Goodfellas – Henry at Idlewild Airport

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990).

Vitals

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, Lucchese family Mafia associate

New York City, Summer 1963

Film: Goodfellas
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno

Background

The popularity of Nicholas Pileggi’s mob expose Wiseguy in 1985 and the subsequent film version, Goodfellas, five years later changed the pop culture view of Mafioso. For thirty years, they were a crew of fedora-wearing guys in loud suits and pinkie rings who would shove a .38 under your chin and hope the coppers weren’t onto them, get me? In 1972, The Godfather paved the way for mob films about honor and family. Great movies but still no closer to the truth about the mob.

Finally, in 1990, a realistic depiction of the American Mafia was released in theaters. Made with the help of “advisors” such as mob associates Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke and even starring ex-mob associates such as Tony Sirico (later to become famous as Paulie on The Sopranos), people were seeing the mob for what it was: a business made up of criminally-inclined lowlifes who saw themselves as much more important than they were.

Many terrific suits (and many awful ones) are worn throughout the film. Although it takes place from 1955 to 1980, the classiest attire, as one would expect, is seen during the sequences set in the early ’60s.

What’d He Wear?

After a series of scenes featuring the young Italian-Irish-American Henry Hill learning the ways of organized crime during the 1950s, we transition to his new status as a young adult and rising star in the Lucchese family branch of the New York Mafia. The subtitles are more specific: “Idlewild Airport. 1963.”

The introduction of adult Henry – played by Ray Liotta – is a callback to an earlier scene in which teenage Henry appears to his mother in new clothes, panning up from his pointy leather shoes to the wide lapels of his white silk suit. “My God,” bemoans his mother. “You look like a gangster!”

Eight years later, Henry lives up to his image: a full-fledged gangster. For as iconic as this scene and re-introduction are, it is very difficult for me to find any information on the suit itself, so all of the information below comes from observations.

We begin with his feet. The shoes are a must-have for every gangster’s wardrobe: olive brown alligator skin loafers with two tassels on each shoe. The shoes are immaculate, which could be explained by the fact that he is standing next to “Shoeshine Tommy”. Joe Pesci, if you are reading this, please take that as a joke and don’t come back later and beat me to within an inch of my life, then carve me up in a trunk after De Niro pumps a few .38 rounds into me.

Carl Perkins was offered $100,000 by mobster Albert Anastasia to change the lyrics of “Blue Suede Shoes” to “Brown Alligator Loafers” in 1957. Unfortunately, Anastasia was shot to death in a hotel barbershop before Perkins could collect. (This is not a true story.)

Henry’s socks are thin plain socks – dark gray with a slightly olive tint as though they are transitioning from the brown shoes to the gray suit.

Panning up Henry’s suit, the audience quickly realizes that this is the suit of a gangster and not a businessman or politician (in case the shoes didn’t give it away). Dark gray sharkskin silk is not a suit often worn by “civilians”. The trousers have a single forward pleat, plain-hemmed bottoms, and a zip fly. Most of Henry’s trousers at this stage in the film are beltless, so we can assume that these are as well.

I felt really weird taking this screenshot.

The two-button jacket is single-breasted with thin notch lapels, 2-button cuffs, flapped hip pockets, and a thinly welted breast pocket. In the back are two short double vents.

Henry’s long-sleeve sport shirt, which he also wears casually later in the film, is primarily black with thin white vertical stripes. It appears to be an acrylic and cotton blend, with a texture resembling a thin sweater more than a casual shirt. It has seven large buttons and two welt pockets near the abdominal region. The shirt is cut straight across the bottom, directly underneath the seventh button.

There are five of the thin white vertical stripes on each side of the buttons, with the space between the stripes going from totally black to totally white. There is probably a better way to explain this, but I have no idea what that would be.

Henry’s shirt is seen in better detail later in the film. Unfortunately, this also gives us some views of the truly awful decor of his mistress’s apartment.

As we finally pan up to the top, we see Henry himself – cool and confident as he puffs on a Winston. This is the best he is going to look – his life, while not necessarily on the up-and-up, has not yet become complicated due to drugs, women, or murders. He has nothing to worry about and has a full future ahead of him. Little does he know, most of this future will be spent as a “nobody” in various hillbilly towns across the U.S. as he hides from his criminal past.

