Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Goodfellas: Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Hugo Black, Joe Pesci, Mama, Daddy, Jesus

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, March 21, 2010

Though it was nominated for several categories, only One Oscar emerged from the 1990 Martin Scorsese-directed film Goodfellas, which is the internal award those in the film and motion picture production industry give themselves. Joe Pesci, playing the character Tommy DeVito, won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Goodfellas.

Robert DeNiro, whom played the Irish character James “Jimmy” Conway, and Ray Liotta, whom played Irish-Italian protagonist Henry Hill, and Paul Sorvino, whom played the character of the local Lucchese family mob boss Paul Cicero, neither won any such acclaim or coveted award.

Based on the book and screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi, the story circulates around the fictitious character Henry Hill, whom as a 1955 youth began his life of crime, first with skipping school to park cars for nefarious Lucchese mob family members in his Brooklyn, New York City neighborhood, and gradually progressing into a full-fledged mobster.

Desiring a life of crime, Henry Hill understands becoming a “made man,” is a difficult obstacle he must overcome to become a full-fledged member of the Lucchese crime family. Yet his criminal mentor Jimmy Conway, whom is Paul Cicero’s close associate, can neither become a “made man,” because of his Irish heritage.

With Paul Cicero’s blessing, Jimmy Conway puts Henry Hill and Tommy DeVito together, and they become fast friends, and criminal compatriots.

As the story develops the characters, Henry meets and falls in love with Karen Friedman, described as a “no-nonsense Jewish girl,” and they eventually marry and have children.

Throughout the film, the strength and close-knit nature of the criminal companions and their families is demonstrated. The men work their various criminal enterprises together, their wives shop together, their children attend school and play with each other, and their families visit, dine and vacation together. The men are in constant contact with each other, and so are their wives and children. The strength of their bond is observed as a natural by-product of their consistent fellowship.

Eventually, Henry Hill cultivates a mistress named Janice Rossi, played by the late Gina Mastrogiacomo, and begins lavishing attention and money upon her, even putting her up in an extravagant apartment. That means, of course, that he is staying away from his wife Karen and their children for extended periods of time. During one of the increasingly rare times Henry comes home, he falls asleep on their bed and upon his awakening, finds himself confronted by an angry and disgruntled Karen, whom holds a loaded .38 caliber snub-nosed pistol to his face.

This natural tension created by Henry Hill’s adulterous abandonment of his family is plainly evidenced in the extended crime families, leading Paul Cicero and Jimmy Conway to confront Henry Hill whom is again staying with his mistresses, after he left his distraught and angry wife.

Scene: In Henry Hill’s mistress (Janice Rossi) apartment. Henry has been staying away from his family at his girlfriend’s apartment, which he established, for extended periods, and been doing so for quite some time. Jimmy Conway and Paul Cicero knock on the door. Henry invites them in.

The following dialogue ensues:

Paul Cicero: (seated in chair) Karen came to the house. (HH sits on girlfriend’s sofa – JC stands) She’s very upset. This is no good. You gotta’ straighten this thing out.

Jimmy Conway: (interrupting) Now, now, calm down. You understand we don’t know what the hell she’s gonna do. She’s getting all hysterical she gets very excited.

PC: She’s wild. And you… you gotta’ take it easy, you got children. I’m not saying you gotta’ go back there this minute, but you gotta’ go back. It’s the only way. You gotta’ keep up appearances.

JC: Hey, we got the two of ’em coming over to the house every day, commiserating. The two of them… I can’t have it. Can’t have it. I can’t do it. You, you… I can’t… It… It…

PC: Nobody says you can’t do what you want to do.

JC: Yeah, do what you want to do. We don’t know that. I mean… This is what it is, okay? You know what it is. You have to do the right thing. You have to go home, to the family. You understand? You gotta’ go home. Okay? Look at me. You gotta’ go home. Smarten up. Alright?

Henry Hill: Yeah.

PC: Alright. I’m gonna’ talk to Karen. I’ll straighten this thing out. I know just what to say to her. Okay? I’m gonna’ tell her you’re gonna’ go back to her and everything’s gonna’ be just the way it was you were first married. There’s gonna be romance, it’s gonna’ be beautiful. I know how to talk to her, especially to her. In the mean time, Jimmy and Tommy are going down to Tampa this weekend to pick up something for me. Instead, you go with Jimmy.

JC: Yeah, you come with me, and we’ll go down there, okay?

PC: Have a good time. Take some time for yourself. Relax. Sit in the sun. Take a couple of days off. Enjoy yourselves. And when you come back, you go back to Karen. Alright? Please. There’s no other way. You’re not gonna’ get a divorce. We’re not _?(unintelligible)?_ here.

JC: She’ll never divorce him. She’ll kill him, but she won’t divorce him.

PC: Yeah.

While in no way am I attempting to endorse the criminal nature of the motion picture’s fictitious characters, I would like to use the previous scene as an illustration of something I believe lacking in modern culture.

What the viewers of the motion picture witnessed in that scene were three men, each so intimate with one another in such a real, and very tangible way, that they, in their characteristic non-invasive, non-violent, yet compelling manner told Henry, without reservation or equivocation, what he must do.

