Before there was The Irishman, The Wolf of Wall Street, or even Casino, sitting in our queues and shelves with rave reviews, director Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas was the premiere crime opus of its time. With memorable characters like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, Robert De Niro’s Jimmy “The Gent” Conway, and Lorraine Bracco’s Karen Hill, Scorsese’s first rambling narrative about the ins and outs of organized crime left an indelible mark on pop culture.
Part of that mark was forged in Martin Scorsese’s eye for putting a movie together, while the other piece of the equation was undoubtedly his work on the film’s screenplay with author Nicolas Pileggi, who wrote the book that Goodfellas was based off of. And in that story, there’s a question that has plagued fans of the film through its’ decades of existence: was Jimmy going to have Karen killed? In this article, we're going to explore both sides to the argument.
It all hinges on a moment that plays out in roughly three minutes, in a rundown alleyway in broad daylight. But those three minutes say so much when put into context with the rest of Goodfella’s story.
What Happened With Karen Hill And Jimmy The Gent In The Alley
Towards the end of Goodfellas, Henry’s wife, Karen, visits Jimmy behind her husband’s back, to ask for help. The family has hit hard times, and Henry’s recent history of jail time has made the Hills persona non grata with their usual friends in the family run by Paul “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Sorvino.)
As they talk, Jimmy becomes increasingly interested in how the investigation against Henry has been going, and what sort of questions he’s been asked. Clearly, Jimmy The Gent is afraid that he’s going to be connected to his friend’s misdeeds, and he wants to see how and if he’s been implicated.
Karen tells Jimmy she doesn’t know anything, and ultimately the conversation shifts to Jimmy trying to give Karen some dresses, as any good friend in the Goodfellas universe would do. The two walk outside together, and Jimmy directs Karen to a vacant store on the corner, as he intently watches her walking down the street to the empty storefront.
Uneasily, Karen makes her way down the sidewalk, and when she looks into the building, sees some random guys in shadow and smoke. As Jimmy continues to try to steer her into the store, Karen decides to quickly head to her car, despite his insistence that she follow through.
But there’s two sides to every story, and Goodfellas has plenty of evidence that supports either side of the argument as to whether Jimmy “The Gent” Conway would have Karen Hill whacked or not.
Why Karen Hill Was Just Being Paranoid About Jimmy The Gent
In the tailspin that we see Henry and Karen Hill spinning out of in Goodfellas’ final act, the pair are seen as excessively paranoid messes, thanks to Henry’s cheating, and their mutual cocaine habit. It’s here that the case for paranoia starts, and Henry is the conductor of the potential delusion train that sets it all into motion.
After we see Henry beg Paulie for money after being freed from prison, the place he landed after his booming cocaine dealing enterprise is busted by law enforcement, he returns home to his wife and starts to become worried. His overall anxiety is the fact that his former Goodfellas mob family will have him killed, since he’s kind of a loose end at this point.
So with the seeds all sewn by Henry Hill’s paranoid delusions, via the magic of cocaine, it’s easy to see how Karen would assume that Jimmy’s intentions are to kill her. Especially when she’s seeing the world through the same sort of white powdered haze as her husband.
For all we know, Jimmy The Gent may not have known that Karen was involved in Henry’s cocaine enterprise, an endeavor he too was also invested in, against Paulie Cicero’s overall wishes to not be involved with trafficking the narcotic, or dealing with its users.
And let’s not forget, we never did see what was really inside that corner store. So we don’t know conclusively that Karen would have been whacked or not. Plus, if Jimmy was really going to take someone out, he wouldn’t have given them such an easy out; especially after all of the hits we’ve seen take place throughout Goodfellas.
Then again, if Jimmy decided he was going to kill Morrie Kessler (Chuck Low) over his continued griping about the $20K he lost on planning and developing the Lufthansa heist, what’s to say he wouldn’t take out the similarly hot headed Karen Hill?
Why Jimmy The Gent Was Likely Going To Have Karen Hill Killed
If there was the slightest threat to her life and livelihood, Karen Hill was one to fly off the handle in response. We saw her do it throughout Goodfellas as Karen had to deal with Henry’s wandering eye, and their family being frozen out of the circle of friends they made through Paulie Cicero’s crime family.
Through his stints of incarceration, thanks to his moving cocaine and other goods through his guys in Pittsburgh, Karen’s was afraid that their actions would draw the attention of Paulie. Were that to happen, anything from being cut out of the family to being whacked would have been possible.
Add to that the fact that Jimmy The Gent was part of the Hills’ big cocaine operation. He ran the same risks that Henry and Karen did when it came to Paulie’s insistence that everyone got rid of the junk.
Once Henry went to jail for his drug operation, Jimmy was obviously afraid that he’d be sold down the river in the name of a plea deal. With Paulie turning his back on the Hills, and his own safety in question, the solution seemed obvious: whack the Hills, before the trail lead back to him and Paulie.
The alleyway storefront would have been a perfect trap for the ever glamorous Karen Hill, and sending Henry on a nice trip to Florida to take care of business was Jimmy’s plan to take out his former cohort. Something that Henry himself picked up on, after meeting with Jimmy and dropping some powerful knowledge in his narration.
Was Jimmy Really Going To Have Karen Killed?
If it wasn’t for Henry Hill’s inner monologue that ran throughout Goodfellas, having Karen killed might have still been a pretty questionable prospect. But once the following exposition hit, it was clear that the Hills were going to be whacked if they weren’t as smart as they were:
If you’re part of a crew, nobody ever tells you they’re going to kill you. It doesn’t happen that way. There aren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. See, your murderers come with smiles. They come as your friends, the people who have cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time when you’re weakest and most in need of their help.
At this point in Goodfellas, Henry’s out of prison and clean from his cocaine usage, and Jimmy Conway was obviously going to whack his old friend. He thought he had Henry and Karen Hill set up with the ultimate traps to take them out of circulation.
In the case of Karen, fine dresses were the bait, and with Henry, there was an implication that he could go back to business helping the family when they needed it. Thankfully, for their own sakes, neither Hill fell for the scam, and they lived happily ever after: divorced, and in witness relocation.
Obviously, there’s plenty of interpretation for what happened in Goodfellas’ course of events; and that’s the whole point. While anyone who hasn’t walked out on the film may know how Henry Hill’s story ends, as well as that of his wife Karen, there’s still some stuff that’s left open for folks to discuss.
Which is why we’re going to close on the note of asking you, the audience, to let us know what you think about Karen Hill’s odds of surviving Jimmy The Gent’s potential murder plot. Vote for the option you believe is the truth below, and hit us in the comments below to talk it out with evidence.
In the meantime, Goodfellas is available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD, as well as in Digital HD on most major streaming retailers.