The real Henry Hill probably never had a moment this cool in his life.

Like most screen gangsters, Henry Hill  also wears his share of gold jewelry. The most noticeable (although not in this scene) is the gold cross that his Jewish girlfriend Karen forces him to hide when meeting her mother. This cross is later accompanied by a star of David after he marries Karen.

Henry also wears a series of gold watches, with my favorite being his all-gold Rolex Day Date. Finally, Henry fits a small gold ring with a ruby stone on his right pinky. He later also wears a gold wedding band on his left hand, but that can hardly be counted as gangster garb.

In the days before cell phones, men wore things commonly referred to as “wristwatches” to tell time, as seen worn by Tommy and Henry in this scene. These “watches” could not be used to make calls, send emails, or use animated birds to slaughter green pigs en masse. Thus, they were replaced by the iPhone.

Go Big or Go Home

While I wouldn’t recommend going out and joining the Mafia (the application process is a bitch, I hear), Goodfellas makes me want to eat immense meals of rigatoni bolognese, veal parmesan, and proscuitto, washed down with Scotch and red Chianti. Put the Sinatra on (or, to especially emulate this scene, Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ 1957 recording of “Stardust”), lean back against the trunk of a classic Impala convertible, and take a long drag of that cigarette. While a lying, cheating gangster like Henry is certainly no one to emulate, you have to admit that this scene makes him look very cool.

OK, I made myself hungry. Luckily for me, the prison scene gives me a few tips on how to make a great meal in less-than-desirable circumstances. Here is how to make the delicious sauce from the prison scene:

  • Get your hands on a razor blade. Unbeknownst to most people, Mafioso prefer razor blades for slicing garlic rather than throats. Peel and slice ten cloves. Make sure to slice incredibly fine slices of the garlic. You don’t want Paulie upset with you.
  • Place a large pan on medium heat, with 50-100 grams (depending on just how Italian you are) of olive oil, 5-6 diced onions, and a teaspoon of salt on it. Keep stirring and cook on a lower heat for about a half hour until the onions are soft.
  • Place a large pan on high heat, with about 10 grams of olive oil. Fry enough minced beef for whoever you’ll be serving. Drain the meat over a bowl to catch any juices to be added later on. Then, put another 10 grams of olive oil in the pan. Fry the minced pork. Drain the meat, catch the juices. Finally, another 10 grams of olive oil and diced veal should be tossed in the pan. Fry it, drain it, and catch the juices. Now your meat is ready to go. Put the meats on a medium heat and add the sliced garlic.
  • After a few minutes of letting the garlic cook into the meat, pour about 1/8 of a bottle of white wine (100 mL) onto the meat and boil.
  • Once the white wine has reduced, add about 250-300 mL of beef stock to the meat and boil.
  • Hopefully, Vinnie hasn’t forgotten about those onions! If a half hour has passed (of stirring continuously), add some pureed tomatoes to the onions and stir them in for a few minutes. Next, add plenty of chopped tomatoes with the meat/garlic/wine/beef stock combination and stir it all together. This is when you’re really going to want to let things cook. Put a cover over the food and, for best results, put in the Goodfellas DVD right now and start watching. Once the movie is ended and your mouth has stopped watering, your food should be ready to go.

The guys in prison ate it with a fat steak – medium rare – and Italian bread. If you live in Pittsburgh, pick up some Mancini’s bread. Add wine, whiskey, and eat. Best enjoyed with “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin playing.

For clearer and better instructions from someone who actually knows how to cook, see the link at the bottom of the page to master chef Dave Watts’ recipe.

What to Imbibe

Henry’s drink of choice during the film is blended Scotch on the rocks. Although he is also seen with Cutty Sark (which most whisky drinkers wouldn’t give much credence to), Henry’s preferred drink is J&B Rare. Also the drink of Truman Capote, J&B Rare was introduced to the U.S. market to give the Brits an instant boost after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Henry never seems to be without Scotch, even while behind bars. Unlike single malts and more premium blends, J&B is typically drunk on the rocks.

