AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Alternate Title: Wise Guys
Director: Martin Scorsese (Dir)
Release Date:   19 Sep 1990
Premiere Information:   New York and Los Angeles openings: 19 Sep 1990
Production Date:   spring/summer 1989
Duration (in mins):   146
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Robert De Niro (James ["Jimmy the Gent"] Conway)  
    Ray Liotta (Henry Hill)  
    Joe Pesci (Tommy DeVito)  
    Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill)  
  and Paul Sorvino (Paul ["Paulie"] Cicero)  
    Frank Sivero (Frankie Carbone)  
    Tony Darrow (Sonny Bunz)  
    Mike Starr (Frenchy)  
    Frank Vincent (Billy Batts)  
    Chuck Low (Morris ["Morrie"] Kessler)  
    Frank DiLeo (Tuddy Cicero)  
    Henny Youngman (Himself) As Himself
    Gina Mastrogiacomo (Janice Rossi)  
    Catherine Scorsese (Tommy's mother)  
    Charles Scorsese (Vinnie)  
    Suzanne Shepherd (Karen's mother)  
    Debi Mazar (Sandy)  
    Margo Winkler (Belle Kessler)  
    Welker White (Lois Byrd)  
    Jerry Vale (Himself) As Himself
    Julie Garfield (Mickey Conway)  
    Christopher Serrone (Young Henry)  
    Elaine Kagan (Henry's mother)  
    Beau Starr (Henry's father)  
    Kevin Corrigan (Michael Hill)  
    Michael Imperioli (Spider)  
    Robbie Vinton (Bobby Vinton)  
    John Williams (Johnny Roastbeef)  
  Cicero's 50's crew: Daniel P. Conte (Dr. Dan)  
    Tony Conforti (Tony)  
    Frank Pellegrino (Johnny Dio)  
    Ronald Maccone (Ronnie)  
    Tony Sirico (Tony Stacks)  
    Joseph D`Onofrio (Young Tommy)  
    Steve Forleo (City detective #1)  
    Richard Dioguardi (City detective #2)  
    Frank Adonis (Anthony Stabile)  
    John Manca (Nickey Eyes)  
    Joseph Bono (Mikey Franzese)  
    Katherine Wallach (Diane)  
    Mark Evan Jacobs (Bruce)  
    Angela Pietropinto (Cicero's wife)  
    Marianne Leone (Tuddy's wife)  
    Marie Michaels (Mrs. Carbone)  
  [and] Lo Nardo (Frenchy's wife)  
  Women at cosmetics party: Melissa Prophet (Angie)  
    Illeana Douglas (Rosie)  
    Susan Varon (Susan)  
    Elizabeth Whitcraft (Tommy's girlfriend @ Copa)  
    Clem Caserta (Joe Buddha)  
    Samuel L. Jackson (Stacks Edwards)  
    Fran McGee (Johnny Roastbeef's wife)  
    Paul Herman (Dealer)  
    Edward McDonald (Himself) As Himself
  [and] Edward Hayes (Defense attorney)  
    Daniela Barbosa (Young Henry's sister #1)  
    Gina Mattia (Young Henry's sister #2)  
    Joel Calendrillo (Young Henry's older brother)  
    Anthony Valentin (Young Michael)  
    Edward D. Murphy (Liquor cop #1)  
    Michael Citriniti (Liquor cop #2)  
    Peter Hock (Mailman)  
    Erasmus C. Alfano (Barbeque wiseguy)  
    John DiBenedetto (Bleeding man)  
    Manny Alfaro (Gambling doorman)  
    Thomas Lowry (Hijacked driver)  
