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Michael Powell Realized The Awesomeness Of Martin Scorsese's 'Goodfellas' Before Anyone Else

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist June 16, 2011 at 9:02AM

If the name Michael Powell doesn't mean anything to you, stop reading now and line up your Netflix queue with the some of the films he did with Emeric Pressburger, including "The Red Shoes," "I Know Where I'm Going!" and "A Matter of Life and Death," and then get back to us. But as Martin Scorsese fans already know, his connection with the filmmaker runs deep. He was a good friend of the legendary filmmaker, introducing him to editor Thelma Schoonmaker whom Powell would later marry. But Scorsese was a longtime admirer of the director and it turns out, he sent him an early draft of "Goodfellas" (back when it shared the title of the book it was based on "Wise Guys") to see what he thought. And likely before anyone else had their input, Powell knew it was a winner.
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If the name Michael Powell doesn't mean anything to you, stop reading now and line up your Netflix queue with the some of the films he did with Emeric Pressburger, including "The Red Shoes," "I Know Where I'm Going!" and "A Matter of Life and Death," and then get back to us. But as Martin Scorsese fans already know, his connection with the filmmaker runs deep. He was a good friend of the legendary filmmaker, introducing him to editor Thelma Schoonmaker whom Powell would later marry. But Scorsese was a longtime admirer of the director and it turns out, he sent him an early draft of "Goodfellas" (back when it shared the title of the book it was based on "Wise Guys") to see what he thought. And likely before anyone else had their input, Powell knew it was a winner.

The excellent website Letters Of Note has dug up a letter Powell wrote to Scorsese after reading the draft and it's gushing, calling it "one of the best constructed scripts that I have ever read" and calling it "stunning script, [that] will make a wonderful film, and a priceless social document." But he had some constructive criticism suggesting that the early portions of the film contain scenes with Henry Hill's sister or a younger female character and suggesting the film might be a little too long. But he also compares the script to "Double Indemnity" so we can't imagine these were major concerns.

Check out the transcript and image of the letter below and add this little bit of trivia to the lore of "Goodfellas."

MICHAEL POWELL PRODUCTIONS

November 14, 1988

Dear Marty

Re: the script of Wise Guys

It is one of the best constructed scripts that I have ever read. At the same time it is not academic, it is not a script just on paper. It is very much alive.

The first question I would ask you, is what is the tone of the director? It is a take-it-or-leave-it tone? It is a dispassionate tone? Is it meant to be the wiseguy's thoughts - or meditations - or memories? And, in the final hiding place, is he resigned to his completely anonymous existence, or does he expect that they will catch up with him some day?

I think that the narration is brilliantly handled on the page, and the tone of the narration will be equally important. How have you managed to sustain the action and narration side by side for the whole length of the script? It's a masterpiece. I can only compare it with the script of "The African Queen," or Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity."

Yes, it is a little long, and the pause, or the length, seems to come about the 100 minute mark. By the way, the women, when they arrive, are very good, but I would love to see one of the women in the early part of the film as a young girl, or even a little girl. I mean a new character - either his sister, or a ten-year-old girl. Some of the best scripting is in the first twenty pages. How are you going to handle the youngster? There are not many actors who can play from ten years old to thirty years old.

Dear Marty, it is a stunning script, and will make a wonderful film, and a priceless social document.

(Signed)

Michael Powell



This article is related to: Films, '90s Films, GoodFellas


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