It may have told the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), but the character everyone remembers from Goodfellas was the wildly unhinged gangster Tommy DeVito, portrayed by Joe Pesci. Short-tempered and fast-talking, he and Henry had worked together since they were kids selling cigarettes out of the back of a truck for Jimmy (Robert De Niro). Everyone in the neighborhood knew he was a ‘bad seed,’ but because he was a goodfella, they simply looked the other way — for a while. Eventually, Tommy’s wild and impulsive reputation damned him, but despite that grim end, there’s a lot to love about this outsized character. So, to celebrate Tommy, let’s look at some of his best lines and maybe gain some inspiration for when you need to get a little wild and a little impulsive. Just don’t fly off the handle if someone gives you a compliment and maybe look the other way if they tell you to get your shine box, okay?
“How the f*ck am I funny?”
You know the scene: Tommy, who had everyone hanging on his every word, gets told by Henry that he’s a funny guy. In turn, Tommy questions what he means while growing increasingly hostile each time he asks, turning the laughter that had filled the room into an increasingly uncomfortable silence.
You may ache to get the same response next time you trot out this line, but while you can work to nail Pesci’s delivery and hone your poker face, there’s no one on earth who doesn’t know where these words come from and no way people aren’t going to laugh in your face. So keep a hold of your temper.
“Where’s the strongbox, you f*ckin’ varmint?”
There’s a few examples of Tommy’s fondness for Westerns sprinkled throughout Goodfellas. While this isn’t the most well known example, him calling the driver of the truck he was hijacking a varmint may be the most unusual. Remember, if you’re planning on going a little crazy anyway, don’t be afraid to make it your own.
“Hey, what do you like, the leg or the wing, Henry? Or ya still go for the old hearts and lungs?”
When you spend a lifetime in the mafia, burying bodies seems to become an inevitability — as does occasionally digging them up. Just when Henry starts to feel a little queasy, Tommy makes this quip after teasing him about the meal his mother was making them afterward. Don’t forget, acting a little crazy can require one to act a little snarky from time to time.
“What the f*ck are you doing? You’re hanging around my f*ckin’ neck like a vulture, like impending danger.”
A hard lesson learned by Sonny (Tony Darrow) is when you have to talk to Tommy, don’t sneak up on him. Also, don’t interrupt him. Maybe just try to avoid talking to Tommy altogether. Especially if it’s about his bill.
“I’m a good shot. What do you want from me?”
There are a lot of ways to respond when you screw up. After Spider (Michael Imperioli) makes the mistake of telling off Tommy while limping around with a bandage on his foot that Tommy had previously shot, he learns the high price of courage when in Tommy’s presence. Inexplicably the voice of reason, Jimmy — himself a psychopath, albeit a more restrained one — berates Tommy for flying off the handle and killing the kid. Tommy, realizing he’s in the hot seat, shows the same level of concern as he did when he merely shot Spider in the foot, instead taking the opportunity to brag about his shooting skills. Which are, you know, really good.
“In this day and age? What’s the f*ckin’ world coming to?”
Despite all his thieving and murder, the true moral outrage comes when Tommy tells Henry that a woman he’s interested in dating happens to be prejudiced against Italians.
“…I didn’t want to get blood on your floor.”
And, finally, we have Tommy at his most cordial, which comes moments after his very poorly thought-out response to Billy Batts’ (Frank Vincent) teasing him about his days as a shoeshine kid. As they hastily clean up the evidence, Tommy’s concern suddenly shifts to the mess he’s made on Jimmy’s floor. It’s all at once thoughtful and inappropriate — both of which are key factors in going just a little crazy during the holiday season. Though, as Tommy’s saga ultimately proves, it’s best to tamp down your rage and resist the urge to bludgeon an old acquaintance to death.
Hope you enjoyed our look back at Goodfellas. Our friends at Warner Bros. asked us to remind readers that the Goodfellas 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is available for purchase here.