    Margaret Smith (School guard)  
    Richard Mullally (Cop #1)  
    Frank Albanese (Mob lawyer)  
    Paul McIsaac (Judge - 1956)  
    Bob Golub (Truck driver at diner)  
    Louis Eppolito (Fat Andy)  
    Tony Lip (Frankie the Wop)  
    Mikey Black (Freddy No Nose)  
    Peter Cicale (Pete the Killer)  
    Anthony Powers (Jimmy Two Times)  
    Vinny Pastore (Man w/ coatrack)  
    Anthony Alessandro (Henry's 60's crew)  
    Victor Colicchio (Henry's 60's crew)  
    Mike Contessa (Cicero's 60's crew)  
    Philip Suriano (Cicero's 60's crew)  
    Paul Mougey (Terrorized waiter)  
    Norman Barbera (Bouncer)  
    Anthony Polemeni (Copa captain)  
    James Quattrochi (Henry greeter #1)  
    Lawrence Sacco (Henry greeter #2)  
    Dino Laudicina (Henry greeter #3)  
    Thomas E. Camuti (Mr. Tony Hood #1)  
    Andrew Scudiero (Mr. Tony Hood #2)  
    Irving Welzer (Copa announcer)  
    Jesse Kirtzman (Beach club waiter)  
    Russell Halley (Bruce's brother #1)  
    Spencer Bradley (Bruce's brother #2)  
    Bob Altman (Karen's dad)  
    Joanna Bennett (Marie #1)  
    Gayle Lewis (Marie #2)  
    Gaetano Lisi (Paul #3)  
    Luke Walter (Truck driver)  
    Ed Deacy (Detective Deacy)  
    Larry Silvestri (Detective Silvestri)  
    Johnny Cha Cha Ciarcia (Batts' crew #1)  
    Vito Picone (Vito)  
    Janis Corsair (Vito's girlfriend)  
    Frank Aquilino (Batts' crew #2)  
    Lisa Dapolito (Lisa)  
    Michael Calandrino (Godfather at table)  
    Vito Antuofermo (Prizefighter)  
    Vito Balsamo (Henry's 70's crew)  
    Peter Fain (Henry's 70's crew)  
    Vinnie Gallo (Henry's 70's crew)  
    Gaetano LoGiudice (Henry's 70's crew)  
    Garry Blackwood (Henry's 70's crew)  
    Nicole Burdette (Carbone's girlfriend)  
    Stella Kietel (Henry's older child (Judy))  
    Dominique DeVito (Henry's baby (Ruth))  
    Michaelangelo Graziano (Bar patron)  
    Paula Gallo (Janice's girlfriend #1)  
    Nadine Kay (Janice's girlfriend #2)  
    Tony Ellis (Bridal shop owner)  
    Peter Onorati (Florida bookie)  
    Jamie deRoy (Bookie's sister)  
    Joel Blake (Judge - 1971)  
    H. Clay Dear (Security guard w/ lobsters)  
    Thomas Hewson (Drug buyer)  
    Gene Canfield (Prison guard in booth)  
    Margaux Guerard (Judy Hill @ 10 years)  
    Violet Gaynor (Ruth Hill @ 8 years)  
    Tobin Bell (Parole officer)  
    Berlinda Tolbert (Stacks' girlfriend)  
    Nancy Ellen Cassaro (Joe Buddha's wife)  
    Adam Wandt (Kid)  
    Joseph P. Gioco (Garbage man)  
    Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Doctor)  
    Alyson Jones (Judy Hill @ 13 years)  
    Ruby Gaynor (Ruth Hill @ 11 years)  
    Richard "Bo" Dietl (Arresting narc)  
    Gene Canfield (Prison guard in booth)  

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.”  

