Wednesday, 13 June 2012


What were the odds that the mob rat Henry Hill would die of natural causes, or out of jail? He beat those odds pretty well, which was my original lede for the obituary which is up at the Guardian online (you can link to it here) and which you might see in tomorrow's paper paper.

What's published is cut considerably from what I wrote: the paper asked for colour and it was hard to resist including many of the details of Hill's escapades, already familiar from Scorsese's Goodfellas. In the film the execution of Billy Batts is played for an almost surreal humour, and as I say is indeed the centrepiece of Scorsese's film. In some ways I think it's the best of his gangster pictures, which is another aspect of my original that got cut back: but certainly it's important to realilse that even the hypocritical notion of 'the Family' found it hard to survive through the 'me-decade' and the explosion of paranoiac drugs.

Ray Liotta's performance deserves great praise; he catches the essential weakness behind Hill's slick hustler facade, and the essential violence behind most of his colleagues. The real Hill's slide out of witness protection and afterwards was far less glamorous than his gang years, and his addictions took their toll. I find the idea he and Whitey Bulger might have been drinking together (unknowingly?) at some bar along the coast in Santa Monica or Malibu an intriguing one. Bulger took Hill's betrayals a step further, using his informing to further his own crime career--letting the authorities do the hard work for him.

It was telling too that Hill was scooped up in the net of the bottom feeders like Howard Stern or Geraldo Rivera--a fate Kid Twist might not necessarily have preferred to his Coney Island swan dive. But Hill might be the prototype of the gangster who's media image made him greater than he was. And I was surprised to see that he'd opened a restaurant in West Haven, where both my parents grew up. I remember an uncle telling me proudly that he took a course at Syracuse just after the war, where the professor called West Haven the most mob-controlled and corrupt little town in America. Uncle Gene said it made him feel proud. Henry Hill would have thought the professor a mark to be taken.

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