Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, volatile and violent Mafia associate
Brooklyn, New York, Summer 1963
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Well, Tommy, it is April Fool’s Day.
Goodfellas provided Joe Pesci with his major break in movies, winning him an Academy Award and securing his place in the American pop culture canon with this early scene that been inspired by one of Pesci’s own life experiences, establishing the personality of the psychotic Tommy DeVito. The cinematic Tommy was inspired by several figures in the real Mafia associate Henry Hill’s life, including Lenny Vario and—most significantly—the hotheaded killer Tommy DeSimone. DeSimone, however, was born in 1950 and was considerably younger and brawnier than Pesci, though Pesci’s explosive energy transcended age and size, portraying an impulsive vigor of a man half the 46-year-old actor’s actual age.
Pesci’s Tommy makes a relatively subtle on-screen debut, relegated to standing aside the young adult “Hendry” (Ray Liotta) at Idlewild Airport as he’s introduced to viewers in a glamorous shot that tilts up from his olive alligator loafers, set to the tune of Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ “Stardust”. Of course, as soon as he action gets going, Tommy isn’t content to play a silent second fiddle and Pesci soon gets a chance to shine as the silk-suited wiseguys and their goomahs idle the evening away at the tropical-themed Bamboo Lounge in Canarsie. The mood is jovial as the drinks are flowing, and Tommy glows as the center of attention, delighting his comrades with a story about being hauled in for police questioning while evidently staking out a New Jersey bank:
What’s really funny was that fucking bank job away in Secaucus. I’m in the middle of the fuckin’ weeds lying down. He comes over, he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m restin’.” “Here, you restin?” I’m at a fuckin’ beach, in the park, I said “Yeah, I’m resting!” I know I’m restin’, I’m restin’! They pull me in, they start askin’ me all kinds of questions, you know, this and that, he says, “Oh, uh, so what are you gonna tell us, tough guy?” I said, “My usual, zero, nothing! Why tell you?” The fuck. He said, “No, you’re gonna tell me somethin’ today, tough guy.” I said, “Alright, I’ll tell ya somethin’, go fuck your mother.” Bing! Pow! Boom! You saw the paper, Anthony, my head was out like this! The prick. So now I’m comin’ around, you know, I start to come out of it, who do I see in front of me? This big prick again. He says, “Oh, what do you wanna tell me now, tough guy?” I said, “Mingia! What are you doin’ here? I thought I told you go to fuck your mother!” I thought he was gonna shit! Pow! Bing! Boom! The fuckers! Ming’, I wish I was big just once!
Despite his own admitted preamble that the story was funny, the tone in the room quickly grows tense as Tommy seems to take offense to Henry’s off-handed comment that he’s “funny… really funny.”
Luckily for Henry, this was merely Tommy’s idea of a practical joke—a joke he punctuates by pulling a .38 from his pants and holding on Henry as he chuckles—but we are soon treated to Tommy’s true ire when the tiki club’s owner, mobbed-up Sonny Bunz (Tony Darrow), comes over on behalf of the waiter, asking Tommy to make good on his $7,000 tab before he can charge yet another round of drinks to it. Embarrassed in front of his friends, Tommy breaks a glass over the man’s forehead and kicks the bleeding club owner across the room, all to the hysterical laughter of his friends. Once he’s again seated, Tommy the joker returns:
You want to laugh? This prick last week asked me to christen his kid!
What’d He Wear?
Particularly for nights out on the town, Goodfellas establishes the mid-century wiseguy’s “uniform” as a silk suit, spearpoint-collar shirt that buries the tie knot, a pair of eye-catching kicks other than the standard derby or oxford, and at least one gold ring with a little something extra to make it shine. Henry Hill may be dressed louder for this night at the Bamboo Lounge in the summer of 1963, but Tommy DeVito commands the room’s attention—and fear—from a silk-suited 5’4″ package.
Tommy wears a shark gray silk suit with a distinctive single-breasted, peak-lapel jacket. While single-breasted jackets with peak lapels were always never fully obsolete in men’s fashion, the style was in relative remission during the Camelot era, to be revived again as lapels and collars grew broader during the disco years. It’s likely that Tommy was seeking to dress like his idols, the Prohibition-era gangsters like Al Capone and “Lucky” Luciano who would have been rigged in single-breasted, peak-lapel jackets when this was a revolutionary new style.
At least Tommy’s tailor keeps his look relatively contemporary by keeping his lapels of a moderate width with straight gorges as the wide, full-bellied peak lapel associated with the earlier era would have looked considerably out of place in the early ’60s and may have indeed made the compact Pesci look “funny like a clown”. The ventless jacket has roped sleeveheads, jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket where Tommy wears a creamy ivory satin silk pocket square to coordinate with the more prominent color in his tie.
Like all of the characters, Tommy’s style evolves with his age and the respective era, but one constant detail of his tailoring is the unique gauntlet (or “turnback”) cuffs on the sleeves of his suit jackets. This neo-Edwardian detail cycled in and out of fashion over the years, first revived in the early years of the roaring ’20s when gangsters like Al Capone and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (the real-life counterpart to Steve Buscemi’s “Nucky” Thompson on Boardwalk Empire) showcased their success via bespoke tailoring.
