[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
The real-life Goodfella
Goodfellas mob
The film depicted extreme violence
The man who inspired Goodfellas, the film considered to be a Scorsese masterpiece, has been jailed for a drugs conviction. It's a real-life twist 15 years too late for the film, which is rated one of the best ever. Why?

The last scene in Goodfellas shows Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, contemplating life in the US suburbs in 1980.

"I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook," he says to camera.

Having testified against his former mob bosses to escape prison, it's goodbye to violent crime, riches and glamour, and hallo to anonymity, police protection and putting out the garbage.

But far from being worried about being executed by his friends, it's life in the slow lane which most concerns him.

Cocaine habit

Fast-forward 27 years and the real Henry Hill need no longer worry about being a nobody.

This week the 62-year-old chef was in the news after being sentenced to 180 days for attempted possession of methamphetamine. He had initially been spared prison but violated the plea agreement.

Martin Scorsese's 1990 film, based on Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy about Hill's life, begins with him running errands in Brooklyn for the mob boss Paul Vario before graduating to organised crime and a six-million dollar airline heist.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill
Ray Liotta's character is based on Henry Hill
Although highly regarded, he was never a fully-fledged "made" Mafioso because his father was Irish, and the downfall of the Hill character was the drug-dealing business and cocaine habit he developed against his bosses' advice.

The film depicts his intense paranoia under pressure from the police, the mob and his own family, before his arrest in 1980.

The subsequent threats of execution were real. When he entered the witness protection programme, police played him taped recordings of his enemies ordering his death.

Hill spent years being moved to Nebraska, then Kentucky, then Washington state, a period reflected in another film called My Blue Heaven. But six convictions and his continuing alcohol and drug addiction led to him leaving the programme, although this was not revealed until years later.

He went public in 2001 in order to try and make it as a chef. He was still getting death threats by e-mail, which he posted on his website, and he said the fact he remained alive was "a miracle".

Mark Kermode
For the average cinema audience, Goodfellas was the full package
Mark Kermode
Anyone who recoiled at the violence of the film, memorably demonstrated by Oscar-winner Joe Pesci, would have considered Hill's decision to stick his head above the parapet of anonymity as suicidal, but events this week suggest the biggest threat to himself came from within.

For fans, the magic of the film endures and it still figures in many top 10 all-time movie lists.

Great performances, music and camerawork are the ingredients which make it such a great film, says film critic Mark Kermode. This was a milieu Scorcese understood brilliantly and he used extreme violence, where necessary, to depict it.

"Robert de Niro is completely in control of that character," says Kermode. "There's the fantastic moment when he blinks in the bar and you sense that it's all over for Ray Liotta's character.

"And Joe Pesci does that really scary performance and the part where he repeats 'You think I'm funny' has gone down as a pre-Tarantinoesque scene that everyone can recite."

There's also a great soundtrack which uses pop music taken from throughout a period covering three decades, he says.

Top marks

"It had this extraordinary camera work which on the one hand takes you inside that world and on the other hand, as his drug habit increases and the editing and pace increases, you think 'That's what it must be like being off your face on drugs'.

"So for the average cinema audience, Goodfellas was the full package. "

As Hill begins a more mundane chapter in his extraordinary life, he may reflect on what happened to the Hollywood ending.


Your comments:

It's hardly suprising that Henry Hill has gone back to jail when you consider he grew up in the mob seeing all the different ways to score. The hollywood ending was never going to be the end of the story. Definitely my favourite film of all time though.
Gareth Jones, Aberystwyth

Goodfellas is a great movie, but a pure piece of fiction. Anyone who has read Nicholas Pileggi's book, Wiseguy, will realize that the film leaves out huge sections of Hill's life. The real life Tommy for example, was much younger than the Joe Pesci character and ten times as nasty. And what about the time Henry Hill spent in the US Army? It's not mentioned at all in Goodfellas. Enjoy the film by all means but don't think it's a true account of Hill's life. In reality, Hill's environment as a young hoodlum was grim and depressing.
Steve James , UK

Goodfellas is as good as it gets, I had to buy it on DVD and my video tape of it is completely worn! If Henry Hill's life story had not been told, we would have been robbed of a rich tapestry of film that demonstrated style and deftness of touch thorughout. And talking of virtuoso performances let's not forget the fantastic Lorriane Bracco as Karen, the long suffering mob wife, who demonstates perfectly the desperation of a woman in love with the wrong guy!
Roni, UK

I've always thought Goodfellas was hugely over rated. It's an ok film, with ok performances. It's only gangster/mafia-fetishism that's made it the "classic" it is today. Bridge Over The River Kwai is well better.
Dave, UK

I would never have dreamt that I would say this; but Goodfellas is one of the most interesting, perfectly directed and skillfully cast films that I have ever seen. My fiance attempted to watch it with me three times, having failed the first after my initial shock towards the rather ghastly opening scene, failing second time due to my girlie 'that doesnt happen in real life' approach and finally, and gladly, successfully I watching it the third time all the way through. I absolutely loved it; a 21 year old girlie girl, initially not the slightest bit interested in the Mafia Culture and times portrayed in Goodfellas....an excellent film! (Thank you to my fiance) :)
Ami, England