Production Company: Irwin Winkler Productions  
  Warner Bros. Pictures (A Time Warner Company)
Production Text: Warner Bros. Presents
An Irwin Winkler Production
A Martin Scorsese Picture
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures (A Time Warner Company)
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)
Photography: Michael Ballhaus (Dir of photog)
  David Dunlap (Cam op)
  Florian Ballhaus (1st asst cam)
  Bob Mancuso (2d asst cam)
  Jerry DeBlau (Chief lighting tech)
  John Petraglia (Asst chief lighting tech)
  Dennis Gamiello (Key grip)
  John Lowry (2d grip)
  Brian Fitzsimmons (2d grip)
  Barry Wetcher (Still photog)
Art Direction: Kristi Zea (Prod des)
  Maher Ahmad (Art dir)
  Robin Standefer (Art dept researcher)
Film Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker (Film ed)
  James Kwei (Ed)
  David Leonard (1st asst ed)
  Amy Auchincloss (2d asst ed)
  Kent Blocher (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Les Bloom (Set dec)
  Robert J. Griffon, Jr. (Prop master)
  John Ford (Asst prop master)
  John McDonnell (Asst prop master)
  Bruce Swanson (Set dresser)
  Louis Sanchez (Const coord)
  Caryl Loeb (Master scenic artist)
  Arne Olsen (Const foreman)
Costumes: Richard Bruno (Cost des)
  Susan O`Donnell (Asst cost des)
  Thomas Lee Keller (Asst cost des)
  Dean Jackson (Ward supv)
  Jennifer L. Bryan (Women's ward)
Music: Christopher Brooks (Mus ed)
Sound: Skip Lievsay (Supv sd ed)
  Philip Stockton (Supv dial ed)
  Marissa Littlefield (Dial ed)
  Fred Rosenberg (Dial ed)
  Jeff Stern (Dial ed)
  Bruce Kitzmeyer (Dial ed)
  Gail Showalter (ADR ed)
  Ron Bochar (Supv foley ed)
  Bruce Pross (Foley ed)
  Frank Kern (Foley ed)
  Anne Sawyer (Asst sd ed)
  Brian Johnson (Asst sd ed)
  William Docker (Asst sd ed)
  Michael Berenbaum (Asst sd ed)
  James Sabat (Prod sd mixer)
  Frank Graziadei (Sd rec)
  Louis Sabat (Boom op)
  Tom Fleischman (Rerec mixer)
Special Effects: Elaine Bass (Titles by)
  Saul Bass (Titles by)
  Conrad Brink, Sr. (Spec eff)
  R/Greenberg (Opticals)
Make Up: Allen Weisinger (Makeup artist)
  Carl Fullerton (Makeup artist)
  Bill Farley (Hairstylist)
  Alan D'Angerio (Hairstylist)
  Ilona Herman (Mr. De Niro's makeup & hair)
Production Misc: Ellen Lewis (Casting)
  Sheila Page (Scr supv)
  Alesandra M. Cuomo (Prod office coord)
  Michele Giordano (Prod assoc)
  Janet Crosby (Prod assoc)
  Todd Arnow (Prod accountant)
  Julia Judge (Asst to Martin Scorsese)
  Sharon A. Briggs (Asst to Barbara De Fina)
  Dermot Conley (Asst to Irwin Winkler (NY))
  Robin Chambers (Asst to Robert De Niro)
  Steve Rose (Loc mgr)
  Amy Herman (Loc asst)
  Neri Tannenbaum (Loc asst)
  Daniel Coss (Loc asst)
  Bill Curry, Jr. (Transportation capt)
  Robert Leddy (Co-transportation capt)
  Robert Lee Whitlock, II (Craft service)
  John Manca (Tech adv)
  Marion Billings (Unit pub)
  Laura Rosenthal (Casting asst)
  Sylvia Fay Casting (Extra casting)
  Michael DeCasper (Runner)
  John Fisher (Runner)
  Christopher Swartout (Runner)
  David I. Miller (Runner)
  Cayle Lewis (Runner)
  Heather Norton (Runner)
  Stephen R. Pacca (Morrie's wig commercial)
  Susan Pileggi (Painting by)
Stand In: Nick Giangiulio (Stuntperson)
  Mike Russo (Stuntperson)
  Don Picard (Stuntperson)
  Roy Farfel (Stuntperson)
  Peter Bucossi (Stuntperson)
  Janet Paparazzo (Stuntperson)
  Norm Douglass (Stuntperson)
  Alex Stevens (Stuntperson)
  Paul Bucossi (Stuntperson)
  Phil Neilson (Stuntperson)
  Tony Guida (Stuntperson)
  Michael Russo (Stunt coord)
Color Personnel: Technicolor® (Col by)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Rags To Riches," written by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, performed by Tony Bennett, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "Sincerely," written by Harvey Fuqua and Alan Freed, performed by The Moonglows, courtesy of MCA Records; "Can't We Be Sweethearts," written by Morris Levy and Herbert Cox, performed by The Cleftones, courtesy of Rhino Records; "Firenze Sogna," written by Cesarini, performed by Giuseppi di Stefano, courtesy of London Records, a division of PolyGram Records, Inc.; "Hearts Of Stone," written by Eddie Ray and Rudy Jackson, performed by Otis Williams and The Charms, courtesy of G.M.L. Inc., by arrangement with Celebrity Licensing Inc.; "Speedo," written by Esther Navarro, performed by The Cadillacs, courtesy of Rhino Records; "Parlami d'Amore Mariu," written by Enrico Neri and C.A. Bixio, performed by Giuseppi di Stefano, courtesy of London Records, a division of PolyGram Records, Inc.; "Playboy," written by Brian Holland, Robert Bateman and William Stevenson, performed by The Marvelettes, courtesy of Motown Record Company, L.P.; "Stardust," written by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish, performed by Billy Ward and His Dominoes, courtesy of Billy Ward, c/o Original Sound Entertainment; "It's Not For Me To Say," music by Robert Allen, lyrics by Al Stillman, performed by Johnny Mathis, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "This World We Love In" ("Il Cielo In Una Stanza"), written by Toang, Mogal and Raye, performed by Mina, courtesy of Shad/Mainstream Records, by arrangement with Celebrity Licensing Inc.; "I Will Follow Him" ("Chariot"), written by Norman Gimbel, Arthur Altman, J.W. Stole and Del Roma, performed by Betty Curtis, courtesy of CGD Records; "Then He Kissed Me," written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, performed by The Crystals, courtesy of Phil Spector Records Inc., by arrangement with ABKCO Records; "Life Is But A Dream," written by Raul Cita and Hy Weiss, performed by The Harptones, courtesy of Old Town Records - Paradise Records, Inc.; "Look In My Eyes," written by Richard Barrett, performed by The Chantels, courtesy of Rhino Records; "Leader Of The Pack," written by George Morton, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, performed by The Shangri-Las, courtesy of Sun Entertainment, c/o Original Sound Entertainment; "Roses Are Red," written by Al Byron and Paul Evans, produced by Bob Gaudio, performed by Bobby Vinton, courtesy of Curb Records; "Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goodbye," written by Ernie Erdman, Ted Fiorito, and Gus Kahn; "Happy Birthday To You," written by Mildred J. Hill and Patty S. Hill; "Ain't That A Kick In The Head," written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, performed by Dean Martin, courtesy of Capitol Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets; "Pretend You Don't See Her," written by Steve Allen, performed by Jerry Vale, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "He's Sure The Boy I Love," written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, performed by The Crystals, courtesy of Phil Spector Records Inc., by arrangement with ABKCO Records; "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)," written by George Morton, performed by The Shangri-Las, courtesy of Sun Entertainment, c/o Original Sound Entertainment; "Atlantis," written by Donovan Leitch, performed by Donovan, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "Baby I Love You," written by Ronny Shannon, performed by Aretha Franklin, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corporation, by arrangement with Warner Special Products; "Beyond The Sea," written by Jack Lawrence and Charles Trenet, performed by Bobby Darin, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corporation, by arrangement with Warner Special Products; "Wives And Lovers," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Jack Jones, courtesy of MCA Records; "The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, performed by Tony Bennett, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "Monkey Man," written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed by The Rolling Stones, by arrangement with ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.; "Gimme Shelter," written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed by The Rolling Stones, by arrangement with ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.; "Frosty The Snow Man," written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, performed by The Ronettes, courtesy of Phil Spector Records Inc., by arrangement with ABKCO Records; "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, performed by Darlene Love, courtesy of Phil Spector Records Inc., by arrangement with ABKCO Records; "Danny Boy," written by Frederick E. Weatherly; "Sunshine Of Your Love," written by Jack Bruce, Peter Brown and Eric Clapton, performed by Cream, courtesy of PolyGram Special Products, a division of PolyGram Records, Inc.; "Bells Of St. Marys," written by Douglas Furber and Emmett Adams, performed by The Drifters, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corporation, by arrangement with Warner Special Products; "Layla," written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, performed by Derek and the Dominos, courtesy of PolyGram Special Products, a division of PolyGram Records, Inc.; "Unchained Melody," written by Hy Zaret and Alex North, performed by Vito and the Salutations, courtesy of Arista Records; "Jump Into The Fire," written by Harry Nilsson, performed by Harry Nilsson, courtesy of RCA Records; "What Is Life," written by George Harrison, performed by George Harrison, courtesy of Apple Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets; "Memo From Turner," written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed by The Rolling Stones, by arrangement with ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.; "Mannish Boy," written by McKinley Morganfield, Mel London and Elias McDaniel, performed by Muddy Waters, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department; "The Magic Bus," written by Peter Townshend, performed by The Who, courtesy of MCA Records; "My Way," written by Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux, and Paul Anka, produced by Steve Jones, performed by Sid Vicious, courtesy of Virgin Records, Limited/Glitterbest, Inc.
