Robert De Niro is being lauded for elevating the grim nature of Killers of the Flower Moon through his portrayal of William Hale. Meanwhile, director Martin Scorsese is being showered with praises for giving the veteran actor the platform to deliver one of the best performances of his career.
However, this isn’t the first time the pair has collaborated to maximize each other’s creative potential. In fact, this was their 10th feature film together since 1973. This list includes iconic movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Casino. We’ll not dare to pick the best movie from the pack. Instead, we take a look at one specific scene in Goodfellas that highlights the genius of Scorsese and his powerful understanding of De Niro’s on-screen presence, so much so that he didn’t even need the script to be finished to envision everything.
How Martin Scorsese Produced an Iconic Scene Involving Robert De Niro in Goodfellas
Robert De Niro played the role of James Conway in Goodfellas, the crime drama revolving around Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his mob partners Jimmy and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). As Jimmy and Henry make their way up the mob hierarchy, they take part in a heist at Lufthansa airport, stealing more than $5 million.
The aftermath of this heist brings out the best (and the most fierce) version of De Niro’s character and it all starts with a scene of Jimmy standing in a bar, smoking a cigarette and giving a death stare – with the song Sunshine of Your Love by Cream further elevating the moment.
In the next scene, Henry narrates, “That’s when I knew Jimmy was gonna whack Morrie.” But fans already knew his intentions from that powerful cinematic moment in the bar. The whole sequence ends up conveying what De Niro’s character was going to do from thereon: become a bloodthirsty maniac due to his fear of getting caught because of his crew’s lavish spending and his greed to eat their shares.
“We were writing this scene where De Niro is standing at the bar with a cigarette. As I’m typing that stuff, [Scorsese] says ‘Put in Cream.’ I said, ‘What cream?’ He says, ‘Just write that, write down Cream.’ I was like ‘what cream, what are you talking about?’ and he goes, ‘Just put it, just put it, do me a favour, just put it.’ So I type in ‘cream,’ and while we’re typing the scene [Scorsese] is already listening to the music.”
Scorsese added that he saw that gleam in De Niro’s eyes and synced that to the guitar, and churned out one of the most powerful cinematic moments.
A Martin Scorsese Movie Starring Robert De Niro Was Once Called the Flop of the Year
That scene was just the cherry on top of a beautiful piece of art that Goodfellas is widely viewed as. The movie was also a box office success at the time, grossing $47 million. However, not every Scorsese and De Niro collaboration has always received high praise.
In the early 80s, the pair worked together for The King of Comedy, wherein De Niro played Rupert Pupkin, a passionate comic who’s obsessed with fame. The movie failed to impress the critics of the time. Recalling that experience, the acclaimed filmmaker said (via The Hollywood Reporter):
“We went and did King of Comedy and we were attacked for that and the film was considered the flop of the year at Entertainment Tonight. On New Year’s Eve, I was putting on my tie and I look over in this TV and they said, ‘Now the flop of the year’ and a curtain opened and it was King of Comedy. [But by then] the whole of Hollywood had turned against that kind of filmmaking.”
The movie collected only around $2 million, and about a month after its release, Universal pulled it from cinemas.