Classic Movie Scene: Goodfellas’ Opening Sequence

Guest blogger Sophie Stephenson writes:

Released in 1990, Goodfellas stars Ray Liotta as Henry, a half-Irish, half-Italian American, who as a boy became involved with a group of mobsters, and as he got older began more and more to embrace the life of crime. The opening credits of the film are an explosive introduction to the crew.

We first see Henry and his two fellow protagonists, James and Tommy, driving along a dark road, when after hearing banging sounds coming from the boot (trunk) of the car they pull over to the side of the road. On opening the boot they realize a man they have inside and had thought to be dead is still alive. On discovering this, Tommy stabs the man several times in the chest, after which James continues to shoot him four times. The fact that they stabbed and then shot so many times when just once would have obviously been fatal shows how gratuitous this violence is. The camera then focuses on Henry as he closes the car boot, with him giving a voiceover saying “As far back as I could remember I always wanted to be a gangster,” followed by the track “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett. This jazzy number, along with Liotta’s voiceover, gives the impression of a glamorous lifestyle.

It is notable that almost any scene in the film containing violence is accompanied by an upbeat song, creating an exciting atmosphere and the idea that these people are certainly living the high life, which while the Production Code was still in use would not have been allowed. This is true of many of Martin Scorsese’s other works, such as 2006’s The Departed, and is one of many elements which have contributed to Scorsese being considered a superb auteur.

Sophie Stephenson is a 23-year-old student from Edinburgh, Scotland, currently studying a degree in English and Film. It is her ambition to pursue a career in film journalism, and she started her blog to enable people to read her writing. She has a keen interest in crime and fantasy films. For more information, visit Literally Geeking.

What’s your favorite movie scene? Let us know in the comments!

  • mike jaral

    as in all the gangster movies, the bad guys are glamourized. look at the God father movies. killers all, and your rooting for them. but great movies they are.

  • Daisy

    I can enjoy good gangster films, but this one I really hated.  Maybe it’s just that I hate John Pesci’s characters in most of his movies, and there was not much here to buffer that.

    • Norman Gillen

      It certainly was a different kind of gangster film, but I think what impressed so many people about Pesci’s performance here was the tension he brought to the famous “What do you mean I’m funny” scene.

  • Mgaffney48

    I took a girl on our 1st date to this movie. All the trailers showed guys laughing & “Layla” was playing in the background. Then in the first 5 minutes it’s all blood & gore. Oops.I still watch it when it’s on TV.

    • MissKitty

      ‘After’ my time…but, for me I wouldn’t have minded it as a ‘date movie’!  Better than Dumb and Dumber, or anything like that!  It was an interesting movie!  Been a while since I’ve seen it!

  • Cato

    If you’re looking for an opening scene that draws you in, Goodfellas is the first drop on a very long rollercoaster.  In under a minute you’ve forgotten your popcorn and drink.  A true modern masterpiece and one great scene after another.  Of course Scorsese must have had it in for Pesci, because he always off’d him in the most horrible fashion possible.

  • Wilf Rosenbaum

    I think that the address for Sophie’s blog “Literally Geeking” is now obsolete. Her blog is now at 
    http://www.literallygeeking.blogspot.com/

  • Mgollihur

    Ya know? I like Joe Pesci, even though it seems like he plays the same character most of the time. But he was SO bad (nasty) in this film, I almost cheered when he ‘got his’.

  • Panama007

    After that iconic opening, the voice-over begins with one of the great opening lines:  “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster! ”  What a line!

  • rufnek

    I didn’t buy into Goodfellas like most guys–probably because I’m much older than most of the guys in this forum and as a reporter spent years on the cop shop and courthouse beats seeing real blood, real bodies, real killers. As a film, Goodfellas was okay–I sat through it and didn’t ask for my money back, but I’ve never watched it a second time. I did watch a Biography segment on TV about the real Henry on whom that character was based. He was no tough pretty-boy like in the film–just a rat-faced junky who rather steal your money than earn his own.

    I really hate the way Hollywood glamorizes killers, especially the Mafia. If the criminals in this film had been redneck members of the Klan instead of urban Italian mobsters or if their victims had been blacks or gays or Jews instead of other gangsters, would they have been portrayed as sympathetically? I doubt it, although there’s no difference in killing and maiming out of hate vs. killing and maiming for profit.

    If I’m gonna watch hoodlum films, I prefer the Warner Brothers variety with Cagney and Bogart. No one ever says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a bootlegger.” (And when it comes to great lines from films, I prefer the closing line of The Roaring Twenties–”He used to be a big-shot”–over the opening line of Goodfellas.)