Composer: Ted Fiorito
  Jimmy Van Heusen
  Jack Rollins
  Emmett Adams
  Richard Adler
  Robert Allen
  Steve Allen
  Arthur Altman
  Paul Anka
  Burt Bacharach
  Richard Barrett
  Jeff Barry
  Robert Bateman
  C. A. Bixio
  Peter Brown
  Jack Bruce
  Al Byron
  Sammy Cahn
  Hoagy Carmichael
  Raul Cita
  Eric Clapton
  Herbert Cox
  Hal David
  Al Dubin
  Ernie Erdman
  Paul Evans
  Claude Francois
  Alan Freed
  Harvey Fuqua
  Douglas Furber
  Norman Gimbel
  Jim Gordon
  Ellie Greenwich
  George Harrison
  Mildred J. Hill
  Patty S. Hill
  Brian Holland
  Rudy Jackson
  Mick Jagger
  Gus Kahn
  Jack Lawrence
  Donovan Leitch
  Morris Levy
  Mel London
  Barry Mann
  Elias McDaniel
  McKinley Morganfield
  George Morton
  Esther Navarro
  Steven Nelson
  Enrico Neri
  Harry Nilsson
  Alex North
  Mitchell Parish
  Eddie Ray
  Jacques Revaux
  Keith Richards
  Del Roma
  Jerry Ross
  Ronny Shannon
  Phil Spector
  William Stevenson
  Al Stillman
  J.W. Stole
  Peter Townshend
  Charles Trenet
  Harry Warren
  Frederick E. Weatherly
  Cynthia Weil
  Hy Weiss
  Hy Zaret
Source Text: Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi (New York, 1985).
Authors: Nicholas Pileggi

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros., Inc. 19/9/1990 dd/mm/yyyy PA478125

PCA NO: 30613
Physical Properties: Sd: Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
  Lenses: Camera and Lenses by Arriflex

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Gangster
Subjects (Major): Betrayal
Subjects (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)

Note: Openings credits include title cards which read: “This film is based on a true story,” “New York, 1970,” and, “East New York, Brooklyn. 1955.” The film concludes with the following epilogue: “Henry Hill is still in the Witness Protection Program. In 1987 he was arrested in Seattle, Washington for narcotics conspiracy and he received 5 years probation. Since 1987 he has been clean. In 1989, Henry and Karen Hill separated after 25 years of marriage. Paul Cicero died in 1988 in Fort Worth Federal Prison of respiratory illness. He was 73. Jimmy Conway is currently serving a 20-years-to life sentence for murder in a New York State prison. He will not be eligible for parole until 2004 when he will be 78 years old.”
       End credits contain a “Special Thanks” to the Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, and the New York City Police Department’s Film Unit. Filmmaker Vincent Gallo, who played one of “Henry’s 70s crew,” was credited as “Vinnie Gallo.”
