Karen Hill

Ignored as a date, Karen gives him another chance. Couldn’t stand him, obnoxious, fidgeting around—that’s what she thinks of her future husband. Promises to meet him again on a Friday night and he stands her up.

Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill in Goodfellas
Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill in Goodfellas

“You’ve got some nerve standing me up. Nobody does that to me. Who do you think you are, Frankie Valli or some kind of big shot?”

Henry Hill tries reasoning with her telling her he thought it was the following Friday.

“It was this Friday and you agreed, so you’re a liar!”

On their first date, Henry takes Karen on a whirlwind trip through the service entrance of the fanciest restaurant in town. A special table at the front, fine food, a live show with the king of the one-liners, she didn’t know what to think. Henry pays for everything in cash. They even have Bobby Vinton sending them a bottle of the finest champagne.

One day, Karen calls Henry, screaming the boy across the street pushed her out of a car when she wouldn’t respond to his advances.

“He started to touch me. He started to grab me. I told him to stop. He didn’t stop. I hit him back. And then he got really angry.”

Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco
Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco

Henry takes care of it. He marches across the street and pistol-whips the boy ten times, breaking the kid’s nose. To make his point, after having some words with him, Henry pounds the kid one last time.

“I know there are women, like my best friends who would have gotten out the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I’ve got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”

The couple marries and things change quickly. She realizes she’d married into two families.

“We weren’t married to nine-to-five guys. But the first time I realized how different was when Mickey had a hostess party. They had bad skin and wore too much makeup. They didn’t look very good. They looked beat-up. They talked about how rotten their kids were and about beating them with broom handles and belts. When Henry picked me up, I was dizzy. I don’t know if I could live like that.”

Whatever Karen thinks of her new family, she reasons around the quirks.

“Being together all the time made everything seem all the more normal.”

What normal is, is what normal does.

“We always did everything together, and we always were in the same crowd. Anniversaries, christenings. We only went to each other’s houses.”

And this is where I come in. I write my Women Who Wow Wednesday series in the context of strong women who stand on their own two feet. Fighters, if you will, who aren’t afraid of taking on someone or something greater than themselves. Although Goodfellas comes from a true story, characterization of real people is inevitable. Karen Hill falls into that category.

For a while, she plays by the rules, respecting her husband, keeping the status quo with his crew. But it’s that ability to think for herself that gets her in trouble. More to the point, her ability to go against the flow makes her unique. In a world of murder, deceit and betrayal, Karen demonstrates a strong conviction to do what she thinks is right.

In the end, isn’t that what matters?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Have you seen Goodfellas? What do you think of Karen?

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10 thoughts on “Karen Hill

  1. Where does she think for herself? By the end of the story, she’s leaving guns at her mother’s house (per Henry’s suggestion), getting just as high and paranoid as Henry is, and eventually as broke and friendless as her husband and forced to leave her family and home and the life she’s known to pack up the kids and go hide in witness protection. Henry cheats on her repeatedly, lies to her, and in the end she always comes around to accepting what he tells her (acknowledging “I have to admit, I was very attracted to him”) and coming back for more. When he’s in jail, she accepts that Paulie and all their former friends will have nothing to do with them; once Henry’s out of jail, they’re welcome back into the fold and Karen’s only too happy to jump back in with the same crew that treated her as persona non grata during Henry’s stint in prison for roughing up the dude in Florida.

    I LOVE this film and I do like her character…but I don’t see her as a paragon of strength and independence at all. I’d like to hear your thoughts on her.

  2. Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro receive a lot of the praise for Goodfellas, and they are fantastic, but it’s really Ray Liotta as Henry and Lorraine Bracco as Karen who give the stand-out performances, especially in the last act.
    There’s a shot early in the “May 11, 1980” sequence where we haven’t seen Karen for a while – she turns to the camera and it’s just devastating to see this dead-eyed, tired-looking woman who was so feisty, attractive and full of life in the early part of the film.

    Great choice again Jack.

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