Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Goodfellas.”
The Movie: “Goodfellas”
Starring: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob, covering his relationship with his wife Karen Hill and his mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the Italian-American crime syndicate.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96 percent
Froemming: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to make fun of the movie “Goodfellas.”
See, it is Joe Brown’s favorite movie. It is also a movie I also really enjoy, though I am divided on whether I like this or “Casino” more. I mean, both are classic mob movies, though I did get to see James Woods get beat the (REDACTED) up in the other one.
This is a movie we reference on the JOE-DOWN quite a bit. It is a classic. It is the DNA of one of my favorite shows, “The Sopranos.” A show that used at least 27 actors from this.
Plus, I wanted an excuse to watch this and, well, here we are.
Brown, why don’t you go home and get your (REDACTED) shine box and then tell us your first thoughts.
Brown: No more shines, Froemming.
I mean, where do I start here? Like you stated, this is my all-time favorite movie. It’s one of the most imitated and referenced movies of my lifetime. It got Joe Pesci an Academy Award and was in the running for Best Picture, losing to “Dances With Wolves” because the Academy is a bunch of clods.
So Froemming, get us started while I go yell at Johnny Roastbeef over buying a pink Caddie.
Froemming: we start off with a bunch of pallies driving around.
We have Henry Hill, our anti-hero coke-head. We got Jimmy Conway, a man who puts a whole bottle of ketchup on his noodles. And we have Tommy DeVito, who might be a distant cousin of famous actor Danny.
Brown: Like his distant cousin Danny, Tommy loves bangin’ hoors.
Froemming: So, we just have these three good-time buddies driving around trying to dispose of a body. And there is something pounding in the trunk. Seems like their victim, who we see later get the bejesus knocked out of him and partially shot in the head, somehow survived.
Well, now these hired goons need to finish the job, and that is our opening to “Goodfellas.”
Brown: I remember watching “Goodfellas” around Thanksgiving time around 15 years ago with, among others, my brother-in-law and his sister. It was their first time watching “Goodfellas.”
When Tommy sees the body, blurts out “M-F’er isn’t dead” and starts stabbing him with a butcher knife, the two of them were laughing. Hell, they were cackling!
… I’m so glad that’s the father of three of my nieces and my nephew.
Froemming: You’re a funny guy, Brown.
Brown: Funny how? Do you think I’m a clown? Am I here to (REDACTED) amuse you?!
So we then are magically whisked away back to 1955 (same year Marty McFly went to to almost become his own dad) in East New York. We meet young Henry, who decides to take a job at the cab stand where we also see a young Paulie Walnuts as a gangster, before moving to North Jersey. The place is run by Paulie Cicero, a man who has very few words except for when the script demands it of him. I just love the fact Paul Sorvino looks constantly annoyed in this whole movie.
Brown: The whole first act with Henry growing up around the cab stand does a stellar job of glamorizing the gangster life and how he falls in love with it. And it’s different than the mob movies of yesteryear where the guys all live in mansions and talk about paying off politicians and what-not. These are more working-class gangsters instead of the royalty vibe that something like “The Godfather” had.
I realize the Hill family was busy with a pack of kids, including Michael in a wheelchair. But how does the family not realize that Henry has been skipping school for months? It takes a letter from the truancy office for Henry’s dad to get a clue and he beats the shit out of his kid as a result, cementing the mob as Henry’s real family. But dude, the cab stand is LITERALLY across the street! Did… did you not look out the front window?
Froemming: Exactly. I would get it if the cab stand was even around the block for them to not notice. But Henry is basically rubbing their faces in it.
Henry learns many life lessons from the guys at this stand. Such as Paulie plays it smart by not using telephones (foreshadowing!) so he makes his hired goons take calls, drive over to his place, relay the message, and he responds, they drive back to a payphone. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Even during downpours. It is stuff like this that just glamorizes the Mafia lifestyle.
Brown: Henry also gets to blow up a block’s worth of Cadillacs which should get the attention of the authorities. Instead, Henry gets pinched for selling cigarettes.
He goes to trial but beats the case because, as Jimmy puts it, he’s learned the two biggest lessons in life:
- Don’t rat on your friends.
- Always keep your mouth shut.
However, I don’t know if Henry knows what’s best in life.
Froemming: He also beats it because his lawyer is Uncle Pat. And during the cigarette heist, we meet Jimmy who is in his 20s here, but is played by an obvious 40-something De Niro. I am not sure what is more jarring, this or deaged De Niro in “The Irishman.”
