In Scorcese’s Goodfellas, the audience is thrown into the Lucchese crime family between the 60’s and the 80’s. We immediately meet the protagonist, Ray Lamotta, who, as a teenager, always wanted to be a gangster. He drops out of school and decides to join this organized crime family. While the film is about the crimes they pull, it is surrounded by the family unit. The Lucchese family was real and was very close, and the film expresses the tight knit community this family has formed. After many trials and tribulations with Ray’s immediate family and crime family, we get to where the scene is now. Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert Deniro) convinces the gang to pull the Lufthansa heist, a real crime which made the Lucchese family in 1978. An estimated $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewels were stolen, (around $20 million if calculated in 2011 inflation of US dollars) making it the largest cash robbery ever committed on American soil.
Jimmy warns everyone to spend the money gradually and to not spend it on flashy, expensive items because that would tip off the cops and the IRS. They, however, do not listen and Jimmy becomes angry. He becomes increasingly paranoid that the cops will find the gang and that will lead straight to him. He decides to murder everyone except for Ray. This is where the scene begins.
It is interesting how Scorsese weaves together the sense of family and nostalgia with the dark, mysterious murders. He starts with with children playing ball in the New York. It is cloudy and dreary, to add to the dark, paranoid effect to the entire scene. They immediately see the expensive, flashy, pink Cadillac that Jimmy warned them not to buy. Scorsese made an interesting choice with the children seeing them, to show that crime and family are, for this family, never not connected. The car, new back then, gives off a sense of nostalgia. This was bought by them to commemorate and celebrate the good times ahead. A happy piano song is played in the background, also giving the feeling of nostalgia and better times. Then all the bodies are found by normal, working citizens. Ray is narrating in the background, like old film noir movies, which usually express cynical and paranoid attitudes. Then the scene goes into the diner, again, a family restaurant, right after showing one of the lifeless bodies frozen on a hook like a rack of meat. We see Jimmy, happier than ever. Scorsese puts the scene in a diner, the prime symbol for nostalgia in all of film. He is released from all his paranoia about being caught, has more money now than he did before, and Tommy, his good friend, is being “made.” Tommy is picked up in a car, after being sent off by his mother, showing the loving undertones of this film, and is driven to the house where he is to be made. He asks an older man “How many years ago was yous made?” to which he responds, “I don’t know, 30 years ago.” “Must be a lot of memories” says Tommy. Scorsese addresses nostalgia and family ties right here, explicitly. This is a process that you remember for a long time, and the old give to the younger generations. The happy music stops without the audience realizing, and Tommy is immediately shot and killed.
The politics of this scene shows that maybe Jimmy’s paranoia was needed to be placed elsewhere. The family is family, and they had a score to settle with Tommy. Jimmy was so caught up in his paranoia to not get caught, that he did not foresee the murder of Tommy. This is like The Conversation in that their paranoia about their professions ultimately leads to both the protagonists’ downfall. Scorsese masterfully makes the audience happy to dash all their hopes away by giving a nostalgic, optimistic setting of the 80’s, with the music, the diner, the phone booth, the Cadillac, etc.
Goodfellas and The Godfather are very similar films. In “The Man Who Would Be King,” Biskind says The Godfather “establishes the premise that the American dream has failed, the melting pot is an illusion, and the ethnic poor are trapped at the bottom of an uniust system.The Mafia provides what the government does not: simple justice and a version of welfare for the underclass.” Goodfellas very much does the same thing. Ray, a poor teenager, looks to the crime family for a community, a tight knit family, security, and the potential to make it rich. The American dream has died, let’s do it another way. Jimmy uses his crime family ways to exact his view of justice. So does the family in killing Tommy. He also writes, “The Godfather looked forward to the conservative family values of the Reagan era,” a value much displayed in Goodfellas as well. To be made was to become one of the family, someone who they respected and called a “Good Fella,” the utmost honor. The heavily placed sentimental value of the family is deeply tied in the crime ways of the Lucchese and is what makes this movie so special. It has the paranoia, murder elements that every crime movie should have, but it also reveals the other side, the family aspect to it, the good in it.