Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, ambitious New York mob associate
New York, Spring 1964
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, so BAMF Style is appropriating Mafia Monday for one of the most memorable scenes from Goodfellas, the impressive Steadicam shot that follows Henry and Karen’s date at their Copacabana. After leaving his Chrysler Newport with a doorman across the street (“It’s easier than leaving it at a garage”), the camera follows Henry as he spirits Karen through the labyrinth of hallways and kitchens into the famous nightclub, peeling off twenties for every hand that helps along the way.
Last April, Filmmaker magazine spoke to Steadicam operator Larry McConkey about filming that famous Copa tracking shot. As well as including some interesting insight about the early days of Steadicam in the late ’70s, the interview also includes great trivia for Goodfellas fans about one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, revealing that it was blocked, lit, and filmed in a half-day… before lunch. As Larry described:
I had to be wide to follow [Ray and Lorraine] down the stairs, because otherwise it would be a shot of the tops of their heads, but when they got to the bottom of the stairs they turned a corner and they would disappear if I didn’t catch up to them. So I said, “Ray, we have to figure out a way for you to stall at the bottom of the stairs so I can catch up to you.” Joe Reidy said, “We have a lot of extras so we can have a doorman and Ray could talk to him.” Then someone came up with the idea “You know what, Ray should give him a tip.” Now we’re echoing a theme that’s built into the character and built into the movie. Then walking down the hallway I said, “Ray, I really want to see your face now. So we’ve got to figure out a reason for you to turn around.” He said, “Well, I can talk to somebody else in the hall.” So we brought in a couple who were making out and Ray would turn and say, “Every time, you two.” So we structured events within the shot that covered the limitations of not being able to cut in order to give it pace and timing. What I didn’t expect, and what I only figured out later, was that all those (interactions) ended up being the heart and soul of the shot. Because Ray incorporated his character into those moments, those moments actually became what the shot was about instead of being tricks or being artifices.
What’d He Wear?
As part of a circle that spends its nights covered in silk suits and gold jewelry, Henry could be considered a relatively subtle dresser. Even his flashier moments are executed with a fashion sense not often seen among the ’70s Mafia set. For his big date with Karen at the Copa, Henry wears a sharp charcoal two-piece suit likely made from mohair or a mohair/wool blend, based on the way it shines in certain light.
The details of Henry’s single-breasted 2-button suit jacket fall perfectly in line with the slick minimalism that was fashionable in the mid-’60s. It has slim notch lapels, short side vents, and jetted hip pockets. The sleeveheads are roped with two buttons on each cuff. Henry interestingly pops a black silk handkerchief into the jacket’s welted breast pocket; the pocket square’s dark color barely contrasts against the dark charcoal suit, but carries the understated message of “this is my nighttime pocket square.”
Most of the shot tracks Henry’s upper half (and specifically, his back), so all that we can tell about his flat front trousers is that they have a low rise with belt loops, through which he wears a black leather belt. Assuming that they follow his usual style points from this era on screen, they would have plain-hemmed bottoms.
And since we can’t see below Henry’s thighs, more guesswork is needed for his shoes. Based on Henry’s fashion sense and his usual belt-matching, it’s safe to say that he was sporting black shoes and socks. Oxfords would be the most traditional shoe for a suit like this, but Henry’s penchant for horsebit loafers – to the point of wearing them for his wedding – likely means that he would be sporting them for a night out like this.
The ubiquitous long-pointed “spearpoint” collar returns on Henry’s white dress shirt, which also features a front placket and French cuffs. Some online retailers specialize in marketing the “Goodfella collar” or “Italian collar”, but I can’t speak personally to their quality.
Henry’s tie is maroon silk with a motif of large printed circles, all slightly darker red than the tie ground. According to Liotta, Scorsese would often step in to keep his tie knots accurate for the setting.
Although Karen covered it up for their last date, Henry is likely still wearing his gold Catholic cross pendant on a gold chain around his neck. The rest of his gold accessories adorn his right hand, with a pinky ring on his finger and a gold watch on a black strap around his wrist.
Go Big or Go Home
Henry knows how to impress a date! Granted, it’s probably an expensive night, but it certainly looks cool. With a confidence dialed down from arrogant swagger, Henry dazzles Karen as he leads her through the back entrance of the Copa to avoid lines, greeting many familiar faces along the way (“Every time, you two!”) before finally ending up in the club itself. The maitre’d immediately ignores the long line in order to personally greet and shake Henry’s hand.
