AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Martin Scorsese (Dir)
Release Date:   19 Sep 1990
Duration (in mins):  146
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Cast: Robert De Niro  (James ["Jimmy the Gent"] Conway)
  Ray Liotta  (Henry Hill)
  Joe Pesci  (Tommy DeVito)

Summary: In 1970 New York, gangsters Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, and James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway, hear banging as they drive through a remote area at night. Stopping at the side of the road, Henry opens the trunk to reveal a man covered in blood, barely alive. Tommy curses the man and stabs him, while Jimmy shoots him multiple times. Henry, who is half-Irish and half-Italian, recalls that from a young age, he always wanted to be a gangster. Fifteen years earlier, in 1955 Brooklyn, young Henry lives across the street from a taxicab stand run by Tuddy Cicero, whose brother, Paul “Paulie” Cicero, is a local Mafia boss. Henry gets a job working at the cabstand. His abusive father approves at first, but beats him when he learns Henry has been skipping school. Eventually, Henry drops out of school entirely, performing odd jobs for the Mafia, waiting on gangsters, selling cargo from stolen trucks, and vandalizing cars. He achieves a milestone when he is arrested for selling stolen cigarettes. After he is let off, Henry is greeted by Jimmy Conway, a formidable Irishman with a knack for hijacking trucks, who tells him he just learned the two greatest things in life: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.” In 1963, at a bar run by Mafia connection Sonny Bunz, Henry discusses a potential heist at Idlewild Airport with Jimmy Conway and Frenchy, a corrupt airport guard. Meanwhile, Tommy DeVito, a known hothead, beats Sonny Bunz for demanding he pay his outstanding $7,000 tab. Later, Tommy talks Henry into a double date with two Jewish girls from Five Towns, Long Island. Preoccupied by a meeting he has scheduled later that night, Henry ignores his date, Karen, and rushes through dinner. He forgets about a follow-up double date the next night, and Karen arrives at the cabstand to chastise him. Amused, Henry agrees to take her out on a proper date. He impresses Karen by taking her to the Copacabana nightclub, where they receive special treatment from the staff and Mafia patrons. Karen asks what Henry does for a living, and he tells her he works for a construction union. Over time, Karen grows accustomed to Henry’s lavish lifestyle and ignores the obvious signs that he is a criminal. Henry and Tommy execute the Idlewild Airport heist, stealing $420,000 in cash from an Air France plane. They pay Paulie $60,000 as a “tribute.” Sometime later, Karen and Henry are wed in a Jewish ceremony. At the reception, Mafia members give Karen envelopes stuffed with cash. She begins spending time with Mafia wives and is traumatized by their scandalous stories. She worries that Henry could go to prison, but Henry claims that people only go to jail if they are not organized. Karen eventually comes to see Henry’s crimes as entrepreneurial enterprises, and embraces the sense of community the Mafia provides, especially after the birth of their daughters, Judy and Ruth. In 1970, at a Mafia bar run by Henry, Billy Batts, a “made” gangster from another crime family, celebrates his return from prison. Batts piques Tommy’s temper by mentioning old times when young Tommy used to shine his shoes. Later that night, Henry locks the door to the bar as Tommy and Jimmy attack Batts. They beat him until he is unconscious, then roll him up in a tablecloth and load him into the trunk of Henry’s car. Jimmy suggests dumping the body upstate, and they go to get a shovel at Tommy’s mother’s house, where Mrs. DeVito insists on feeding them a meal. Back on the road, they hear a banging and pull over to discover Batts is still alive. Tommy stabs him repeatedly, and Jimmy shoots him multiple times. As they bury Batts’s dead body, Henry worries about the repercussions of killing a made gangster. Paulie gets word of Batts’s disappearance, but Henry does not reveal that Tommy killed him. Tommy continues to wreak havoc when he shoots Spider, a young recruit, for mouthing off at him during a poker game. Tommy defends his actions, asserting that Spider would have become a “rat” like the rest of his family. As Henry spends increasing amounts of time with his mistress, Janice Rossi, Karen becomes suspicious, and tracks down Janice at her apartment. Later, she wakes up Henry by pointing a gun at his face. Henry talks her down, promising that he loves her. She lowers the weapon, allowing him to retaliate by wrestling her to the floor and yanking her hair. A distraught Karen goes to Paulie, who tracks down Henry at Janice’s apartment. Paulie declares that divorce is not an option and orders Henry to return to his family. Henry agrees to go back after accompanying Jimmy to Tampa, Florida, for a weekend job. In Tampa, Jimmy and Henry extort money from a local gangster. The gangster’s