Martin Scorsese is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time with a number of classic films to his name. But perhaps his best and the most popular film is the 1990 mob drama Goodfellas. The film tells the true story of Henry Hill, a young man who is drawn into the exciting, rich, and dangerous world of organized crime.
Goodfellas remains one of the most acclaimed films ever made and is considered by many to be Scorsese's masterpiece. From the performances to the music to the unrelenting pace, Goodfellas is one of those movies you can go back to again and again. But no matter how many times you see it, you might still be missing something. Here are some hidden details in Goodfellas.
The film is based on the non-fiction book Wiseguys by Nicholas Pileggi. The book came to Scorsese's attention and he called Pileggi directly to discuss making the film together. Though there were other offers to buy the rights, Pileggi knew it would be in the best hands with Scorsese.
The two men decided to write the film together but they used a very unusual method. Instead of sitting down together, Scorsese and Pileggi separately wrote an outline for the story then came together to see what each had come up with. The method worked as their outlines were very similar and they just started combining elements of both.
Though he was beginning to get noticed in Hollywood, Ray Liotta was not a big name in the business before Goodfellas. However, Scorsese had seen his performance in Something Wild and was convinced he was the right person to play Henry Hill. Unfortunately, producer Irwin Winkler disagreed.
Winkler did not think Liotta had the innocence necessary for Henry and insisted they keep looking. However, one night while having dinner in a restaurant, Winkler was approached by Liotta who made a case for himself in the role. Winkler immediately saw his potential and Liotta got the part.
Probably the most famous scene in Goodfellas is the infamous "Funny how?" between Henry and Tommy (Joe Pesci). While the friends are out having some drinks and enjoying themselves, Henry remarks how funny Tommy is which changes the entire mood.
The way Tommy becomes insulted and angry by Henry's harmless comment turns the entire scene into a tense and terrifying moment. This entire exchange was Pesci's idea and was based on an actual exchange he had witnessed. It is a great reminder that underneath all the fun of the mob world, violence is always simmering.
Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese have a legendary history of collaboration and it continued in this movie which was their sixth together. De Niro plays Jimmy Conway, a real-life gangster who ushered Henry Hill through his rise in organized crime.
De Niro is known to be a method actor and wanted to be as authentic as possible in his scenes. One of his most expensive requests was to handle real money in the scenes Jimmy is handing out cash. The prop department gave De Niro a few thousand dollars in cash and no one was allowed to leave the set at the end of the day until it was all accounted for.
Martin Scorsese is another artist who strives for authenticity in his work. He often goes to great lengths to ensure his movies feel as real as possible, which often means casting real people in small roles in his films. In Goodfellas, this casting process included putting his own parents in the film.
His mother, Catherine Scorsese, plays Tommy's mother in the famous dinner scene. Scorsese's father, Charles plays one of the gangsters who is making the sauce in prison and shows up again as one of the men who kill Tommy.
Frank Vincent is another frequent collaborator of Scorsese's having appeared in a number of his films. In Goodfellas, he gets maybe his most memorable role as the doomed Billy Batts. He also shares an interesting onscreen relationship with Joe Pesci.
In their first Scorsese film together, Raging Bull, Pesci's character beats Vincent up. Things escalate in Goodfellas as Pesci beats him to death. However, Vincent gets his revenge in Casino when he finally gets to kill Pesci. Oddly enough, these two go back years having performed as a comedy duo before getting into acting.
Scorsese is known for his beautiful shots and Goodfellas, despite its gritty premise, is another beautifully shot film. One of the most famous moments in the film is the long continuous take that follows Henry and Karen into the restaurant through the back entrance, through the kitchen and out into the dining hall where a comedian is on stage.
The entire shot is over three minutes long and required a lot of preplanning to get it just right. However, the biggest problem that they ran into with the complicated shot was the comedian. After completing the shot several times, the comedian would forget his lines and they would have to start all over again.
Part of the genius of this film is how it seduces you with the glitz and glamour of a life of crime, before reminding you of the horror of it all. The perfect scene to illustrate this is the murder of Spider (Michael Imperioli) from an enraged Tommy.
Initially, the studio wanted to cut the scene as the violence was so disturbing but Scorsese convinced them it was necessary for the film. The filming was also intense and Pesci was disturbed by the act. Imperioli also got into the part, throwing himself backward so hard he cut himself and had to be taken to the hospital.
One of the greatest scenes in the movie comes after the brutal murder of Billy Batts. Tommy, Henry, and Jimmy stop at Tommy's mother's house to pick up a shovel and end up having dinner with his mother while Batts' body lies in the trunk.
The black humor of the scene was perfect and the whole scene was made more impressive by the fact that it was completely improvised by the actors. Catherine Scorsese was not even told about the fact that there was a dead man in the car while the scene was going on.
Before reading Nicholas Pileggi's book, Scorsese had vowed not to make any more mob movies. Not only did the book change his mind, but making this movie convinced him to complete his unofficial gangster trilogy.
Scorsese had realized that he was examining the mob from several different perspectives in his films. Mean Streets was a look at the young, street-level goons who dreamed of the big times. Goodfellas was a look at the middle-level guys who thought they were the real deal but were really just pawns. Next, Scorsese would look at the guys at the top of it all in Casino.