Scorsese took measures to make sure the scene had the same impact on audiences as it did when he witnessed the same thing as a young man: “…the table should fly at the camera and fill the frame,” Scorsese told Larry McConkey. “When I was a kid I came to a club like this and it was incredible to me and the thing I most remember was the way a table would appear out of nowhere.”
And it is indeed impressive to see a table whisked from seemingly nowhere and set up in record time with a tablecloth, a centerpiece light, and two chairs just in time for Henry and Karen to take their seats. After palming a twenty to each of his waiters, another walks over with a bottle of champagne (Dom Pérignon, because of course) and explains that it’s from a “Mr. Tony, over there.” After cursory nods of appreciation, Henry turns back to Karen with the same casual self-satisfaction that I offer a date after upgrading my Arby’s meal from a medium to large. Her following three lines express her surprise (“You gave them $20 each!”), suspicions (“What do you do?”), and arousal (“They don’t feel like you’re in construction…”)
The entertainment shifts from the non-diegetic soundtrack featuring one of the greatest tracks of the early ’60s “girl group” era to “the king of the one-liners” as Henny Youngman himself takes the stage and does some dazzling of his own:
Take my wife, please. I take my wife everywhere but she finds her way home. I said, “Where do you wanna go for our anniversary?” She said, “Let’s go somewhere I’ve never been.” I said, “Try the kitchen.” Dr. Wellsler is here. Gave a guy six months to live. Couldn’t pay his bill. Gave him six more months.
The song used during Henry and Karen’s iconic club entrance is “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, produced by Phil Spector and released in July 1963. In two-and-a-half minutes, the song basically tells a sanitized version of Karen’s romance with Henry as an encounter leads to dating, which leads to eventual marriage. The idyllic song is optimistic and hopeful, a far cry from a future that involves hard drug addiction, multiple arrests and murders, and – eventually – witness protection.
(By the way, $20 in 1964 is inflated to just over $152 in 2016. Since there is no such thing as a $152 bill, the best thing to do is probably still hand out twenties. If the guys you’re tipping complain about inflation, send them to Paulie.)
How to Get the Look
A charcoal suit, white shirt, and dark red tie is often found in the business world, but the details of Henry’s ensemble differentiate his attire for a well-to-do mobster’s night on the town.
- Charcoal mohair suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, short double rear vents, and 2-button cuffs
- Flat front low rise trousers with belt loops and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White dress shirt with long-pointed “spearpoint collar”, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Maroon silk necktie with printed circles
- Black leather horsebit loafers
- Black dress socks
- White sleeveless ribbed cotton undershirt
- Gold watch on black leather strap
- Gold pinky ring, worn on right pinky
- Gold Catholic cross pendant, worn on gold necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Script to Screen
Scorsese stuck pretty close to he and Nicholas Pileggi’s original vision for the scene:
EXT. COPACABANA - NIGHT HENRY gives the keys and a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill to the DOORMAN at the building across the street and steers KAREN toward the Copa. KAREN What're you doing? What about the car? HENRY (while pushing her through the crowd waiting to get in) He watches it for me. It's better than waiting at a garage. HE SEE HENRY deftly steer KAREN away from the Copa's main entrance and down the basement steps. A HUGE BODYGUARD, eating a sandwich in the stairwell, gives HENRY a big "Hello." WE SEE HENRY walk right through the basement kitchen, which is filled with CHINESE and LATINO COOKS and DISHWASHERS who pay no attention. KAREN is being dragged along, open-mouthed, at the scene. HENRY starts up a stained kitchen staircase through a pair of swinging doors and suddenly KAREN sees she is inside the main room. The harried MAITRE D' (he is surrounded by CUSTOMERS clamoring for their tables) waves happily at HENRY and signals to a CAPTAIN. WE SEE a table held aloft by TWO WAITERS wedging their way toward the stage and plant the table smack in front of what had until that moment been a ringside table. As HENRY leads KAREN to their seat, she sees that he is nodding and shaking hands with MANY of the OTHER GUESTS. WE SEE HENRY quietly slip twenty-dollar-bills to the WAITERS. KAREN (sitting down) You gave them twenty dollars each? WE SEE the CAPTAIN approach with champagne. CAPTAIN This is from Mister Tony, over there. HENRY Where, over there? CAPTAIN Over there, over there. KAREN watches HENRY turn around and wave at a 280-POUND HOOD. KAREN What do you do? HENRY (toasting Karen and clinking glasses) I'm in construction. KAREN (taking his hands) They don't feel like you're in construction. HENRY turns to the stage where the lights begin to dim and HENNY YOUNGMAN walks out. HENRY I'm a union delegate.