Brown: On that same vein, they have young Tommy in this and he looks WAYYY younger than Henry. And yet, when we flash forward to 1970, Henry looks at least 10 years younger than Tommy.
Then again, seeing how much of a rageaholic Tommy is, that shit will age you.
I have to say, the first 10-15 minutes of this movie has more famous quotes than most movie franchises. There’s the two lessons, there’s the part about Paulie not having to move fast for anybody. There’s the line about the neighbor kids carrying the Hill family’s groceries “out of respect.”
God damnit, I love this movie.
Froemming: We then move ahead to the 1960s, where New York doesn’t seem overrun by dirty hippies yet. Henry and the crew steal from the airport and spend most of their time at the Bamboo Lounge. We get this long tracking shot there being introduced to gangsters we mostly never see again.
Brown: Has there ever been a movie character that’s gotten more mileage out of two seconds of screen time as Jimmy Two Times?
Froemming: I love the “Mr. Show” Pallies take on it. Anthony “One Time” Branca, they called him that because he only said things one time.
And we see Tommy telling a funny joke to everyone, which Henry makes the mistake of saying Tommy is funny. I love this was improvised by Pesci who saw a wiseguy actually do this in real life.
Brown: Pesci is so (REDACTED) good in this. He’s just this perfect cocktail of charming, vulgar and outright scary when driven to violence in a millisecond. The violent tendencies are just part of his appeal early on, when Henry is still infatuated with the mob life. But later in the movie, we see Henry get more horrified by Tommy’s quick temper.
Froemming: So, during this whole pandemic I am watching a lot of YouTube videos, and one I watch is from Michael Franzese who talks about his time in organized crime. Whenever a Pecsi character is brought up, he just talks about how hotheads like that usually don’t last very long because they are more trouble than it is worth.
Unfortunately for the owner of the club, Sonny or Lary Barese?, he makes the cardinal sin of asking a maniac with ties to the mob to pay his bill. This results in Tommy bashing a bottle over his head.
Sonny then double-downs on bad decisions by asking Paulie to be a partner as protection against Tommy.
Never. Ever. Ask. The. Mob. For. Anything.
Why? Because like we see here once Paulie is a partner, the crew basically liquidates his business to the point the only way out is blowing the (REDACTED) thing up.
Brown: While Henry and Tommy are burning down the Bamboo Lounge, Tommy talks Henry into a double date because, as Tommy puts it, he wants to “bang this broad” and she’s prejudiced against Italians. Later on, we’ll hear Tommy talk derogatory about black people which stood out in this viewing since I was taking notes.
Henry’s date is Karen, and Henry, he’s not into it. He’s got a meeting with Paulie that night and basically, he’s killing time to the point that almost no words are spoken between the two.
Honestly, this is how dates are for Froemming and I. Not because we have prior engagements with capos, but because we’re just socially awkward.
Only, this leads to the four going on a second date because…?
This time is different! Because Henry doesn’t show up. Karen makes Tommy drive to where Henry is so she can chew him out in the street in front of his friends.
A woman busts Henry’s balls. Therefore, he’s now in love.
Froemming: When she goes into witness protection and becomes Dr. Melfi, she will have the same effect on the boss of North Jersey.
Brown: When Henry takes the relationship seriously, Karen is intoxicated by it. And that’s illustrated in the Copacabana tracking shot which, still, to this day, *chef’s kiss*.
Froemming: This and “Casino” has some of the most impressive cinematography ever.
While here, Karen asks Henry what he does and naturally he says “construction.” He is a “union delegate” because at this time in history, pretty much all unions on the East Coast were mobbed up. Front jobs to show where income is coming from so these guys can sit around and play cards all day in windbreakers.
And the show is some guy who is the King of One Liners. I like Jim Norton as Don Rickles better in “The Irishman.”
So, Henry and Karen are making quite the couple. They go on vacation, where we meet Bruce. A man who Henry will nearly beat to death with the butt-end of a pistol. It is quite the whirlwind romance.
Brown: I mean, a pistol-whipping is beyond brutal but Bruce was trying to sexually assault Karen so he kind of had it coming.
And when Henry give Karen a bloody pistol, possibly the biggest red flag in the (REDACTED) history of cinema, it “turns (her) on” and she hides it in the milkman crate.
So… does the milkman just never report finding a weapon in the crate. Or, does Karen’s suffocating mother not find a bloody (REDACTED) weapon in her milk crate? How is this never addressed?!
Froemming: Well, we saw what happened to that mailman earlier in the movie, so I am guessing the milkman knows to keep his mouth shut.
