|Young Henry Hill|
Like THE GODFATHER, our story begins in the 1950’s…1955, to be exact, as we are introduced to a young Henry Hill, a kid still in high school, taking a part-time ‘job’ with a local cab stand in Brooklyn…owned and operated by Paulie Cicero. We quickly pick up that the cab stand is merely a front for middle-time hustling and truck-hauling merchandise moving. Paulie’s brother, Tuddy, is the ‘manager’ of the operation. What makes this ‘crime family’ so unique and very different from THE GODFATHER’s Corleone family is that this outfit is made up by a bunch of guys that grew up together from the neighborhood. They are not family by blood, but rather by what part of
|Liotta, DeNiro and Pesci|
JOHNNY CHAZ: “The Godfather” earns my full attention in this passage. It is a film that takes itself very seriously and deservingly so with a tremendous ensemble cast. So, allow me to make you an offer you “can’t refuse” and let’s delve into this film and why it is so deserving of such stature.
It is very hard to imagine any other film that defined its’ genre much better than 1972’s “The Godfather” did for mob films. The key here is to remember that this was just at the beginning of the seventies and the ‘Age of Aquarius’ was just ending. Thus, films like “Scarface”, “Once Upon a Time in
|Director Francis Coppola|
“The Godfather”, which is novel-based, had a screenplay that was co-written between Mario Puzo (author) and director Francis Ford Coppola. Marlon Brando would play the role of Vito Corleone – hence ‘The Godfather’ in the film. The leader or “Don,” runs the family in the same way someone would run a business. There is give and take – but reciprocity is always king especially in the family-business of organized crime.
|Caan, Brando, Pacino and Cazale|
What is so terrific about the film and is so well carried out is the fact that it is set in the 1950’s. The film really centers on the feud or continuing struggle amongst mob families. Two primary characters develop themselves in the film early-on as Sonny focuses on contempt and vengeance while Michael moves from being a sort-of “follower” and good-son to a the head of the family – thus, the Mafia Don. What is so ironic yet gripping for the audience is the premise that “family” is the ultimate commodity to the Italian mafia, but at the same time it is the family that eventually collapses from the tyranny and self-destruction within. There is a need for respect – a dire need. There lies a corruption of power, which is self-inflicted and almost just. The elements of lust, rage, contempt and jealousy are other descriptors of what cause the fall of any mafia family – and especially is the case with the infamous Corleone family. Maybe this is what makes the film work on so many levels. It is a mob-film, but it focuses on ‘family.’
Scenes that immediately come to mind must include the opening 30-minute segment, which always parallels itself to the opening of “The Deer Hunter” in some ways. We have music, family, friends and a wedding shot in panoramic style with depth of shot and exquisite framing placing the audience in the moment.
The tragedy at the end of the film is the violation of a code of honor – not ethics. It is the cross between political and moral decisions the characters are put to the ultimate test. “The Godfather” gives us the firm message that honor is found in the way you do business and in the way you deal with your family. As promptly quoted in the film, “A man that does not spend time with his family can never be a real man”.
“The Godfather” (original of course) set the bar so high that was, is and possibly always will be the measure by which all mob and gangster films should be critiqued. Simply put, it clearly defined and beautifully characterized the genre.
|Composer Nino Rota|
Now Jer, you talked about “Goodfellas” as being a "musical", but I don't see the music really being that artistic in the way that it worked for “The Godfather.” Let's face the music here (no pun intended) and recognize that albeit “Goodfellas” had a soundtrack that worked, it no more made that film a musical than “The Godfather’s score did... thus, was “The Godfather” a musical via the wedding scene, the baptism, the death of Don Corleone and the finale?
JC: “Goodfellas,” is fun to watch but is really no more noteworthy as a subject or as a film than any other Cosa Nostra film. The score fits the film, but cannot ever compare to what we heard in “The Godfather” in the classic sense. “Goodfellas” offers us little in the way of romance or traditional family and business values. To add, Joe Pesci’s “funny man” scene is certainly a classic, but it seems as though this is one of the only scenes that people continually talk about in respect to the film. As for “The Godfather,” there are countless scenes, visuals and framings that make it a complete work of art.
JER: I will interject by saying that GOODFELLAS has many memorable scenes to mention, other than the confrontational scene between Pesci and Liotta. Other highlights that come to mind is manhandling of the postman early on in the film when told to no longer deliver truant notices to Henry’s parents to avoid further lashings by his Irish father! There is also the scene in which Henry confronts some of Karen’s neighborhood boys and pistol-whips one of them with a warning to stay away from her. Who can also forget Pesci shooting the foot of the young boy the family has hired to help serve drinks! I think that there are plenty of memorable moments for GOODFELLAS to stand on!
Just the title itself "Goodfellas" says enough about the broad gap between the characters in both films we are looking at today Jer. As you mentioned, there seems to be a "misinterpretation of low- class education by a bunch of, well, good fellas.” Actually that is it in a nutshell. The characters were sloppy, careless and could never become vicious enough to earn the role of "Don" in a mob-family. We are talking night and day here - there is truly no comparison.
Give me Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino any day over the likes of Ray Liotta. It may sound harsh, but I find Ray Liotta (Henry Hill) to be one of the most ridiculous sounding mob-members I have ever seen on screen and from the first moment I saw "Goodfellas", his own character (not the character he was playing), but his acting style in no way, shape or form appealed to me. His actions are predictable and like most of the characters in "Goodfellas", I really didn't care what happened to the. Liotta comes off as a smart-alec type of wise-guy similar to the Joe Pesci type - an attitude that would easily be disposed of in the Classic Cosa Nostra world.
Enjoy this classic 1972 trailer from THE GODFATHER
JER: Aside from a few characters like Paulie and Jimmy, to mention a few, GOODFELLAS Is about sloppy characters trying to act like big- time mob boys! I think that was point, JC.
Understood that the likes of Liotta and Pesci do not hold a candle to Brando and Pacino, but I still have to argue that GOODFELLAS was well casted…for the type of film it was meant to represent. It wasn’t meant to be another “Godfather” film by any means. GOODFELLAS worked on a different level because it misses the poetic beauty that Puzo placed on THE GODFATHER…Pileggi’s GOODFELLAS was based on truth, not fiction! Enough said!
And so, the gauntlet falls! We ask you, our faithful readers, to chime in with your opinions as well! What made a better ‘organized crime’ film? Help us decide!