Goodfellas is considered by many fans and critics to be Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus. The film—which was adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s 1985 non-fiction novel Wiseguys—chronicles the rise and fall of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). The film’s title stems from the fact that mobsters often identified one another by saying “He is a good fella, he is one of us.”
The movie’s script was jointly written by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi. The duo not only came up with some of the best storylines ever laid out in gangster movies, but they also blessed the gift of gab. While Tommy DeVito (Joes Pesci) had scene-stealing quotes, it was Henry Hill who consistently served viewers with magical sentences.
Updated on September 28th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: Early on in the film, Jimmy tells Henry that the two most important lessons in life are “never rat on your friends” and “always keep your mouth shut.” Though he idolized mobsters and loved the lifestyle, he’d ultimately betray both of these lessons by the end of the film.
Of course, when Jimmy told him to keep his mouth shut, he was speaking in metaphor, and Henry otherwise does quite a bit of talking throughout the movie. Serving as both the protagonist and narrator, he leaves audiences with more than a few memorable liens by the time the credits roll.
“It Meant Being Somebody In A Neighborhood Full Of Nobodies.”
From a young age, Henry Hill exhibited a deep desire to join the mob, partly because he grew up watching the mobsters down the street living lavish lifestyles while the rest of the residents wallow in poverty. His own family struggled to afford basic commodities, making Henry yearn for more.
He argues that, even though being a gangster was dangerous, it at least meant being somebody important in the neighborhood. Everyone else was average, according to his assessment, and that’s not the kind of life he wanted.
“They Even Shot Tommy In The Face, So His Mother Couldn’t Give Him An Open Coffin At The Funeral.”
Tommy DeVito can be described as the most arrogant movie mobster of all time—and he wasn’t even a made guy. When old-time gangster Billy Batts gets out of jail and sees how far Tommy has come, he begins making fun of him, as, when Batts went in, Tommy was shining shoes.
When he repeatedly tells Tommy to go get his shine box, Tommy loses his cool and kills him in what’s often remembered as one of the most iconic scenes in Goodfellas. This turns out to be a mistake because Batts was a made guy and Tommy wasn’t. Later on, Tommy is tricked into a house, thinking he is going to be made, only to be shot in the back.
“I’m An Average Nobody. I Get To Live The Rest Of My Life Like A Schnook.”
Henry doesn’t want to give up his devil-may-care life of crime, but, when his friends begin to turn on him, he only sees one way out. He then agrees to go into the Witness Protection Program to avoid the fate that had befallen so many of his close friends.
Though this action is guaranteed to keep him alive and out of prison, he isn’t too happy about it. He loved the glamorous mob lifestyle, and now he gets to live like an average person in a house provided by the feds. Though his wife likes the idea, as it means staying together as a family, Henry feels lost.
“Paulie May Have Moved Slow, But It Was Only Because Paulie Didn’t Have To Move For Anybody.”
Goodfellas‘ Henry Hill respected Paul Cicero because he seemed to have th world at his fingertips. Halfway through the film, he talks about how Paulie walked very slowly. Henry claims that this was the case because Paulie didn’t have to make way for anyone. Everyone made way for him.
He was a feared boss, after all, and no one messed with him or anybody associated with him. Even when a young Henry began working for Paulie, most of the adults in the neighborhood began treating him as a peer.
“When We Wanted Something, We Just Took It!”
Henry once again goes on to explain the difference between being a mobster and being a normal guy. He sympathizes with ordinary citizens for working nine to five for small paychecks then taking the subway home every day as they worried about their bills.
According to him, mobsters didn’t have to do all that. When he and his crew wanted something, they just took it—and if anyone had a problem about it, they’d get beat up so bad that they’d never talk about it again.
“You’re Really Funny!”
This is the quote that led to one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history. It can even be argued that the scene alone was enough to win Joe Pesci his Best Supporting Actor Oscar. What’s even more impressive still is that it all came about thanks to Pesci’s improvisation.
As a large group of mobsters are sitting around a table together, Tommy DeVito makes a joke, and Henry laughs while claiming he’s “really funny.” To everyone’s surprise, Tommy then goes on a rant, wondering why Henry thinks he’s funny, getting angrier and angrier until the point where he seems deadset on violence. After realizing that Tommy was just messing with him, Henry doubles down and keeps the joke going, but with the terror still clearly in his eyes.
“Only Cops Talk That Way. If They’d Been Wiseguys, I Wouldn’t Have Heard A Thing.”
The difference between the police and the wiseguys is clearly explained in this quote. When the cops bust Henry for dealing drugs, they aren’t subtle about it in the slightest. Had they been quieter, Henry would have assumed that his friends were finally coming to collect.
Henry says that, when fellow mobsters want to kill one of their own, they simply do it fast. The victim never hears the killer coming or hears the gunshot when it happens. Cops, on the other hand, show up with plenty of fanfare. Henry escaped with his life, but it’s still a painful sting that signifies the beginning of the end for Henry in Goodfellas.
“F**** You! Pay Me.”
Some of Henry’s best quotes in the Martin Scorsese adaptation come when he is describing other gangsters via voiceovers. At one point, he describes what it was like to have Paul “Paulie” Cicero, the neighborhood boss, as a business partner.
Henry states that Paulie was more than glad to solve any problem for anyone who came to him—but that came as a price. Such people also had to pay Paulie every week. He didn’t care whether business was bad or someone had suffered a tragedy. Whatever the problem was, Paulie would still need to be paid—no exceptions.
“As Far Back As I Can Remember, I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster.”
It’s the quote that kicks off events in the movie, and it’s a really good one. Before it, the camera simply focuses on three guys riding in a car in silence. They then stop, open the trunk and go on to kill a man who’s inside.
At that moment Henry declares that he had always wanted to be a gangster, followed by the sound of the song Rags To Riches by Tony Bennet. The song is fitting, as it signifies Henry’s rise from poverty. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that the man in the movie was Billy Batts, the old-time mobster who had made fun of Tommy DeVito.
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