And also, Karen’s mom is Carmela’s mom Mary DeAngelis in “The Sopranos.” I won’t do this for all of the crossover actors, just the bigger ones.
Well, Henry and Karen tie the knot, with Henry converting to Judaism, hopefully not purely for the jokes.
And at the wedding reception, the Hill couple are getting hit with fat envelopes from the guests. And we find out Paulie has a huge family where people only have a handful of names: Peter, Paul and their wives Marie.
Brown: It’s a messed-up “Stepford Wives” situation, and Stepford Wives are already a messed-up concept.
Even as a married man, Henry has no intentions of settling down. At the end of the day, the underground world, according to this movie, is pure id. It’s quick cash, booze, cards, sex… basically adrenaline rush after adrenaline rush.
That clashes with Karen’s traditional mom. And that’s why I love the scene of Henry coming home (he and Karen are living with her parents at first) and mom starts screaming at Henry. He just turns around and gets back in the car with Tommy because screw dealing with these jabronis.
Froemming: Yeah, life has its ups and downs for the Hills. But one night, at Henry’s club, we meet Billy Batts (or Phil Leotardo) who just got out of prison. He is whooping it up with his buddies and, we should note since I don’t think we have touched on it yet, Billy is a Made Man. And with the exception of Paulie, our crew of Henry, Jimmy and Tommy are not. So what happens here, I am surprised in the aftermath only one of them is whacked for this transgression.
Brown: Well, I don’t recall Billy Batts’ body ever being found. I think Tommy had probable cause from that night, unlike Jimmy and Henry. And, as Henry mentions when Tommy gets whacked, there were other things, too, that led to it. Like you mentioned, hot heads don’t last long.
Anyways, Billy Batts just got out of prison and is having one of the saddest parties I’ve ever seen at Henry’s bar.
Froemming: Well, we did see a mutual friend just pass out standing up, mid-sentence at my bachelor party. That was pretty sad to see.
Brown: And we dragged his limp ass two miles to a hotel. In the snow. And we convinced someone else that said drunk was getting his stomach pumped at the hospital.
Froemming: Yeah, my party was way more fun than old Billy Batts’ here. All Billy gets to do is mock Tommy for once being a good shoe shiner. Maybe almost as good as Andy Dwyer in “Parks and Rec.” You think Tommy’s shines got Billy to emit a weird noise like Ron Swanson?
Brown: When Tommy tells Billy to quit breaking his balls, things calm down… until Billy tells Tommy to “get his (REACTED) shine box.”
Folks, since the pandemic, Froemming has two catchphrases. He now calls people chuckleheads, and when he wants someone to (REDACTED) off, he tells ‘em to get their shinebox.
I get a kick out of both.
Anyways, Tommy storms out but comes back when the party is down to just Billy, Jimmy and Henry. Backed by one of the most delightfully odd songs of all time (“Atlantis” by Donovan), Tommy and Jimmy kick the ever-loving shit out of Billy Batts.
With Billy Batts a bloodied mess, the three of them wrap him up in tablecloths and throw him into Henry’s trunk to take care of him upstate.
Tommy’s reaction to this whole mess? He tells Henry “I didn’t mean to get blood on your floor.”
You can see the love that Henry had for the mob life drain out of his face the moment after Tommy says that. Up to this point, Henry had been kept at arm’s length for the most violent parts of the life. He’s now an accessory to the murder of a made man and there’s no longer getting out of this life.
Froemming: And in the following scene, if you were watching this with me, you would see the love that I have for this movie partially drain out of my face when I saw, at Tommy’s mother’s house, Jimmy slopping a bottle of ketchup on what is either pasta or eggs. Either way, it was (REDACTED) disgusting.
Brown: Yeah, I can’t defend De Niro here. Ketchup on eggs is grotesque. Use hot sauce, people.
Froemming: And, if pasta, WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?
Brown: As Milhouse Van Houten famously stated: “Look out Itchy, he’s Irish!”
Amid this violent outcome, the Goodfethers here get a nice meal from Tommy’s mother, played by Martin Scorsese’s real-life mother.
And she has the most adorable painting of a man with two dogs on a boat. The dialogue in this scene, my old boss Tom Larson knows it by heart and would say it randomly on the night shift.
The man in the boat looks an awful lot like Billy Batts. And I’ve seen YouTube videos that describe this as the turning point in Henry’s life where he no longer loves the mob life. So he’s one of the dogs looking away from the mob life, looking the other way.
