed Billy Batts without the consent of other mafia members. One of the rules within this criminal brotherhood is you can’t touch a “made” guy without a very good reason. The scene where Robert DeNiro’s character, Jimmy Conway hears about Tommy’s death, was the single scene where he betrayed his emotions and shed tears.
In 1980 Hill was convinced to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program, and to testify against his closest mob friends. The glory days of the Italian-American mafia are long gone. But watching GoodFellas with its impeccably dressed gangsters and fast money, one gets nostalgic for the romanticism of this outlaw lifestyle – at least the way it is played in the movies.