       The film was originally titled Wiseguy after the book by Nicholas Pileggi, upon which it is based. The title was changed to Wise Guys, and ultimately Goodfellas, to avoid confusion with the CBS-TV’s police drama Wiseguy (CBS, 16 Sep 1987--8 Dec 1990), as stated in an 11 May 1989 LAHExam brief.
       After its 1985 release, an excerpt from Pileggi’s book was printed in New York magazine, according to a 2 Feb 1986 LAT brief, helping to boost its popularity. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that writer-director Martin Scorsese read the book while in Chicago, IL, making The Color of Money (1986, see entry), and telephoned Pileggi to express interest in adapting it. Meanwhile, producer Irwin Winkler, with whom Scorsese had collaborated on the 1977 film New York, New York and 1980’s Raging Bull (see entries), also wanted to make the film and, upon learning of Scorsese’s interest, suggested they re-team. Before selling the rights to Winkler, Pileggi’s literary agent, Sterling Lord, reportedly turned down an offer of $500,000 for film rights, and had received two “better-than-respectable” offers.
       In a 16 Sep 1990 NYT article, Scorsese claimed he and Pileggi finished a script by the end of 1986. The project marked Pileggi’s screenwriting debut, as stated in the 21 Jan 1987 Var. Although Italian production company Cecchi Gori Pictures was named as a co-producer in the 22 Apr 1989 Screen International, the company did not receive onscreen credit.
       Ray Liotta, whose half-Italian and half Scottish-Irish heritage closely resembled Henry Hill’s, vied for the leading role, according to numerous contemporary sources including an interview with the actor in the 16 Sep 1990 LAT. Robert De Niro, who considered himself too old for the part of “Henry Hill,” had reminded Scorsese of Liotta’s performance in Something Wild (1986, see entry) when the filmmaker began his search for a leading man. Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage, and Alec Baldwin also pursued the role, while Tom Cruise reportedly received “first right of refusal.” Liotta first met with Scorsese about a year before he was officially cast. A month after their initial meeting, Liotta ran into Scorsese in Venice, Italy, where Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Liotta’s Dominick and Eugene (1988, see entries) were playing at the Venice Film Festival. Liotta approached Scorsese, whose bodyguards held off the actor until Scorsese recognized him. Another chance encounter occurred when Liotta saw producer Irwin Winkler at the 72 Market Street restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. Winkler, who was not convinced Liotta was right for the role, changed his mind after speaking with the actor.
       In the Oct 2010 issue of GQ magazine, executive producer Barbara De Fina recalled that Madonna was considered for the role of “Karen Hill.” Also considered was Melanie Griffith, who, according to a 4 Apr 1989 LAHExam item, stood to receive a $3 million offer for the part if she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in Working Girl (1988, see entry); however, she did not, and the role ultimately went to Lorraine Bracco. John Malkovich was discussed for the part of “James Conway,” before Robert De Niro, Scorsese’s confidant and longtime collaborator, recommended himself for the supporting role despite his status as a leading man. Real-life gangsters were cast as Mafia members and extras, and corrupt New York City police detective Louis Eppolito, who was later found guilty of Mafia-related crimes, including murder, played “Fat Andy.”
       Prop master Robert J. Griffon, Jr. recalled in GQ that Robert De Niro was the only actor to use real money on set. De Niro also hand-selected the watches worn by his character at a vintage watch dealer’s shop on Madison Avenue. The actor remained distant with Ray Liotta, despite Liotta’s attempts at forging a friendship, presumably for the sake of their performances, as Liotta noted in his 16 Sep 1990 LAT interview.
       Johnny “Cha Cha” Ciarcia, who played “Batts’ crew #1,” stated in GQ that he recruited his neighbors as extras for the Copacabana scene, at a rate of ten dollars per day. In exchange, Ciarcia requested a casting credit and $4,000 salary. Extras casting director Sylvia Fay eventually agreed to the rate but refused him the credit.
       Robbie Vinton, son of singer Bobby Vinton, made his feature film acting debut portraying his father in a scene at the Copacabana, as noted in an 11 May 1989 DV brief. The film also marked the acting debut of Frank DiLeo, a former music manager who had recently been fired by Michael Jackson, as stated in a 3 Jul 1989 People item.
