As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
So says Ray Liotta, playing mid-level wiseguy Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990). The camera pushes in and freezes on his face as “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett fills our ears. Thus begins one of the greatest films ever printed on celluloid.
Goodfellas went from an unheralded theatrical mob flick from a director who hadn’t struck gold since the 1970s to an absolute smash on home video. First it became a cult classic. Now it’s just classic.
Goodfellas gave Liotta main-character energy after his tear-jerking supporting turn as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams (1989) opposite Kevin Costner. Through Hill – a mobster-turned-FBI-informant – he narrates Scorsese’s action-packed, foul-mouthed, infinitely rewatchable tour of the world of the New York and New Jersey mob scene. He’s there for the culture, the food, the money, the drugs … and the watches. Throughout the film, Hill wears only gold timepieces – though one particular blue-chip Swiss piece makes a surprise appearance.
Why We’re Watching
Last Friday, tragic news hit the wires that Ray Liotta passed away unexpectedly, in his sleep, while on location for an upcoming film. Needless to say, the greater moviegoing public was shocked. At age 67, he was still very much a working actor. Most recently, he appeared in the Sopranos prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, as twins Sally and “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti. But he will always be remembered for his role as Henry Hill. When it came to a movie to feature this week, and an actor to honor, this was a no-brainer.
Goodfellas follows Hill and his cohorts Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) as they rise through the ranks in the greater mob world, pulling off heists and falling deeper into the dark, coke-soaked depths of life in crime.
It takes place, predominantly, in the ’70s – when everybody wore some kind of watch, and pretty much every gangster in every scene is wearing one. Hill’s character appears to be a genuine enthusiast (he would’ve been all over our comment section @KarensHusband), sporting what looks to be three different timepieces on his right wrist – all in gangsterish yellow gold.
For the majority of the movie, Hill appears to wear an offbeat gold-toned Seiko on an equally gold bracelet. This looks to be the Seiko Quartz SQ (possibly the model 7813) with white dial and Seiko SQ branding near six o’clock. It is hard to tell if this watch has the SQ day-date complication but it looks like Liotta is wearing this on a gold bracelet that is different from the OEM option. This is the kind of watch born during what many refer to as the Quartz Crisis. It’s a wearable, set-it-and-forget-it piece that doesn’t break the bank but allows you to stunt just enough in front of your friends without raising the suspicions of the FBI.
But everyone gets sloppy sometimes. Near the end of the film we see Hill briefly wearing a Rolex Day-Date in yellow gold. It’s basically a “blink and you miss it” moment. This watch, unmistakable with its fluted bezel and iconic President bracelet, appears shortly after Hill and his pals have gotten deep into the cocaine game. I like to think it was purchased in a moment of weakness, when Hill was really feeling himself, watching the money pour in.
As for the third watch, it’s a square gold timepiece with a champagne dial on a leather strap that Hill wears for most of the first and second act. If you think you can spot this one, let me know in the comments.
When We’re Watching
As mentioned, the Day-Date’s screen time is brief, but its scene is pivotal: In a celebratory moment backed by Darlene Love’s “Christmas,” we see Conway slip Hill a little extra money from the infamous Lufthansa Heist. We then cut to Hill at home with “the most expensive” fake Christmas tree. As he hugs and kisses his wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), we get a quick close-up of this special Rolex Day-Date. If only it got the Scorsese freeze-frame.
The final 30 minutes of Goodfellas is a coked-up anxiety trip as we follow a-day-in-the-life of a paranoid Henry Hill just before being busted by the feds. We listen as he narrates and watch as he goes about his day – cooking up a batch of ziti, driving around suburbia, and looking skyward for a helicopter he believes is following him. The soundtrack changes songs constantly to match the frenetic pace. In a particularly drugged-out, helicopter-gazing moment (with Harry Nilsson blasting on the stereo), we see Hill cruising in his Coupe de Ville. His hands are on the wheel and we get a view of what looks to be the Seiko SQ 7813. Who knows what became of the Rolex? Maybe he took it off while cooking. After all, you can’t get red sauce on the President.
Goodfellas (starring Ray Liotta) is directed by Martin Scorsese with props by Robert Griffon Jr. It is available to rent or buy on iTunes and Amazon.
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HODINKEE is an authorized retailer of Seiko watches; and the HODINKEE Shop features a selection of pre-owned and vintage Rolex timepieces.