“Murderers came with smiles, killing people was no big deal, we were good fellas”
Martin Scorsese shaved of his beard during the making of this film, he hasn’t been the same since.
When I was getting into film in late 1990/91 Empire was the film magazine to buy (those days are long gone, I’m afraid), the magazine had only been going just over 18 months and I tried to get hold of all those back issues (thank you The Corn Exchange, Manchester, don’t try to look for it anymore, it isn’t there, The IRA blew it up) and I loved those elusive 5-star ratings, one was GoodFellas “This is about as exciting as movies get”, I’d missed it at the cinema, so I waited for it to appear on Video. In the pre-internet days, a film was released in the US, then on limited release in London, then nationwide, then to smaller cinemas, then eventually released on video (the UK release date for GoodFellas was November 1990, it was released on rental video in July 1991 (where I saw it) and then to sell through video on April 1992).
It wasn’t the first Scorsese film I ever saw, that honour goes to “Taxi Driver”, a film that I bought because it was given 5-stars in a Robert De Niro feature in Empire and it was £5.99 on the Cinema Club label (remember them?), I was totally blown away. From the opening music of Bernard Herrmann (his last score) to Paul Schrader’s script and De Niro’s intense performance. I became a Scorsese fan over night and rented “GoodFellas” that weekend.
Scorsese never seemed to be on TV, although I’d missed “Raging Bull” when it was shown on C4 in 1990, (it had been chosen as ‘Film Of The Decade’) as it was only given one star in Halliwell’s Film Guide (stingy bastard). It took me until 1992 to catch up with it.
When I first saw it, I was obsessed with Coppola’s “The Godfather” and seemed to watch it every week, but I was slightly disappointed with “GoodFellas”, yes it was slicker and the jukebox music score was cracking, but I just found the language a little too fruity in it. However, I thought I’d give it another chance and bought it when it was released on sell through, it was then that it began to have it’s impact on me.
It is the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta, already brilliant in Phil Alden Robinson’s “Field Of Dreams”) who grows up doing runs and deliveries for the Mafia but then gets caught up in murder & drugs with Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy De Vito (a superb Oscar winning performance from Joe Pesci, anybody who has seen the film will never forget the “Funny, funny how?” speech).
Scorsese had been brought up in New York’s Little Italy and first went to the cinema in 1946 to see “Duel In The Sun” with this mother (she only wanted to see it because the Catholic League Of Decency had wanted to ban it) and he was hooked, he said “The only things that mattered to me were religion and film”
He graduated in the late 60s and after making a few short films and working on the epic documentary “Woodstock” made his feature film debut with “Who’s That Knocking On My Door?” in 1968 (this was also Harvey Keitel’s debut film), this led to his first Hollywood film “Boxcar Bertha”. He hated the experience and began to raise money to make a film shot in New York about the Mafia, his deeply personnel “Mean Streets” featuring Harvey Keitel as Charlie, the nephew of a Don and a career changing performance from Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy. With a brilliant juke box soundtrack (something unheard of at the time), it would lead to more money and his next movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, which won an Oscar for it’s star, Ellen Burstyn and Jodie Foster got a career from it.
After “Taxi Driver” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and an Oscar Best Picture nomination (it lost out to “Rocky”!!!!) he was able to gain more money from UA to make “New York, New York”, his tribute to Hollywood musicals, far from bad the film flopped badly, today it is most remembered as giving Frank Sinatra a hit with a cover of the theme song. It was a bad time in the movies, all the new talent were having big flops (Spielberg with “1941”, Michael Cimino with “Heaven’s Gate”). Scorsese decided to make one more movie or he said he would have moved to Italy and made the lives of the Saints on 16mm, the film was “Raging Bull” and the rest is history.
Through the 80s he made the brilliant “King Of Comedy”, his return to Hollywood films “After Hours” and “The Color Of Money” and his religious, highly controversial epic “The Last Temptation Of Christ”, before making “New York Stories” with Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, it showed which director was still at the top of his game and who had lost it.
From this Warner Bros (the studio who had made it’s name on gangster films in the 30s) put up the money to adapt Nicholas Pileggi’s novel “Wiseguy” and changed it’s name to “GoodFellas”. At the 1991 Oscars, Kevin Costner took home Best Picture and Best Director for “Dances With Wolves” (a fate which had happened ten years earlier when another actor turned director, Robert Redford, took home Best Picture and Best Director for his first film, Ordinary People, when it was up against “Raging Bull”). When asked what he thought about Scorsese missing out again, Harvey Keitel replied “It is exclusion from the mediocre”.
However, after “GoodFellas”, Scorsese seems to have made a string of good looking, empty and dare I say it, mediocre films in the hope of bagging that elusive Oscar, something he managed to do in 2007 for “The Departed”.
Watch this film again and remember when Marty really was “America’s greatest living film director”
- Schnook (somecamerunning.typepad.com)
- GoodFellas ✭✭✭✭✭ (hesnersfilmcritiques.com)
- At the Aruba Fest: Ray Liotta on acting and the making of ‘GoodFellas’ – Screener (zendialogue.wordpress.com)
- Henry Hill, mobster subject of ‘GoodFellas,’ dies at 69 (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Henry Hill, mob informant profiled in ‘GoodFellas,’ dies at 69 – Kansas City Star (kansascity.com)
- Mean Streets (1973) Review (oldgamereviewer.com)