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Book Review: Wiseguy

Last week I read Wiseguy, a book from the 1980s that recounts the story of a Mafia wiseguy named Henry Hill. If that name sounds familiar it is because Henry Hill is the character played by the late, great Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, one of my favorite movies. It includes one of the most famous and funniest scenes in the history of cinema….

I amuse you?

Joe Pesci is not a very convincing tough guy but still a funny movie.

The movie is pretty close to the book, including some well known scenes, so as I was reading I was seeing scenes from the movie in my head like when Henry beats up Karen’s neighbor and then tells her to hide the gun. It was still an enjoyable read and a reminder that the movie was based on real gangsters. I might read Henry Hill’s follow-up book if I can find it somewhere to download.

What really was interesting to me was not the killings but just how much money these guys were bringing in and then promptly pissing away. They would score tens of thousands in the 1970s in a couple of days, and that was a lot of money, and then blow it all in weekend before doing it all over again. You could have done what they did for a year or two, been frugal and ended up with millions in cash but that wasn’t how they worked. I guess the kind of people drawn to that sort of life are not the kind of people who save their money.

It was a quick and easy read, a nice book for a rainy day or to kill some time on the weekends. There is nothing profound or earth shattering in it but that isn’t really the point.


  1. Anonymous

    The real Henry Hill was no suave pretty boy like Ray Liotta. I watched an interview with him years ago and he was one fugly dawg. And none too bright, either. The Feds squirreled him away in the witness protection program, but his ego was too damned big to remain anonymous and he ended up outing himself.

    I grew up in Queens in the 70s and 80s when the city was riddled with Italian mobsters and hangers-on. It was more comical than anything else, as the baker, the barber and the green grocer were all mobbed up, strutting around like mini-me Corleones, most of them towering all of 5′ 5″ tall. One of my childhood friends was from such a family, and his father left for “work” every day in his huge black Cadillac, wearing a double-breasted suit and felt fedora, while most everyone else’s Dad wore coveralls and work boots. They lived in the nicest house in the area, and all anyone knew of the man’s career was that he worked in “paper cups”, whatever the hell that meant. In any event, no one ever asked.

  2. Lord of the Fleas

    I tend to think that Joe Pesci IS a pretty convincing tough guy, but for damn sure he’s a very convincing psychopath. And his character Tommy DeVito was just that. (Pretty sure my favourite scene in the film is where Tommy gets whacked.)

    • Steve

      Seeing Tommy’s portrayal brought back some very bad memories of my early days as a naive programmer from the sticks who came to the city to make it. I thought some of the coding I was being asked for was odd, but the pay was great, and in cash. Then I heard the rumors of what happened to their last programmer who apparently got sloppy drunk and ran his mouth. The guy I was working for was a lot like Peschi’s character, but who had had a bad case of acne as a kid.

    • Jeffrey Zoar

      A friend of mine used to be very mob connected back in the day, on the gambling side of things. He knew the real life Tommy DeSimone, on whom the Joe Pesci character Tommy DeVito was based. He told me the movie didn’t do justice to how crazy the guy was. I can’t remember his exact words, but I think it was something like “3 times as crazy.”

  3. Don Curton

    I remember thinking, while watching Donnie Brasco, that it was one of the first mob movies that really showed how pathetic the guys really were. They had a club but it was really just a run down bar with no customers. The scene where Al Pacino is futzing around trying to open up a parking meter to steal the change inside and can’t get it open. I mean, WTF? Those meters might hold 5 bucks worth of dimes? That’s worth his time? They drive around in Caddies but have to constantly hustle small shit just to pay bills. The constant pretend honor and respect bullshit for what were really just street level thugs.

  4. Bean Dip Tray

    I love the JP Nicky Santoro scene where he threatens the bankster.
    Later the glowy BOI’s landed on the golf course.
    Also the scene where calls DeNirostein you Joo MOFO you and stinky boot scene with cowboy boots up on the table.
    Who can forget the head in the vice interrogation scene.
    Things ran a lot better when the mob was in charge and JFK should’ve never crossed them.

  5. Alex Lund

    According to Michael Franzese, Ex-Capo of the Mob, Joe Pesci is the perfect actor when it comes to portraying a Made Man. He makes videos on youtube about Mob-themes.

  6. Lord of the Fleas

    Bit of trivia about that “Funny How?” scene you embedded above.

    Martin Scorcese arranged things so that ONLY Pesci and Liotta knew the script and what was going on in that scene. Everyone else had no idea. He wanted to see the ACTUAL reactions of the other actors, who didn’t know if a real fight was going to break out or what. And it worked. Brilliant directing.

  7. Mahtomedi

    That scene wasn’t in the screenplay/script. Joe Pesci told Martin Scorsese about witnessing such a happening in real life, and thought it might fit the movie. Scorsese gave him the go-ahead to try it. The rest is film history.

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