sister, a typist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reports the incident. Henry and Jimmy are found guilty and sentenced to ten years at a federal penitentiary. Jimmy is sent to a facility in Atlanta, Georgia, while Henry joins Paulie, who is serving time for contempt, at a prison in Pennsylvania. Using their mafia connections, the men enjoy a relatively comfortable lifestyle in prison, and Karen helps Henry by smuggling in drugs for him to sell. One day, she notices Janice Rossi’s name in the guest register and accosts Henry in the visitation area. As their daughter, Ruth, wails, Karen berates him for continuing the affair and threatens to expose his drug operation. She complains that she has run out of money, and Henry reminds her that, as long as he is in prison, they cannot expect Mafia support. He agrees never to speak to Janice again and promises to support the family, as long as she keeps bringing him drugs. Four years later, he is released. Karen and the girls now live in a small apartment, but Henry vows to move them to a better place. Although Paulie forbids him any further involvement in drugs, Henry secretly maintains his connections to a supplier in Pittsburgh, and recruits Jimmy and Tommy to help. Henry and Karen develop cocaine habits, and Henry begins sleeping with Janice’s friend, Sandy, whom he employs in the drug operation. In their chintzy new home, Henry and Karen host Morrie Kessler, a wig salesman with Mafia ties, and his wife, for dinner. Morrie tells Henry about a heist he has masterminded, which stands to make his crew millions of dollars. Henry helps orchestrate the heist, which requires several men to steal $6 million in cash from a Lufthansa plane. The gangsters celebrate after they pull off the robbery, but Jimmy becomes angry when he discovers some of the guys have risked getting caught by making large purchases with money from their shares. Morrie pesters Jimmy for his payout, but Jimmy does not want to share the profits and orders hits on nearly everyone involved, including Morrie. Soon, Tommy is told that Paulie is going to “make” him, an honor neither Henry nor Jimmy can achieve because only one-hundred percent Italians can be fully initiated into the Mafia. However, when Tommy shows up for the ceremony, he is killed in retaliation for Batts’s murder. Jimmy cries when he hears the news. By 1980, Henry and Karen’s cocaine addictions have rendered them paranoid, and Henry believes a helicopter is following him around. On a particularly busy day, he delivers guns to Jimmy in the morning, but Jimmy rejects the weapons and sends him away. He then picks up his wheelchair-bound brother, Michael, at a chronic care hospital, where the doctor observes that Henry looks unwell and offers him Valium. Henry brings Michael back home, pointing out the helicopter on the way, and makes preparations for the elaborate Italian dinner he plans to cook that night. He leaves again, taking Karen with him to pick up a batch of cocaine destined for Atlanta. To his delight, the drug supplier buys Jimmy’s unwanted handguns. Henry continues to notice the helicopter, but the only person who believes him is Karen. He calls Lois, his drug mule, and urges her not to make calls from his house, but she disregards him. He takes the cocaine to Sandy’s apartment, where she mixes it with quinine and complains that Henry does not spend enough time with her. At home, Henry finishes cooking dinner and sits down to enjoy it with Lois and his family. Lois realizes she left her lucky hat at home and insists on retrieving it before she flies to Atlanta. Henry reluctantly agrees, but when they get in the car, police surround them. Henry is arrested and informed that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has, in fact, been following him for a month. When he is released on bail, Henry fears that Paulie or Jimmy might kill him to prevent him from snitching, and decides to turn informant. In court, Henry identifies Jimmy and Paulie, who stare daggers at him. Soon after, Henry and his family enter the Witness Protection Program and move to a homogenous suburb, where Henry laments that he must live the rest of his life “like a schnook.”  

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Company: Irwin Winkler Productions
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Martin Scorsese (Dir)
  Bruce Pustin (Unit prod mgr)
  Joseph Reidy (1st asst dir)
  Vebe Borge (2d asst dir)
  Joseph Reidy (2d unit dir)
  Deborah Lupard (2d 2d asst dir)
  Susan Fiore (D.G.A. trainee)
Producer: Irwin Winkler (Prod)
  Bruce Pustin (Assoc prod)
  Barbara De Fina (Exec prod)
Writer: Nicholas Pileggi (Scr)
  Martin Scorsese (Scr)

Subject Major: Betrayal
Subject Minor: Children
  Drug dealers
  Family relationships
  Hired killers
  Irish Americans
  Italian Americans
  Long Island (NY)
  New York City
  New York City--Brooklyn
  New York City--Queens
  Tampa (FL)

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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