As opposed to the real Tommy DeSimone who turned 13 years old in 1963, the Goodfellas version of Tommy had reached adulthood by the early 1960s, a time when gauntlet cuffs were enjoying a resurgence. James Bond author Ian Fleming had been a noted fan of this detail, not only having his own suits rigged with them but also appending many of the characters throughout the 007 literary canon with what he called “turnback cuffs”. In the first official James Bond movie Dr. No (1962), Sean Connery was introduced to audiences in a midnight blue dinner jacket tailored by Anthony Sinclair and detailed with gauntlet cuffs at the ends of his sleeves, establishing a black tie practice that would be sporadically followed by fellow 007 actors Roger Moore and Daniel Craig in their respective adventures. (You can read more about gauntlet cuffs in the Bond series in the excellently researched and illustrated post on Matt Spaiser’s blog, The Suits of James Bond.) Sidney Poitier also wore suits with gauntlet-cuffed jackets in the 1961 film Paris Blues.
Whether taking his cues from 007 or a local tailor aware of Tommy’s Capone-esque aspirations, Tommy’s gray silk suit jacket at the Bamboo Lounge is the first of many that he would wear with narrow, inch-high cuffs at the end of his sleeves, complemented here with two “kissing” non-functioning cuff buttons.
Tommy’s trousers have an appropriately high rise that meets his jacket at the buttoning point and are shaped in the front darts, the little-celebrated tailoring detail that adds roominess through the hips like pleats but with a cleaner appearance like a flat front. The slanted “frogmouth” front pockets, which begin about an inch back from the darts and an inch down from the bottom of the belt line, also add a clean look to the front of the trousers, avoiding the potential gape that occurs with side pockets particularly on tighter-fitting trousers.
The trousers have been tailored to fit around his waist without the aid of belt or braces; indeed, the trousers don’t even have belt loops, though we can’t be sure that there aren’t button-tab or sliding adjuster tabs along the sides. Still, the waistband is fitted enough to hold the weight of Tommy’s snub-nosed revolver despite his bombastic movements and mannerisms… unlike some mob-adjacent movie characters less familiar with carrying gats.
Of the three principal characters, Tommy’s shirts have the most dramatic of the signature spearpoint collars that, due to their prominence in the movie, have become colloquially known and frequently marketed as “Goodfella collars”. These massive collars with their non-existent spread and mere millimeters of tie space were a holdout from Scorsese’s recollections of his childhood growing up in the ’40s and ’50s around New York wiseguys. Though narrower collars were more fashionable by the early ’60s, the younger gangsters like Tommy and Henry who finally had the chance to dress like the Mafioso they idolized in their youth would continue wearing these somewhat outdated collars. (Their persistence pays off as long point collars would indeed be trendy again by the 1970s!)
In this scene, Tommy wears a light blue cotton shirt with a hint of a slate cast that makes the shirt look closer to a pale gray on older, lower-resolution prints of Goodfellas. The spearpoint collar with its threatening, dagger-like points is there, of course, as well as a front placket and double (French) cuffs that Tommy fastens with a set of thin silver bar links, finished on each outward-facing surface with a single column of brown squares. Tommy’s tie knot is enveloped by the shirt collar, draping the straight blade of ivory silk onto his torso, patterned with two “downhill”-directional gray block stripes that alternate in width and shade: a thick medium-gray stripe just under the knot with a slightly less wide charcoal stripe dropped a few inches below it.
We don’t see much of Tommy’s shoes while he’s dispatching Sonny Bunz with a swift kick in the derriere, but we can assume he’s using his usual black leather cowboy boots, his go-to footwear even with suits as they not only nod to his increasingly dangerous “cowboy” reputation but also give the 5’4″ Joe Pesci a couple extra inches in height.
Tommy is surprisingly restrained with his visible gold jewelry, wearing only a diamond ring on his left pinky and a watch on a five-piece link bracelet, secured to his left wrist under the shirt cuff. We see little of the watch, aside from its white dial with non-numeric hour markers, over the course of the movie.
The suit makes a second appearance during Tommy and Henry’s second double date with Diane and Karen, though Henry blows the dinner off so Karen narrates with a laugh that, “we were a trio instead of a double date that night.” Although he wore a white shirt—with a monogrammed inverted box-planted pocket, no less—for the first date, he’s embraced a more mobbed-up look for the second date by wearing a black suit with a black-and-white striped tie.
This suit makes its third and final appearance during the 1971 card game when he again wanton pulls his gun, this time using it to fatally shoot Spider (Michael Imperioli) with six rounds from a .45 fired into the hapless, hobbling mob lackey. “That’s what the fuckin’ world is comin’, how do you like that?” he boasts. He again wears a black shirt, though it’s striped in white and worn open at the neck with a long point collar and double cuffs.
This suit isn’t to be confused with another suit that Tommy wears made from a similar gray suit but styled with a notch-lapel, single-button jacket. He wears this different suit to Henry’s wedding and during the closing vignette when he fires directly at the scene à la The Great Train Robbery.
The real “Two-Gun Tommy” DeSimone had earned his nickname for obvious reasons, given his penchant for carrying two guns at once. While this specific trait isn’t represented in Goodfellas, Pesci’s Tommy DeVito is undoubtedly the proverbial cowboy when it comes to firearms, erratically brandishing them to make a point or even just to accentuate a joke.
We get our first sense of this during the memorable Bamboo Lounge sequence when Henry doubles down on his “funny guy” joke, prompting Tommy to draw an ostensibly loaded Smith & Wesson Model 36 “Chiefs Special” snubnose revolver from his waistband and mock-threaten his childhood friend with it. This .38 Special revolver was introduced in 1950 with a five-round cylinder on Smith & Wesson’s J-frame that made it the more compact response to Colt’s generation-long supremacy in the “snub nose” revolver segment with its six-shot Detective Special. The Smith & Wesson weapon was christened with its similar appellation when the new design was presented at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, and the attendees voted on the name that would stick until 1957 when Smith & Wesson began numbering its models and re-designated the Chiefs Special as the Model 36. The easily concealed weapon was found to be popular among cops, civilians, and criminals alike.
The Smith & Wesson Model 36 is depicted as a favorite of the Lucchese family underlings in Goodfellas, with Henry using one to beat Karen’s abusive neighbor and a welching gambler in Tampa, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) using one to deliver the fatal shots into a tortured, trunk-cached Billy Batts, and Tommy to use when initially beating Batts (doing so with such vigor that he actually breaks the cylinder out of the weapon) and when shooting poor Spider in the foot from across the room.
Weeks later, Spider hobbles back into the card game to serve drinks for the crew. Perhaps by design, Tommy is seated farther away from the bar and seems to quietly take it in stride when Spider responds to his needling with “why don’t you go fuck yourself, Tommy?” That is, until Jimmy lays on by mocking Tommy himself (“You gonna take that? What’s the world coming to?”), prompting the impulsive and immature Tommy to whip out a full-sized M1911A1 semi-automatic pistol and end Spider’s life with six tragically well-placed shots.
Each .45-caliber blast from the 1911 rings loud in the confined space in the basement under Robert’s Lounge, the Queens watering hole owned by Jimmy that became a de facto headquarters for the crew during the 1970s. Even on the other side of the table, Tommy was still close enough to Spider that his shots couldn’t miss, especially from a reliable service pistol with a five-inch barrel.
“Good shot, whaddya want from me? Good shot…” is Tommy’s sociopathic self-defense when his friends confront him after the killing, though they’re all smart enough (and relatively sociopathic in their own right) not to push Tommy too far on it, given what he had just done.
What to Imbibe
Anisette is Tommy DeVito’s drink of choice, drinking the sweet, anise-flavored liqueur straight after dinner at the Bamboo Lounge. “It’s anisette,” Tommy explains to Diane, his Jewish date. “You’d probably do a lot better with Manischewitz, but it’d look funny on my table!”
Taking a closer look at Tommy’s table at the Bamboo Lounge, we can clearly identify his anisette as Leroux, an inexpensive distillery of Belgian origin that currently produces its certified Kosher line of flavored brandies, schnapps, and anisette in the United States.
Also on Tommy’s table are bottles of Bacardi Superior white rum and Crown Royal Canadian whisky. The latter had been introduced in 1939 by Seagram’s president Samuel Bronfman to commemorate King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s arrival that year, marking the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada. It wasn’t until 1964 that Crown Royal was legally available on the U.S. market, so the appearance of the distinctive bottle on Tommy’s table in summer of 1963 is either a slight anachronism or, more intriguingly, yet another indication that these brazen gangsters care little for regulation and will happily smuggle their own imported whisky and drink it wherever and whenever they damn well want.
How to Get the Look
Although he reaches adulthood in the early 1960s, Joe Pesci’s volatile mobster Tommy DeVito opts for fashions that trended a generation earlier during the gangland heyday of the latter Prohibition era, from single-breasted, peak-lapel silk suit jackets with neo-Edwardian turnback cuffs to monogrammed shirts with razor-sharp spearpoint collars.
- Shark gray silk tailored suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 2-button “turnback” cuffs, and ventless back
- Darted-front trousers with fitted waistband, “frogmouth” front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light slate-blue dress shirt with long “spearpoint” collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Silver bar cuff links with single column of brown squares
- Ivory silk tie with two thick, widely spaced gray “downhill” block stripes
- Black leather cowboy boots
- Gold watch with round white dial (with non-numeric hour markers) on gold five-piece bracelet
- Gold diamond pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. Netflix subscribers can also stream Goodfellas through the end of April.
Joe Pesci’s own mother was reportedly a fan of his performance, reserving her only criticism was the amount of swearing. Indeed, Pesci is credited with around half of the 321 uses of the word “fuck” and its derivatives over the course of Goodfellas.
To add more to your Pesci fix, you can catch the actor’s entertaining 1994 interview with David Letterman on YouTube here, where the actor still can’t help dropping an F-bomb even while being interviewed on live TV.
I wonder about you sometimes, Hendry… you may fold under questioning!