       The 11 May 1989 LAHExam reported that filming was underway in New York City. Locations included Astoria, Queens, where young Henry’s Brooklyn neighborhood and the Airline Diner were shot. Cargo buildings at the John F. Kennedy Airport stood in as the site of the Air France and Lufthansa heists, and in Manhattan, the Hawaii Kai restaurant on Broadway doubled as Sonny Bunz’s “Bamboo Lounge.” For the three-minute tracking shot which introduces the Copacabana nightclub on 60th Street, the site was slightly altered, with a makeshift wall that was added and removed within the same shot, allowing for a more convoluted pathway through the back of the nightclub. New Jersey locations included the Palisades Parkway and Fort Lee. Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, Prospect Park, the city of New Rochelle, and the Catalina Beach Club at Atlantic Beach were also filmed. The completion of principal photography was announced in the 10 Aug 1989 HR.
       As noted in GQ, Ray Liotta’s mother died during the shoot. During post-production, editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s husband, British director Michael Powell, also died. Scorsese, a tremendous fan of Powell’s who had helped restore many of his films, shut down editing for two months until Schoonmaker could return.
       Excessive violence, including the scene showing “Tommy DeVito’s” execution, initially earned the film an “X” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Actor Frank DiLeo, who played “Tuddy Cicero,” recalled in GQ that DeVito’s forehead was blown off during the scene, which had to be edited down. Bob Daly, then chairman of Warner Bros., advocated for the film with the ratings board, and the rating was eventually reduced to an “R.” Viewers reacted to the violence at a test screening in Orange County, CA, at which seventy people walked out. Based on early reactions, Warner Bros. changed its initial strategy of opening the film in 2,000 theaters, reducing the release to about 1,000 theaters.
       Pirated videocassettes of Goodfellas were sold in New York City in advance of the release, as stated in a 21 Sep 1990 LAT “Morning Report” column. Warner Bros. brought a civil lawsuit against video store owner Pedro Camacho for distributing the pirated tape, according to a 20 Sep 1990 HR.
       Despite the controversy over its violent content, Goodfellas was extremely well received by critics. The 7 Sep 1990 HR review called it a “masterly achievement in intense observation,” while the 19 Sep 1990 LAT described Scorsese as “an artist working at the peak of his power” and likened the virtuosity of Goodfellas to "Raging Bull squared.” Ray Liotta, who had studied hours of tape-recorded conversations between Nicholas Pileggi and Henry Hill in preparation for his role, received a congratulatory call from Hill, as stated in the 16 Sep 1990 LAT, who said his performance was spot-on and arranged to meet the actor in secret. According to a 1 Oct 1990 HR item, Hill appeared in disguise on the syndicated newsmagazine program Inside Edition (1989--present), and stated that Goodfellas was “99% accurate.” Hill, who continued to commit crimes while in the Witness Protection Program, was arrested in 1987, and again in 2005, on narcotics-related charges, as stated in the 20 Mar 2005 LAT. An article in the 24 Oct 2010 The Sunday Times (London) reported that Hill was still capitalizing on the film, making paid appearances, and painting and selling Goodfellas inspired artwork from his home in California.
       A 1 Oct 1990 People magazine item listed the budget as $25 million. According to the 31 Dec 1990 Var, the picture had grossed $40 million to that time. At its peak in Sep 1990, it showed in 1,328 theaters. Despite competition from the Christmas-day opening of Francis Ford Coppola’s Mafia picture, Godfather III (1990, see entry), Goodfellas was still showing in sixty-two theaters in early Jan 1991. After numerous “Best Picture” accolades from critics, including Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the release was set to expand to an additional 300 theaters in mid-Jan 1991, as noted in a 5 Mar 1991 LAT item. The film ultimately took in $46.8 million in box-office receipts, according to a 31 Dec 1991 Orange County Register article, which listed it as Scorsese’s “third highest box-office performer” after Cape Fear (1991, see entry) and The Color of Money.
       Goodfellas was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2000. Joe Pesci won an Academy Award for Supporting Actor, and the film received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), Film Editing, Direction, and Actress in a Leading Role (Lorraine Bracco). It won BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards for Best Film, Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Screenplay - Adapted, and Best Costume Design, and received a host of awards from various critics’ associations, as well as a Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. Golden Globe Award nominations included Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Lorraine Bracco), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Joe Pesci), Best Director – Motion Picture, and Best Screenplay – Motion Picture.
       Although the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) initially acquired broadcast rights, the network never aired Goodfellas, most likely due to its violent content, as noted in a 24 Aug 1998 HR. On 13 Sep 1998, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) aired the film for the first time on television, opposite the Emmy Awards on National Broadcasting Company (NBC). CBS expected to draw an audience of young male viewers “less likely to watch trophy shows.” Scorsese prepared an edit for the broadcast and filmed an introduction, which explained to viewers why so much of the violence was maintained in the television edit.
       A 20 Feb 1991 HR article reported that Nicholas Pileggi’s book inspired a lawsuit, brought by Pileggi’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, against the state of New York. In the suit, Simon and Schuster alleged that a New York state statute, commonly referred to as the “Son of Sam Law,” denied citizens’ freedom of speech. The statute in question, which was created after serial killer David Berkowitz (aka the “Son of Sam” killer) received offers of large sums of money for the rights to his life story, allowed for the confiscation of royalties paid to “alleged and convicted criminals.” Simon & Schuster had already paid Henry Hill $96,250 as part of his deal with Nicholas Pileggi on Wiseguy, and was holding another $27,958 due him. Although the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the statute, Simon & Schuster appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In 1991, the Supreme Court struck down the Son of Sam Law, deeming it inconsistent with the First Amendment.
       Goodfellas is credited as a major influence on the gangster genre. Famously, David Chase, the creator of the long-running Home Box Office (HBO) television series The Sopranos (Jan 1999--Jun 2007), called the film his “Koran,” as noted in the 24 Oct 2010 Sunday Times. Actor Michael Imperioli, who played “Spider,” claimed in the Oct 2010 GQ article that The Sopranos would never have existed without Goodfellas. Imperioli and other Goodfellas actors including Lorraine Bracco, Tony Sirico, Frank Vincent, Frank Pellegrino, and Tony Lip, went on to star in the series.
       An 11 Jan 2012 Chicago Tribune brief announced that AMC (American Movie Classics) was developing a television program based on Goodfellas, with Nicholas Pileggi set to write the pilot episode. No further information on the project could be found as of the writing of this note (Mar 2014).
       Goodfellas was ranked #92 on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, up from the 94th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. In 2008, AFI listed Goodfellas as #2 in the “10 Top 10” gangster films.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Chicago Tribune   11 Jan 2012   Arts + Entertainment, p. 2.
Daily Variety   11 May 1989.   
Daily Variety   14 Jul 1989.   
Daily Variety   7 Sep 1990   p. 2, 29.
GQ   Oct 2010.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Aug 1989.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 Sep 1990   p. 7, 56.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Sep 1990.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 1990.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Feb 1991   p. 4, 18.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 1998.   
LAHExam   4 Apr 1989.   
LAHExam   11 May 1989.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Feb 1986   Calendar, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times   16 Sep 1990   Section N, p. 3, 22-26.
Los Angeles Times   19 Sep 1990   Calendar, p. 1, 5.
Los Angeles Times   21 Sep 1990.   
Los Angeles Times   5 Mar 1991   Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times   20 Mar 2005   Section A, p. 20.
New York Times   16 Sep 1990   Section A, p. 5.
New York Times   16 Sep 1990   Section A, p. 19.
New York Times   19 Sep 1990   p. 11.
Orange County Register   31 Dec 1991   Section F, p. 3.
People   3 Jul 1989.   
People   1 Oct 1990.   
Screen International   22 Apr 1989.   
Sunday Times (London)   24 Oct 2010   p. 8.
Variety   21 Jan 1987.   
Variety   10 Sep 1990   p. 56.
Variety   31 Dec 1990.   

Display Movie Summary
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.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.