Henry never seems to be without Scotch, even when behind bars.
(For anyone who hasn’t seen Goodfellas, prison garb for these men involves robes or Adidas track suits. Also for anyone who hasn’t seen Goodfellas, what the hell are you waiting for?)

Henry’s cigarettes of choice are Winston Red, which were the most popular cigarette in the U.S. in the late 1960s. He uses a brass Zippo to light up.

How to Get the Look

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Pesci and Liotta.

A classic sharkskin suit would be a great find at a thrift store. However, to really get into the Goodfellas style, you’ll want one tailored to fit you perfectly.

  • Dark gray “sharkskin” silk suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and short double vents
    • Single-pleated trousers with a zip fly and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black acrylic/cotton blend casual long-sleeve shirt with thin white stripes separating wide gradient stripes; also has two jetted abdominal pockets, 7 large black buttons, and elastic cuffs
  • Olive brown alligator skin Italian leather tasseled loafers
  • Thin dark gray silk socks
  • White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
  • Rolex Day-Date wristwatch with a gold bracelet, dial, and round bezel, worn on the right wrist
  • Gold necklace with a Catholic cross
  • Gold pinky ring with a dark ruby red stone, worn on the right pinky

The Gun

Henry carries a – what would you expect – snubnose .38 Special revolver. More specifically, Henry keeps a Smith & Wesson Model 36, marketed in its early years as the “Chief’s Special”, in his waistband or under the seat of his car. The Model 36, introduced in 1950, quickly developed a following amongst gangsters looking for a small but deadly weapon for close quarters shooting. The Model 36’s 5 round capacity, compared to the 6 rounds of the Colt Detective Special, was actually preferred by mobsters as the smaller size made it easier to conceal. Since mobsters rarely got into shooting scrapes as much as the movies portrayed, they often just needed something that they could whip out and use to intimidate or – as seen liberally in Goodfellas – to pistol-whip.

Henry uses this Smith & Wesson Model 36 to pistol-whip Karen’s harassing neighbor and the Tampa mob associate that lands them in the pen.

Also like the Detective Special, the Smith & Wesson Model 36 was seen in use by plainclothes detectives and high-ranking police officers (or chiefs, as the marketing name might imply). Short-barreled .38s fell out of favor with both police and mobsters in the 1980s as departments began outfitting their officers and detectives with semi-automatics. Henry, too, is seen making the conversion. By 1980, he is now carrying a .380-caliber Astra Constable, a Spanish replica of the popular Walther PPK carried by everyone from James Bond to Adolf Hitler.

Coincidentally, both the S&W Model 36 Chief’s Special and the Astra Constable imply use by police officers in their names. Perhaps Henry missed his true calling?

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the movie.

Interesting (and actually true) piece of trivia: Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy, was actually born in 1950 and, thus, would’ve been 13 years old in this scene. Pesci was 46 when Goodfellas was filmed in mid-1989. The real Tommy died a few months before he would have turned 29 and was actually pretty tall and physically imposing. Although he didn’t look the part, Joe Pesci’s brilliant and frightening performance redefined the “psycho gangster”.

The Quote

Whenever we needed money, we’d rob the airport. To us, it was better than Citibank.

Footnotes

Shortlist provides a full recipe by Dave Watts, a chef who would know a lot more about cooking than I could ever hope to know. I didn’t want to copy Watts’ recipe, so I rewatched the scene a couple times and referenced what Dave had to say whenever I was in a quandary about exactly what they were doing.

15 comments

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  10. James Kraus

    I have always been a bit intrigued and curious about the background of this scene.

    As you correctly state; the subtitle claims Idlewild Airport, 1963; but not only are Tommy and Henry leaning against a 1965 Chevrolet Impala, the billboard overhead is advertising a 1965 Cadillac.

    These are the kind of details that Scorsese and his crew usually get right, and a good deal of work obviously went into researching and recreating the billboard. I can only assume that the scene was originally conceived and shot to evoke a later period, but ended up inserted earlier in time during the final edit.

    Like

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