… This is why I don’t get art. It’s just two dogs in a boat.
Froemming: Well, maybe the smug aura of that painting was mocking him?
Brown: Anyways, the three go upstate and bury Billy Batts. And if that’s not bad enough, six months later, they have to go dig Billy’s decomposing corpse up again when the land they put him under gets sold for condos.
Again, Henry is the one made to suffer here as he’s, as expected, throwing up his dinner while Jimmy and Tommy are unphased by the damage they’ve wrought.
Back at home, Henry is dealing with an angry wife as Karen suspects Henry of cheating on her. Naturally, he is, because Henry is no hero. It comes to a point where Paulie has to step in and tell Henry to go back to his wife. Before he does that, Paulie sends Henry and Jimmy to Tampa to shake down a guy who owns a bunch in gambling debts.
Problem is, the guy they rough up, he has a sister that works at the FBI, so now Henry is going to prison.
And it… actually looks like a good time?
Froemming: Yeah, their prison time is a lot like George Bluth,Sr.’s experience.
They are making big meals, they have wine and booze, and Henry hooks up with some folks from Pittsburg and starts a drug ring in the can. And it proves to be quite lucrative. Paulie is there too, but Jimmy was sent to another place because I guess the actors did not want to see De Niro slather his pasta in Heinz ketchup.
Brown: Karen once again loses it when she sees that Henry’s mistress, Janice, visited him in the Can. But, she’s never going to leave him because she’s still attracted to Henry and the mob wife life. When Henry gets paroled, Karen is there to pick him up.
As soon as Henry walks into the house, he tells everyone they’re moving because he is not content to live a quiet life in the suburbs. Instead, they resume the old life by going over to Paulie’s for dinner.
At the house, Paulie has one major request of Henry: No selling drugs on the outside. Yeah, Henry did what he had to do in prison but there’s no chance in Hell Paulie’s going back as an old man because Henry was selling junk.
So what does Henry do? He keeps selling drugs. And he gets Jimmy and Tommy involved.
Froemming: Paulie’s aversion to dope selling and the aversion to it in “The Godfather” baffles me because the mafia rose to power bootlegging and selling heroin (among other rackets) in the 1920s-30s. Hell, they ran those drug rackets ever since Lucky Luciano to probably today.
But I digress. Paulie doesn’t want to get prison time for dope peddling. But if it is prison he wants to avoid, I mean, he is in the completely wrong business.
Brown: We’ll get into the drugs later. We got the biggest heist in American history to pull off first!
Morrie gives the idea to Jimmy and co. to rob the Lufthansa vault at JFK Airport. And with a crew of people like Johnny Roastbeef (the kind of nickname I’d get in the mafia), Frenchie and Stacks (played by Samuel L. Jackson, who doesn’t utter an F-word in a movie that utters the F-word 311 times), what could go wrong?!
The robbery goes off and the crew steals just short of $6 million in cash and jewels.
My question: What exactly was Henry’s role in the robbery? They do a rundown of what everyone does, and Jimmy is the one that puts it together. But what is Henry’s role here? Is it just a finder’s fee for sharing Morrie’s idea with Jimmy?
Froemming: Hey, even criminals need moral support! He was a real booster for this heist!
Anyway, the heist was a success and right away, the cracks start showing at their celebratory party. Jimmy loses it when he sees the guys buying expensive cars and fur coats, because they are being watched. Does Jimmy know this, or is he just paranoid? I think it is the latter.
Jimmy is a real Capt. Buzzkill here at a party celebrating a MASSIVE HEIST.
Even worse, Morrie is now busting Jimmy’s balls about his finder’s fee cut of the heist. I like to think Jimmy does this because he hated the TV commercial Morrie made earlier in the movie. Just rubbed him the wrong way and now is screwing him over out of spite.
Brown: This is where we start seeing how twitchy and nervous Jimmy is getting at his advanced age. Something as simple as asking Henry if he thinks Morrie talks to his wife about everything is the alarm to Henry that Morrie’s about to get whacked. Henry thinks Morrie is in the clear later when Jimmy tells him to “forget about tonight.”
That doesn’t matter when Tommy DeVito is in your life, however, as Tommy offs Morrie with an ice pick to the back of the skull because he doesn’t “shut the (REDACTED) up.” So yeah, as if we needed more proof that Tommy is an unrelenting monster.
With one loose end from the Lufthansa heist tied up, why not do more? And this is when we get to one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, set to the piano coda from Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.”
Froemming, I lost count at how many times we’ve referenced that in the last couple months.
Froemming: Oh, you mean…
Or did you mean…
Brown: Those motherfuckers at the Capitol deserve all the punishment they’re getting for trying to usurp democracy.
Froemming: Abed’s study group too! All high on the horse with them chicken fingers!
Yeah, Jimmy just straight up whacks all the people who slightly annoyed him by spending money. Hell, Frankie Carbone is found frozen in a meat truck. Not sure what is worse, this or the time he tried to sue “The Simpsons.”
Brown: All this violence coincides with huge news: Tommy is being a made man! He gets ready for the honor at his sweet mom’s house, where I often wonder if Tommy’s mom knows what her son does for a living because she’s that much of a sweet old lady.
Tommy arrives for his christening… I guess… to an empty room. And a bullet in the head.
Froemming: It is revenge for killing Billy Batts and other things. And Jimmy does not take the news very well. See, he is Irish and Henry is part Irish, so they can never be Made. Tommy was their ticket, and he got gunned down for his chucklehead stunt with Billy Batts.
Oh well, Henry and Jimmy still have their cocaine empire to fall back on.
Brown: Yeah, except that ends rather dramatically in one of the most claustrophobic scenes I’ve ever watched. And it all begins with Henry seeing helicopters bright and early in the morning.
Froemming: I love that his narration gets faster and faster the more coke he is doing throughout the day. He is so wired when he gets his brother at the hospital, a young doctor who will one day be Clay Davis gives him valium.
This is a wild day, full of coke, making dinner, hiding guns from helicopters and having a babysitter who can’t follow the (REDACTED) rules on not making business calls from Henry’s home phone. We also find out his Pittsburgh connection is Beansie!
Brown: I get it, we should all watch “The Sopranos!” I can’t get over that stupid onion ring ending!
Froemming: That is like me not getting over Jimmy dousing his food in ketchup. Get over it man. It is not the whole thing. Also, we missed Tommy shooting Christoper Moltisanti earlier in the movie. Twice!
Brown: Spider shoulda moved faster.
We should mention how well the musical score adds to the anxiety of this day. Among the songs are Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” the Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man” and George Harrison’s “What Is Life.”
I popped hard when Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” plays when Henry takes a huge snort of coke at the apartment of his new mistress and the woman who cuts his cocaine, Sandy.
Froemming: Things come to an end when Lois wants to go home to get her hat for her flight/drug run. Henry, I feel, should have been more assertive telling her no, but I guess it doesn’t matter because almost as soon as they get in his car, they are busted by law enforcement. Not for the heist, but for the dope. Caught on phone because of Lois.
TWO THINGS PAULIE WARNED HIM ABOUT! Drugs and phones! Damnit, Henry!
Brown: Yeah, Henry’s life is crumbling all around him. He’s broke after Karen flushed $60,000 worth of coke down the toilet during the police raid. He went to Paulie crying and begging for forgiveness, only for Paulie to give him $3,200 and turn his back on Henry forever. And Jimmy is full-on paranoid that Henry will rat him out. Karen’s the same way when she thinks that Jimmy was trying to have her whacked.
After realizing that a work trip to Florida that Jimmy brings up was going to end up with him getting whacked, Henry decides to betray the mob life and go to the feds.
Froemming: So, he first breaks Paulie’s rules, now he is breaking Jimmy’s on not ratting on his friends. Just because they tried to kill him and his wife…
Which he does. Henry rats out Jimmy and Paulie in court, while denying he is a rat, which is Trump-levels of delusion. He and Karen are sent to what looks like Arizona, where he complains that he ordered spaghetti and he got egg noodles and ketchup, which as we all know is how Jimmy likes his pasta.
Brown: I think in real life, Henry Hill went to Omaha, Nebraska. Between that and jail… tough call.
Froemming: Henry is to live out his life as an average nobody looking back fondly on the old days when he and his buddies hurt and murdered innocent people.
Brown: The movie ends on an image of Tommy shooting into the camera in an homage to “The Great Train Robbery” and we’re played off to Sid Vicious’ cover of Sinatra’s “My Way.”
As the JOE-DOWN’s resident Sex Pistols basher, thoughts on that pick to end “Goodfellas,” Froemming?
Froemming: Prevents it from being a perfect movie, Brown. That and the ketchup business knocks it down a few points in my eyes.
Brown: Froemming, go get your (REDACTED) shinebox.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, it is a great movie. I mean, this has to be one of the longer JOE-DOWNs we have done talking about it.
Brown: Duh. It’s my favorite movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: