Marin Scorsese Directing Robert De Niro (Photo Via Phaidon)
For our last installment in the #MonthofScorsese film location series, we cover the film that many consider to be his magnum opus: The 1990 classic mafia film GoodFellas. Based on NYC crime reporter Nicolas Pileggi’s non-fiction novel Wiseguy, the book focuses on the rise and fall of The Lucchese Crime family. The film – written by Scorsese and Pileggi – follows the life and exploits of one of their associates, Henry Hill, who was fundamental in dismantling the crime family, when he became an informant for the FBI.
Scorsese became obseesed with Pileggi’s novel while working on The Color of Money; feeling that it was the closes anyone else has come in terms of writing about the life of a mobster. Scorsese wanted the film to start slow, and build up as the story progressed- like one large trailer. Like the first three installments, Scorsese films primarily in NYC, with locations that have changed dramatically in the twenty years since the films release.
Image via Google Street View
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.” As far back as 1970 to be more precise. When we first meet Henry Hill he is driving a car to the middle of nowhere, performing a mob hit; when the story actually starts, Scorsese takes us to East New York, in 1955. Living in the home on the far left (24-09 East 32nd Street in Astoria, Queens) is Henry Hill, who wants nothing more than to be a gangster. According to Henry, being a gangster “was better than being President of The United States.” From his window, he admires the gangsters who perform their operations from a cab company across the street.
Across the street, on 24-09 East 32nd Street is where Henry would wind up getting an after-school job. The “Cab Stand” as Henry refers to it as,is run by Tuddy Cicero (pictured above) as well as other establishments for his brother – the boss – Tony. Henry’s parents loved the idea of Henry working so close to home, but later find out what kind of deals the men Henry work for do behind closed doors. The job at the cab stand was suppose to be part-time, however, it became a full time job, keeping Henry out of school.
Flash-forward to Henry as a young man robbing cargo trucks by Idlewild Airport – later to be known as JFK Airport. There is not much work to be done in the robbery department; friends and relatives who worked at the airport would involve the gangsters into what was shipping in and out of the airport. We see Henry and his friend Tommy waiting to hijack a truck outside a diner with a unique neon sign. The diner, located on 69-35 Astoria Blvd in Queens, NY is now a Jackson Hole diner. While the diner has changed,the sign remains thankfully.
While Scorsese sets the classic “You think I’m funny” monologue at the Bamboo Lounge, the interiors were actually shot at the Hawaii Kai Lounge on Broadway and 50th Street, across the street from the Winter Theater in Times Square. The Polynesian restaurant stood at that location for almost 40 years and was designed by Frederick Fox: a scenic designer on Broadway. It should be noted that Pesci – criminally underrated actor – won Best Supporting Actor for this role; it is obvious why as he controls everything about this scene with his immense presence.
So Tommy really wants to, in his words “bang this broad”, however, she is prejudiced against Italians and will not go out with Tommy alone. After some”negotiating” Tommy convinces Henry to go on a double date with the Jewish girl’s friend Karen. The first double date goes horrible with Henry being frigid and just wanting to be anywhere but the restaurant. The second double date ends up with Henry standing Karen up, leaving Karen to make Tommy take her to him. After some insults, Henry actually wants to take Karen out, beginning their relationship. The whole ordeal begins at Salerno’s Restaurant on Richmond Hill. Sadly, this neighborhood favorite closed down a few years ago.
The most famous scene in the film – the almost four minute tracking shot through the establishment – takes place at the famous Copacabanga nightclub, located on 10 East 60th Street. This is the second time Scorsese shot a scene in the famous club (the first time was in his Raging Bull) and has been features in numerous other films, including Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo; Brian De Palma’s Carlitos Way; William Friedkin’s The French Connection among others.
Musician Barry Manilow made a song about the club, and the list of famous musicians who have headlined the Copa is endless. The club has moved locations numerous times and is still popular today. The latest incarnation of the Copa is in the middle of Times Square.
After a nice vacation – as well as beating a man senseless – Henry and Karen get married. The reception, where Karen meets Henry’s “extended family” (filled with Pauls, Peter’s and Marie’s) takes place at the Oriental Manor. The venue, located in Brooklyn, shut down its doors in 2007 after over 53 years of service to the neighborhood.
The Suite Lounge is where Tommy and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) do a number on a man who just got home form prison. This man, who insulted Tommy for reminding him of his days as a shoe-shine boy gets absolutely pummeled by Pesci and De Niro, while Scorsese – known for his excellent choice in music – has Donovan’s Atlantis playing in the background. The location used for the scene was a place called the Spartan Restaurant. What is there now is the Cabaret Lido restaurant on 73-20 Grand Ave, in Maspeth, Queens.
News comes in that Tommy is going to become a “Made Man”, which means that he reaches an upper echelon that Henry and Jimmy can never reach (because they are not fully Italian). Henry and Jimmy are having lunch inside the Clinton Diner on 58th and Maspeth Ave waiting for news. Jimmy goes to the phone-booth only to find that Tommy is not only not going to get “Made”, but that he got whacked. The killing of Tommy was in retribution to the killing of Billy Bats at The Suite Lounge.
The Diner is still there and has quite a bit of history. It is located by the Dewitt Clinton mansion, and is the reason the diner is named Clinton. It has been the location for many community board meetings, and has been featured numerous times on television and on film.
In 1980, Henry has become addicted to cocaine, paranoid beyond belief and an insomniac. He gets busted in Pittsburgh for drugs and agrees to testify. Henry rats out Jimmy Conway and Paul Cicero, here in the New York City County Courthouse, located on 60 Centre Street. The courthouse has also been featured in another mafia classic: Brian De Palma’s The Godfather.
All Film Stills copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures.
If you happen to know why there is a helicopter seemingly following him everywhere he goes, contact the author @TatteredFedora