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Goodfellas Was Released 25 Years Ago—Read TIME’s Original Review

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When the now-classic Goodfellas was released nationwide 25 years ago on Sept. 21, 1990, it wasn’t the only mob movie on the block.

As Richard Corliss noted in a review of the lot for TIME, Goodfellas shared the multiplexes with such movies as Miller’s Crossing to The Godfather Part III. The reason, he suggested, had less to do with any cultural factor than it did with a few particular Hollywood preferences:

What’s going on here? Why is Hollywood once again married to the Mob? It’s not that the genre is especially popular these days. (The Untouchables was the only gangster blockbuster of the ’80s.) Nor is it that the Italian underworld taps a nerve in today’s body politic. Drug lords, often black or Hispanic, are the civic scourge of the moment, and they get their movie due only in Abel Ferrara’s rancid, megaviolent King of New York, in which a white man (Christopher Walken) leads a rainbow coalition of pushers. Whatever charm the Mafia boss still possesses is not contemporary but nostalgic. He is remembered or imagined as the dark padrone, courtly and caring, a big tipper to the little people. The real reason for the spate of Mob movies is that a few powerful artists want to make them.

And of those powerful artists, Martin Scorsese got top billing. Though Corliss dinged him for his reliance on exposition in a movie in which “characters don’t grow or learn, they just get found out,” Goodfellas still ranked as “the fastest, sharpest 2 1/2-hr. ride in recent film history.”

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: Married to the Mob

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com