Classic scene: Goodfellas

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – Goodfellas– Martin Scorsese’s ode to the life of mafia gangster Henry Hill, is lauded as one of the best crime movies of the century. Though Goodfellas‘ influence on contemporary film, TV and pop culture in general cannot be underestimated (after all it did inspire both The Sopranos and Fat Tony’s crew in The Simpsons), it only grossed $46 million.

Did you know that…

1) Henry Hill’s story was first told in the book Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family. According to Hill, Joe Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito (who was based on real-life mobster Thomas DeSimone) was “90 to 99 per cent accurate”. The only key differences were that DeSimone was actually a physical force to be reckoned with at 6’2” and 15 stone, and the film states that DeSimone died through a shot to the face, which is why his mother couldn’t hold an open-casket funeral – in real life his body was never found.

2) The film’s iconic one take steadicam shot following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco through New York’s Copacabana night club has often been replicated in other films and is now fittingly titled the Copa shot. But it wasn’t actually planned as one continuous take, and steadicam operator Larry McConkey made a lot of the movements up on the go. “We essentially had to invent a way to edit it in the shot. I had to be wide to follow (Ray and Lorraine) down the stairs, because otherwise it would be a shot of the tops of their heads, but when they got to the bottom of the stairs they turned a corner and they would disappear if I didn’t catch up to them […] So we structured events within the shot that covered the limitations of not being able to cut in order to give it pace and timing. What I didn’t expect, and what I only figured out later, was that all those (interactions) ended up being the heart and soul of the shot.”

3) Some interesting numbers… Pesci ended up winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1990 and delivered a five word acceptance speech (“It’s my privilege, thank you”); “fuck” is uttered 300 times in the film (with more than half ad-libbed by Pesci) despite only appearing 70 times in the actual script, making Goodfellas the 12th sweariest film ever (it’s used 422 times in Casino and a whopping 506 times in The Wolf Of Wall Street)

4) The “funny how” scene wasn’t in the script. Pesci told Scorsese a story about how, when he was a younger man working in a restaurant, he complimented a mobster by telling him that he was funny. The gangster was not impressed, and his reaction later became the basis for the scene. The director didn’t include the actual lines in the script so that the actors around Liotta and Pesci at the club table would be genuinely surprised at the interaction.

The clip first shows the iconic Copa take, followed by behind the scenes footage featuring Lorraine Bracco and Joe Pesci captured by George Sikat.