Goodfellas reignited peoples passion for the italian/mafia crime dramas in the early 90’s. Directed by Martin Scorsese and adapted from the true life 1985 book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the film tells the story of Henry Hill’s rise from low level crime associate to Mob informant over a 25 year time period. Gangster/mob tattoos have always been popular but the colourful and tough nature of some of the characters within this story makes a Goodfellas tattoo quite popular with people who want to aspire to certain attributes of a gangster mentality suchas loyalty or a fearsome personality.
A lot of the most famous lines in Goodfellas came from ad-libbing. Scorsese would encourage the actors to improvise when they were rehearsing. He would then take the lines he liked the most and add them to a revised script which the cast would work from during shooting. Goodfellas is considered the high point of Martin Sorcese’s career and in 2000, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the US Library of Congress as it was “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” piece of cinema. Its style and content has been recreated in numerous gangster films and tv series since is release in 1990.
The film is based around Henry and his decent into criminality from humble beginnings working for local Mob boss Paul “Paulie” Cicero. He eventually graduates from running errands to becoming a fence for Jimmy The Gent and doing more serious jobs with Tommy DeVito. Henry marries a young jewish girl named Karen but continues his criminal and philandering ways with his partners in crime. Henry is confronted at gunpoint by Karen over his affair with his mistress Janice. Henry moves in with Janice but is made go back to Karen by Paulie after doing him a favour and collecting a gambling debt in Tampa with Jimmy. Both Henry and Jimmy got ten year sentences for this favour after being turned in by the gambler’s sister, an FBI typist. Whilst in prison, Henry begins to smuggle drugs into the prison through Karen. When Henry is released he begins to expand his drug business on the outside. Through his drug use Henry began to become sloppy and he was eventually raided by narcotics agents. He now had become a liability to the mob and sensed he was going to be hit so he turned informant.
His testimony led to the convictions of both Jimmy and Paulie. Henry was forced to give up the gangster life and live like a “schnook” in witness protection.
James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway
James “Jimmy The Gent” Conway is somewhat of an older brother figure for Henry and takes him under his wing in the criminal world. Jimmy is a truck hijacker and plans the Lufthansa heist at JFK. At the time this was the largest cash heist ever accomplished on US soil. Some of the crew weren’t discreet after the robbery and started drawing attention by purchasing new cars and expensive jewelry. To avoid being picked up, Jimmy had the crew killed but spared the lives of Tommy & Henry.
Tommy is the hot head and the killer of the crew. Tommy is of Italian heritage and believes he will eventually become a made man. His volatile and sensitive personality leads him to commit multiple murders before he is eventually killed himself. In 1970, Billy Batts a made man from the Gambino crime family is released from prison and thrown a party in a niteclub owned by Henry. He begins to insult Tommy by making references to Tommy’s younger years as a shoe shine kid. Tommy kills Billy and then Henry, Jimmy & Tommy dispose of the body. The second murder is the killing of Michael “Spider” Gianco who is a bartender in their club. Whilst playing cards in the club, Spider forgets Tommy’s drink order which leads to Tommy shooting him the leg. A week later Spider is again serving them this time with a cast on his leg, Tommy starts antagonizing Spider over his cast. Spider eventually stands up to Tommy which causes Tommy to loose his cool and murder him. Tommy continues to be a partner to Jimmy and Henry in their criminal enterprises and in the late 70’s he’s led to believe he is going to be a made man but instead on the day of the supposed ceremony he is killed in retribution for killing Billy Bats.
Goodfellas continues to be a cultural icon today and has been referenced by shows from The Simpsons to the Daily Show. Below we have some examples of tattoos from fans that pay homage to the film: