1990 saw two film adaptations of the life of mobster Henry Hill: Goodfellas (directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Ray Liota, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci) and My Blue Heaven (directed by Herbert Ross, starring Steve Martin, Rock Moranis, and Joan Cusack).
Watching both back-to-back is a surreal experience. Most of the events of My Blue Heaven take place between 2 hours 12 minutes and 2 hours 14 minutes into Goodfellas, making it conceivably possible that a “Henry Hill Saga” could try to create one movie with a running time of nearly four hours combining both films, but told chronologically. Further, Henry changes appearance(from the Leonardo DeCaprio lookalike of Ray Liota to Steve Martin), family status (his two kids mysteriously disappear), name (from Henry to Vincent), and ethnicity (the discrimination on the part of the Sicilian mafia against Irish such as Henry is a minor plot point in Goodfellas — in My Blue Heaven, Henry is over-the-top Sicilian.
Neither movie was particularly good, but then neither was particularly bad, either. Goodfellas suffers from the same problem as The Ruins — a movie about unlikeable characters has just too few characters to like. My Blue Heaven has the same “you’re supposed to find if funny” vibe that Steve Marin’s L.A. Story also had, but without the blending of 80s and 90s pop culture.
13 thoughts on “Two-bite movies, Part I: “Goodfellas” and “My Blue Heaven””
I liked Goodfellas but it was not great becuase they were all bad guys.
I never knew of the My Blue Heaven connection. I quite liked film – I always took it it be a throwback a bit to a early 1930’s screwball comedy. I do love the songs so that may have raised rating.
My last name ends with a vowel so i was raised on both movies, not to mention all three godfathers (the third rocked, for the record). goodfellas is great precisely because there are no good guys. henry hill is an anti-hero, just like tony soprano (the added charm of that show is that it’s a complete mind-fuck, a modern day oedipus). Despite being sociopaths, there’s a certain charm watching them cope with the banality of suburban life by self-destructing, turning on and killing their own friends. As for my blue heaven, this is easily steve martin’s greatest performance, and the character arc of rick moranis’s character is quite the feat. Understandably not quite as bloody, but still great.
“If I were gonna’ break your balls, I’d tell ya to go home and get your shine-box.”
“Neither movie was particularly good”
Wow. Cannot agree at all. Goodfellas is the best gangster movie of all time. It is not supposed to have good guys in it. It’s a gangster movie. Gangsters are dumb killers, the cops are crooks, normal people want the cheap cigarettes and don’t care where they come from. Its greatness lies in showing the vapidity and arbitrary violence and total bogusness of the phony glamor of mob life.
As I think about it, many of my favorite movies have only bad guys. Battle for Algiers? All bad guys. The Wild Bunch, all, unambiguously, bad guys. For that matter, Downfall. The nearest thing to a good guy is an SS officer. You want to clap when the main characters start shooting themselves, they are such dirtbags. Apocalypse now? All bad. Blue Velvet? All bad, or psychotic.
Why does a movie have to have a character to like?
I don’t get that.
Yes the truly bad characters have no arc. They usually end up dead. Goodfellas has a lot less strategic and tactical considerations than the Godfather or the Sopranos. The one moment in Goodfellas where this does happens is toward the end, when Henry Hill doesn’t follow DeNiro’s instructions in the diner (?) cause he knows he’s gonna get whacked.
Steve: We must define “rocked” differently in the Milwaukee area. I think the word you were look for was “sucked”.
Here are my tests of a movie goodness: Do I feel I wasted my time watching it? No. Do I want to talk to other people about it? Yes.
“…a kindergarten sensibility.”
In the case of Goodfellas, it was just a literal depiction of a factual memoir. The mobsters were dirtbags, the cops who dealt with them were corrupt or intimidated, their customers at best had dirty hands, and most of their victims were identical, or complicit in the evil conduct, or attracted by the money and glamor and wanted to be part of it.
To the extent these jokers had any “good” in them, it was an amoral familism. They looked out for their families, if necessary at the expense of everybody else. That is the way the vast majority of people have always lived and most still do. It only looks weird in America.
A lot of stories would not get told if you had to have more good guys in it for contrast, if there really aren’t any.
I don’t see why it is a kindergarten mentality to show it as it was. I think it is the other way around — to put some “nice” person in there for contrast would childish.
Agreed that Godfather III was a disaster. Still, it had one good scene, where Michael Corleone goes to confession.
Another thing about Goodfellas. It shows something that is often missed when people talk about the Mob, or gangs, or any criminal organization. The guys who get to the top are often not the smartest or the most clever. Rather, they are the most violent and psycho and scary and ruthless ones. Or sometimes both (Jeff Fort). Or sometimes it is an alliance of a smart guy and a psycho (Meyer Lansky and Benny Siegel).
Jimmy Conway became a big dog because he would pull out a gun and kill some guy for looking cross-eyed at him. Everyone was, rightly, afraid of him. So, no one messed with him. Tommy was a little too stupid, and did a little too much of that ,and did not know when to stop. So, he got shot in the back of the head, as he so richly deserved.
Our 4GW opponents all over the world will often look something like the cast of Goodfellas.
(Cut to scene of men putting explosives on a half-retarded thirteen year ld girl. They put a robe on her over the explosives. Cut to camera footage of her walking into an Israeli pizza parlor. Cut to scene from across the street — huge explosion engulfs building. Cut to scene of men in third story room, looking out window at plume of smoke with binoculars. They begin whooping and high-fiving. Cut to close up of one man’s unsmiling face. He say in Arabic, with subtitles. “All my life I wanted to be a terrorist.”)
On the topic of filmic depictions of psychotic and murderous leadership:
I just saw The Emperor and the Assassin: http://tinyurl.com/bwqqpx
Paul Monk’s excellent review essay (which is included in his book Thunder From the Silent Zone), is here: http://tinyurl.com/at65f3
Both movie and essay are highly recommended.
“Jimmy Conway became a big dog because he would pull out a gun and kill some guy for looking cross-eyed at him. Everyone was, rightly, afraid of him. So, no one messed with him. Tommy was a little too stupid, and did a little too much of that ,and did not know when to stop. So, he got shot in the back of the head, as he so richly deserved.” (Lex Green)
I’m not sure I agree with your analysis? Most people don’t realize, but Jimmy, Henry, and Tommy were all low level “Soldiers” in the mob. None of them were “high up” at all, as none of them were “made.” The highest ranking guy in Goodfellas was Tony Cicero. And he was only a “Capo” in the chain of command. Tony Cicero was not a “boss.” At that time, there were only 5 bosses in all of NY city.
Contrast this with Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano who were actual “Bosses.” When you become “made,” you’re allowed to start a “crew” and eventually may become a “Capo.” Tony Soprano’s nephew “Chris” got “made,” but it was a while before he became a Capo. Sometimes made men who are not “Capos” are referred to as “Lieutenants.” Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy were just “Soldiers” in a crew. From the best I can tell, they were in Tony Cicero’s crew. Tony’s brother “Tutey” Cicero was probably “made,” and a Lieutenant.
If you want to watch an excellent talk about the Mafia, here’s a link to a web-cast by an ex-FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the mafia. Its a great talk by a guy who seen it all. In this web-cast he talks about his book. Its really interesting:
I need to make one correction on the mob chain of command. When someone gets “made” they become a “soldier.” When someone works with the mob, but not as a made guy they’re an “associate.”
So Jimmy, Tommy, and Henry were associates. Tony Soprano’s nephew Chris was an associate, then got made and became a soldier. After Vito got whacked for being a homosexual, Chris took over his crew and became a Captain (Capo).