It’s one of the most beloved movies in a storied career: Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas turned 30 last year, and its seductive, poisoned depiction of the criminal life remains as popular as always. (It even inspired a viral supercut of Jan. 6 rioters being rounded up by the feds.) But one of its most iconic parts wasn’t easy to pull off. If you’ve ever marveled at that tricky nightclub long take, then know that the first take was a failure — but only at the end.
The shot, which runs just over three minutes, follows Ray Liott’s Henry Hill as he takes Lorraine Bracco’s Karen, on their first proper date, through the bowels of the Copacabana, the legendary Times Square nightclub that closed last year. It starts outside, on the street, then taking an exclusive, VIP entrance: down some stairs, through the kitchen, then into the main room, where they’re immediately given a front-row seat to watch comedian Henny Youngman (as himself).
It’s a doozy of a long take, not with lots of movement but also tons of moving parts, including actors and extras. But as Liotta revealed during an interview on The Rich Eisen Show (as caught by The Hollywood Reporter), the first take almost went off without a hitch — until there was, at the last second, a hitch.
“There’s like 100 extras, we’re going through the kitchen, we’ve got a guy picking up the table and all of a sudden, we’re in the center of this thing,” Liotta explained. “She says, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m in construction.’ And then it goes up to Henny Youngman. And after all that, he forgot his lines. He forgot his own jokes. So we had to do it again because the whole thing was one shot.”
Luckily Youngman was able to pull himself together, and cinema was gifted with one of the finest long takes in history.
You can watch the incredible shot in the video above. As for the Liotta interview, you can watch it below.