Cinema Slap Fight: Scarface vs. Goodfellas
The world is yours, you schnook.
In which the classics of Tinseltown are reduced to a series of perfunctory bullet points.
Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, or hasn't for a whole week now, at least. If you recall, our first installment found two beloved comedies of yesteryear - Real Genius and Better Off Dead - squaring off against each other, with the former narrowly eking out a victory.
In the second of our series of throwdowns between selected pairings of movies, actors, soundtracks and whatever else I can put together after spending 18 hours playing Saints Row 2, "Cinema Slap Fight" takes two classic third generation Mob movies - Scarface and Goodfellas, and sets them loose to say hello to each other's little friends.
And Yet: Scarface remains aggressively popular in the hip-hop community and with wannabe gangsters. Watch any episode of MTV Cribs, somebody's got a Scarface poster up in his rumpus room, or whatever you call the place with the cribbage board and the bottle of Lancers these days. I always found it curious that ersatz criminals would choose for their standard bearer a mentally unbalanced dude with an unhealthy fixation on his younger sister and an unprofessional inability to resist his own product.
Better that than a rat like Henry Hill, I guess.
Quotability Part of Scarface's lingering appeal is in Tony Montana's apparent lack of filter between brain and mouth. But even among his more vulgar offerings, it's understandable why so many have taken inspiration from his words:
"I'm Tony Montana! You fuck with me, you fuckin' with the best!"
"You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!"
"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."
"All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don't break them for no one."
Crude, yes, but strangely affecting. Like if Zig Ziglar had Tourette's.
Goodfellas is a classic, but while there are a few choice lines ("Go home and get your fucking shine box"), the film's strength of dialogue derives more from that particularly profane brand of Scorsesian interplay. Maybe it's because the film is based on Henry Hill's autobiography, but Goodfellas depends less on declarative elements and more actual, you know, conversation.
Then again, there's always this:
Legacy: 20+ years after the fact, Goodfellas is rightfully held up alongside Raging Bull as one of Scorsese's best works and one of the greatest mob movies of all time. It's also widely acknowledged that awarding the Academy Award for Best Picture to Dances With Wolves instead was a mistake. As a cinematic achievement, its legacy is secure.
But in terms of popular cultural influence, I have to give the edge to Scarface: the lingering popularity in the music industry (Houston's own Geto Boys relied heavily on the film for samples), for one thing, along with its role - well, and TV's Miami Vice's role - in shaping popular perceptions of South Florida and the Cuban émigré community, for good or ill. For what it's worth, Pacino calls Tony Montana one of his favorite roles.
For sure, he does a pretty decent Cuban accent, which helps distract from the fact that only one of the actors (Steven Bauer as Manny) was of actual Cuban descent. I mean, Robert Loggia as "Frank Lopez?" Come on.
The Champion: Popular impact has to go to Scarface (the "Goodfeathers" from Animaniacs notwithstanding), but the better movie, in a walk, is Goodfellas.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.