Best film ever. My favourite part, though pretty bizarre is when Liotta's character is describing the pretty cushy life and fine meals a Wiseguy can still enjoy in prison. He says that Pauly cuts the garlic for the sauces so thinly that it just melts. I'm thinking that in the middle of all this madness we're getting a cookery lesson. But isn't that just how real life is ? Every career criminal, physcopath or adventurer spends 99.99% of their time doing the mundane things in life whether it be cooking, eating, sitting in traffic jams, shopping, watching tv.....
Nick Lilley, UK

Goodfellas, indeed was a good film but is overated, like Scarface, purely because it is almost fashionable to like these films. All gangster films are highly dramatised in order to attract the audience. Personally I think Ben Kingsley's performance in Sexy Beast trumps any performance by De Niro, Liotta or Pesci.
Tom Judd, England

The film has a complete soundtrack, a never ending stream of perfect score after perfect score, reflecting with precision the ever changing mood and awesome presence of the actors.
Jacob Rockwell, Italy

Goodfella's for me is the quintessential director's film. While practically anybody could have done a decent job with, say, The Silence of the Lambs, only a true genius could have turned the rather spare and linear storyline of Wiseguy into a classic. Sorsese uses every trick in the book (freeze-frames, voice overs, steadycams, actors talking to camera, etc) to elevate what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill gangster flick into a mini course in film making.
David, Italy

This is perhaps the most over rated and over hyped film of all time. Having watched it several times, I can safely say that it is a very average "gangster film" indeed. Best stick with Godfathers parts 1 and 2. Casino also outshines it.
Jason, N Ireland

Goodfellas, along with The Sopranos, is the most authentic gangster picture ever - a quantum leap better than any British wannabe (with the honourable exception of The Long Good Friday and Get Carter). Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci never before or since rose to such great heights and De Niro was if anything even better. You absolutely believed these guys were real and you equally knew you wouldn't want to anger them in any way. Every scene and line of the movie is tight, cool, and memorable. And the music rocks too.
Doug, UK

Meh, don't really care about movies like this. I don't understand people's fascination with being a drug peddling, family murdering loser with an Italian accent. I find these people disgusting.
Bernice Halsband, Toronto, Canada

"Why you laughing for, you think I'm funny, I ammuse you like a clown" - classic movie alongside Scarface- both should be re-released in cinema!!
Nadeem, Uk Birmingham

Hehe ... that's really funny. You're a funny guy.
Jerry Hart, UK

"One day a local kid carried my mothers shopping all the way home, you know why? it was out of respect". The reason this film works is because it is real. No one can fly, no one has super powers. It's just real. I would love to be in a room with Henry Hill for a few hours and just listen. Pure Magic
Lloyd Dowell, UK

Although maybe a seminal film and must see of it's era i wonder about it's influence as it appears to glamorise the gangster culture. We have begun to witness a dominant 'gangsta' culture within the UK, and as a health care professional i deal daily with acts of mindless violence which seem to be almost a rites of masculine passage. Whilst i wouldn't lay the blame for this entirely with the media it certainly has an influence.
Marianne Donnachie, Glasgow

Goodfellas had been out for about seven years before i saw it. I was an airhostess at the time and arrived at my hotel after a complete nightmare long haul flight that had been delayed. I was so tired but i switched on my tv and the goodfellas had just started. The plan was to fall asleep whilst watching it, as i had to be up exactly seven hours later. I never did fall asleep and even in such an exhausted state the magnitude of this amazing film blew me away. For me my all time favourite boy flick
suzanne hemus, uk

This is my favourite film of all time, the story line is amazing, Ray Liotta is hot!
Tom Jagger, England

Goodfellas is a Scorsese Masterpiece. A film of the book 'Wiseguy' was threatened for years, and many would have wondered if it would live up to Nicholas Pileggi's page-turner. it is one of the few examples of book and film being as good as each other.
Jon G, UK

Once you've made the decision to testify against people like that then there's no way back. He made the wrong decision...his destiny was to live and die as a schnook because of one simple thing...greed.
Matt Morrison, UK

In my opinion, goodfellas is the third best gangster movie after the godfather (1 & 2) followed by donnie brasco in fourth place. many other great movies have graced the genre, like the untouchables and carlito's way, a personal favourate, but goodfellas is the business!
mahir al bakry, england

Goodfellas is, without a doubt, my favourite film of any genre. Although The Godfather is excellent, there is no comparison. Their is no glamour in Goodfellas, no sense of aristocracy. It shows, I assume, a far more accurate picture of mob life from a foot soldier's perspective. Virtuoso performances by all concerned (including the under-rated Liotta), camerwork to die for and a soundtrack that really understands how to heighten the mood of the film, not detract from it. I have watched on a ridiculous number of occasions, and will no doubt watch again As for Hill's recent incarceration, no great surprise really!!
Tim, Scotland

Perfect casting and brilliant acting has made this the No.1 gangster film, ahead of The Godfather and Scarface. The fact that it is based on a true story just increases the value of the film.
Graeme, England

It's my absolute favourite film. I cannot count how many times I have watched it. Amazing cast, one of the greatest director's of our time(let's not forget Mean Streets), superbe story. How could it have failed. Scorsese should have won best director and the film should have been honoured with the best picture award at the academy awards.
Ani, Canada

Thanks for your comments. The debate is now closed.


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific