Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, volatile and violent Mafia associate
New York, Spring 1970
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Mother’s Day! One of my favorite cinematic sequences depicting the relationship between a son and his mother comes by way of my favorite movie, in which master auteur Martin Scorsese cast his own mother Catherine as the charming Mrs. DeVito, mother to the psychotic gangster Tommy (Joe Pesci) who brings his cohorts Henry (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) seeking a shovel in a covert night-time stop to fetch a shovel… only to be sweet-talked into an early breakfast.
Catherine Scorsese endearingly embodies the familiar archetype of the aging Italian-American matriarch with her plastic-covered furniture, the gift to effortlessly slip between American English and Italian dialects, and the fierce desire to feed her children and their friends… regardless of whether they’re hungry or not.
To those who only know it by reputation, Goodfellas may not immediately come to mind for many as essential Mother’s Day viewing, but therein lies much of its gift. As Lorraine Bracco’s Karen explains in her voiceover, these gangsters are “blue-collar guys”, they’re not all serious men born into a generational legacy of organized crime. Like The Sopranos a decade later, Goodfellas reflects how the “fuckin’ regularness of life” even impacts these street-level hoods, whose homes aren’t palatial Long Island estates but instead cramped Brooklyn apartments, shotgun houses in Queens, or residences shared with mothers or—as Henry Hill so dreads—mothers-in-law.
Could any movie feature a better tribute to motherhood than Scorsese featuring his own dear mother as she beautifully ad-libs her way through an entertaining scene opposite Goodfellas‘ three leads, dissecting deer anatomy, Sicilian parables, and amateur art. Of course, this delicious sequence that could be snipped from any Italian-American’s everyday life is sandwiched between two of the most arguably “gangster” moments in Goodfellas, chronicling the real-life murder of Gambino family soldier William “Billy Batts” Bentvana in June 1970.
“No more shines, Billy”
Scored by The Crystals celebrating their ode to the boy they love, Henry Hills is hosting a return party at his Queens nightclub The Suite for the recently paroled Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), a loudmouthed wiseguy whose ill-fitting clothes and pencil-thin mustache are as anachronistic as his sense of Tommy’s reputation. After Tommy swaggers into this joint with Lisa, an essentially anonymous goomar with whom he plans to settle down for the night, Batts loudly needles the young man he only remembered for his gift with a shoeshine box. Several drinks deep, Batts has no patience for Tommy’s prideful protests and, after an uneasy and only seconds-long peace, Batts assures his destruction by profanely demanding that Tommy “go home and get your fuckin’ shinebox!”
Tommy’s fury can barely be contained as Henry and Jimmy usher him from the bar, with Jimmy making an unacknowledged mental note of Tommy’s demand to “keep him here!”, all while Batts eggs on the “fuckin’ feelstrong” Tommy. Hours later (in real life, it was more like two weeks), Jimmy has indeed lulled Batts into a sense of security, as the puffy-coiffed mobster drunkenly pontificates about what he’s earned in his post-prison life, unaware of the fact that Tommy has returned, seething in the doorway. Henry sprints over to diffuse the situation, but this is Jimmy and Tommy’s game now and, as Donovan sings about joining his antediluvian baby in the submerged continent of Atlantis, the two hoods viciously beat Batts: Jimmy with an almost professional efficiency to his kicks, while Tommy approaches the task with the savage passion we’d expect of one exacting personal vengeance.
“I settle down almost every night but in the morning I’m free, I love you!”
With Henry now more exposed to the murderous side of the Mafia than he’d ever been, Jimmy and Tommy have Batts loaded into the trunk of Henry’s Grand Prix and begin searching for a place to deposit the wiseguy to avoid retribution from the Gambino crew, which would almost certainly result in the trio’s respective execution. Much as they did in real life, they make a late stop at Tommy’s mother’s home for a shovel, but this is where they are treated to more than they bargained for when Mrs. DeVito insists they join her for an early breakfast.
One of the most memorable scenes in a movie full of them, the subsequent meal was almost totally improvised, from Tommy’s seemingly innocuous request to borrow his mother’s butcher knife (“bring it back though, you know,” she responds) and their attempts to discern whether or not it’s this fictitious deer’s paw or—as Jimmy corrects—the hoof that needs to be extracted from the Grand Prix’s grille. David Chase has stated that this scene was a major influence on The Sopranos, balancing the brutality of the gangsters’ world with the dark hilarity derived from everyday life.
The only part of this scene that was scripted, according to a January 1989 shooting draft, was Tommy’s mother showing her painting to the group, though no mention is made beyond that. According to the blog mrgodfrey, the painting had actually been crafted by Goodfellas co-writer Nicholas Pileggi’s mother, a reinterpretation of Adam Woolfitt’s photo included in the November 1978 issue of National Geographic that features “one dog goes one way, and the other dog goes the other way… and this guy’s saying, ‘whaddya want from me?'” as Tommy so eloquently observes.
What’d He Wear?
“Watch the suit, watch the suit,” Tommy not-too-playfully chides Billy Batts, unknowingly striking the dangerous match that would result in both of their demises. Like many others in his crew, Tommy dresses to tell the world that he’s a gangster.
The suit that Tommy hopes to protect from Batts’ gregarious grasp appears to be one of his more conservative ones, made from a tasteful dark gray wool with a subtle sheen but nowhere near the silky finish of some of the eye-catching silks that resemble the “fuckin’ mirrors” of Spitshine Tommy’s previous work.
The suit was smartly tailored for Joe Pesci’s short and stocky 5’4″ frame, with a single-breasted jacket conventionally styled with notch lapels and a two-button front. Roped at the shoulders, the sleeves are finished with three “kissing” buttons at each cuff. The ventless jacket also has straight jetted hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, where Tommy wears a tonal gray silk pocket square.
Both during the Batts murder and after seemingly changing at his mother’s house, Tommy wears a grayish light blue shirt with a sheen suggesting high-twist cotton, perhaps an end-on-end construction of slate and white thread. We know that killing Batts splashed blood on Tommy’s collar and cuffs, which appear clean during the breakfast… so did Mrs. DeVito wash her son’s bloody shirt and dry it in time for him to wear it for their meal together? Or did he just swap out his murder shirt for a nearly identical one at his mother’s house?
Either way, the shirt features the spearpoint collar that has become a staple of gangsters in the Scorsese-verse, supposedly recalled from the director’s memories of “neighborhood guys” during his formative years in Queens and Little Italy during the ’40s and ’50s. The collar may have been anachronistic by Goodfellas‘ setting through the ’60s and ’70s, but the style was already niche to begin with and it makes sense that the loud-dressing wiseguys would still have shirts made with these distinctive collars with their razor-sharp points that suggest an inherent danger… like that of an equally sharp butcher knife plunged into one’s gut.
Tommy’s shirt has a front placket, breast pocket, and double (French) cuffs that he fastens with a set of round silver links, each detailed with a small black enamel-filled circle that he positions at the top of each disc.
Tommy’s brutality against Batts also ruins his tie, which had been a pale-yellow silk detailed with a Deco-inspired diamond print comprised of a small rust-colored square rotated 45° positioned over his upper chest, with its lowest point touching the top point of a slightly larger square comprised of much smaller black squares, which itself balances atop a much larger cream-colored square.
Tommy’s matching gray wool suit trousers have a medium-high rise to Pesci’s natural waist, positioned right at the jacket’s buttoning point. The single reverse-facing pleats would have been increasingly out of fashion by the following decade, though they would have given their stocky wearer some additional roominess through his thighs.
The trousers also have vertical side pockets and a relatively full fit through the legs down the slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms. Tommy holds them up with a black leather belt that likely also serves as additional tension to keep that snub-nosed .38 revolver firmly in place against his waistband until he’s ready to draw it.
The belt leather coordinates with his favorite black leather cowboy boots, an idiosyncratic choice to wear with his suit but likely chosen as Tommy’s go-to footwear for the added height that would be an asset for a man whose occupation relies on his ability to intimidate… not to mention that these boots wouldn’t dent as easily as Jimmy’s lace-up shoes when they’re both kicking the life out of a hardy gangster.
Tommy’s gold jewelry is limited to his left hand, including a diamond ring on his pinky and an elegantly simple gold wristwatch with a round, light-colored dial detailed with non-numeric hour markers and strapped around his left wrist on a gold bracelet.
“I wanna shoot him in his big fuckin’ mouth… I wanna shoot him,” Tommy mutters, until a deflective swing from his pal Jimmy sends the snub-nosed .38 flying from his hand, bouncing across the floor of The Suite with such force that it seemingly breaks the gun apart, knocking the entire five-shot cylinder free from the rest of the gun.
The firearm itself appears to be a Smith & Wesson Model 36, the small-framed “Chiefs Special” as it was named following a vote at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in 1950, when Smith & Wesson introduced it to the world. The short-barreled revolver was intended as an easily concealed “belly gun” for detectives and plainclothes policemen, downscaled for accessible carry with only five rounds in the cylinder, as opposed to six rounds of larger-sized “snubbies” like the Colt Detective Special. The Model 36 made up for its relatively low capacity by firing the venerated .38 Special cartridge, a round that Smith & Wesson had introduced a half-century earlier and had been time-tested as an American police standard by the time the Chiefs Special was introduced in the ’50s.
Despite their intended association with law enforcement, the Smith & Wesson Model 36 evidently found favor on both sides of the legal system, favored by cops and criminals alike as depicted in Goodfellas as a trusty piece wielded frequently by Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry.
How to Get the Look
“All dressed up! All grown up and doin’ the town,” Billy Batts observes of Tommy DeVito and—while the evening doesn’t exactly go in Batts’ favor—Tommy could have at least appreciated that he had the desired effect in his sharp duds, blending a tastefully traditional gray business suit with the signatures of gangster attire like his sharp spearpoint-collar shirt, the low-contrast silk tie, and a gilted diamond pinky ring that echoes his wristwatch.
- Gray wool tailored suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 2-button “turnback” cuffs, and ventless back
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light slate-blue dress shirt with long “spearpoint” collar, front placket, breast pocket, and double/French cuffs
- Silver round cuff links with small black enamel-filled circle
- Pale-yellow silk tie with triple Deco-inspired diamond print
- Black leather belt
- Black leather cowboy boots
- Gold watch with round white dial (with non-numeric hour markers) on gold bracelet
- Gold diamond pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I didn’t wanna get blood on your floor.