They felt what could only be described as such a compelling interest in their criminal colleague Henry Hill’s life, that they intervened.

Acknowledging that “nobody says you can’t do what you want to do,” they understood the nature of free will, and did not want to violate it. Yet they simultaneously acknowledged that Henry Hill had made a free will public vow, which he was openly flouting. It was causing them pain and consternation. Henry Hill’s selfish and reckless disregard for his family, and extended criminal family represented potential disaster for them.

Granted, they had self interest. After all, they were family. Yet isn’t togetherness a defining characteristic of family?

Today, in our “personal privacy” oriented culture, we are reticent to become involved in lives of our own family members, much less the lives of our colleagues, co-workers, fellow parishioners, and neighbors.


They suffer the same as we do, and similarly rejoice as do we. It’s not as if we or they are alien to us, and therefore unable to be known or understood. We grow up with, attend work, school, and leisure activities together, and we shop at the same stores, and live closely linked lives, linked even closer still by the very fact that we are joined together in a community. The word itself means “with unity,” “in the spirit of one-ness,” or “as if one.” We live in a United States of America, not a divided loose conglomeration of neighborhoods, under a heading of city, county, state, region and nation.

I’m neither advocating that one should invite others into the privacy of the marriage bed or any similar notion, yet I am recognizing that were we to take a more vested interest in our own lives that we would become involved also in the lives of others. Not as busy-bodies, but as collaborators, co-creators, and colleagues, whose primary objective is the strengthening of human relationship.

In our society, though it is not specifically mentioned, we have construed a right to privacy in our Constitution. Recognizing also that our Constitution specifically mentions that we have rights not specifically enumerated, I am not denigrating that right of privacy, but am instead realizing and recognizing that we have taken and used that right as an excuse to divide ourselves, to separate and distance ourselves from each other, all the while cultivating a “who gave you the right” attitude that takes offense at others whom seek to intervene in our lives, particularly in times of our individual waywardness or error.

The development of our right to privacy emerged, interestingly enough, from Griswold v Connecticut, a 1965 Supreme Court Case which challenged the state’s 1879 criminalizing of a married couple’s use of contraceptive devices. Appellants were the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut and its Medical Director, a licensed physician convicted as accessories for giving married persons information and medical advice on how to prevent conception, and following an examination prescribing a contraceptive device or material for the wife’s use. Connecticut statute made it illegal for any person to use any such device or article to prevent conception.

One of two dissenting Associate Justices (Potter Stewart was the other), Hugo Black, an Alabama Democrat appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, foresaw great problems emerging from that decision, which he stated would eventually be used to justify all sorts of behavior deleterious to society, including criminal. Black wrote that, “I like my privacy as well as the next [man], but I am nevertheless compelled to admit that government has a right to invade it unless prohibited by some specific constitutional provision.” He wrote further that, “The right of association is for me a right of assembly and the right of a husband and wife to assemble in bed is a new right of assembly to me.

Writing notes upon early drafts of his dissenting opinion prepared by clerks, Justice Black annotated in one such piece that “‘Privacy’ is not in my judgment the test under the 4th Amendment.

Justice Black wrote that his dissent from the seven member majority in the Griswold case was “the most difficult I have ever tried to write. I found that law abhorrent, just viciously evil, but not unconstitutional.

Described as the “most remarkable Supreme Court justice of the 20th century” Hugo Black was to some, a curious justice insofar as he neither was nor took an “interpretist” or “literalist” approach to the Constitution, and unashamedly reviewed legislation that some argued violated Constitutional principles, and therefore was labeled by some as “activist.” Yet he wrote in his 1971 concurring decision in McGautha v California that, “Although some people have urged that this Court should amend the Constitution by interpretation to keep it abreast of modern ideas, I have never believed that lifetime judges in our system have any such legislative power.” (Concurring opinion of Justice Hugo Black, McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971))

His views on the First Amendment are especially renown, and of the principle espoused by the Constitution’s framers he wrote,”Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each wave of new judges blown in by each successive political wind.” Writing also that “The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have [to] bare the secrets of government and inform the people,” he also acknowledged the role of a free press in the process of keeping government honest.

Though I think some of the previous may represent a digression, I shared it to illustrate that Justice Black was contrarian and obstructionist to some, while accommodating and facilitating to others. He was rarely where some thought they might find him, and always ahead of others. Justice Black penned two autobiographical pieces “Reminiscences,” for the Alabama Law Review (Fall 1965), and, with his wife, Mr. Justice and Mrs. Black: The Memoirs of Hugo L. Black and Elizabeth Black (1986).

Before his death, Justice Black left instructions that his personal notes on and for judicial conferences be burned upon his death, and his request was honored. His thought process on many issues might be still largely unknown were it not for the Library of Congress which houses the Hugo Lafayette Black Papers, which is a collection of correspondence, unfiled opinions, annotated drafts of subsequently published opinions, and Supreme Court memoranda.

What I would like the readers to take with them after having read this, is a sense of family, wherein the strength and of the bond of family, from which flows unity, which is community. And if we are all members one of another, it behooves us all to so speak into other’s lives, yet that also means that we must open ourselves up to others, as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: