On September 19, 1990, Martin Scorsese released his two-and-a-half-hour crime epic Goodfellas. Made in a creative frenzy in the summer of 1989, it was based on a book by crime writer Nicholas Pileggi called Wiseguy, which had lifted the lid on the often surprisingly mundane lives of New York gangsters.
Scorsese, who grew up in Little Italy, had always been fascinated by the flashy mobsters who dominated the era and wondered how they lived. That made Goodfellas a personal picture for him and a chance to explore the contradictions that gangsters embodied for Italian-Americans.
Initially, though, it seemed like Goodfellas was going to be controversial. The violence was shocking, even transgressive for its time, and test audiences also found the director's stylistic flashes challenging: at the first screening there were 40 walkouts in the first 10 minutes.
But the Europeans realised what Scorsese was doing and a week before the film's US opening, he was awarded the Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival.
In fact, though it didn't exactly light up the box office when first released, Goodfellas entirely transformed the genre.
The gangster picture had been a disreputable national institution in America since the late 1920s, when the antics of Chicago bootleggers inspired a string of great crime dramas starring the likes of Edward G Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and George Raft.
The idea that gangsters were a handy metaphor for the ills of American capitalism caught on in the 1960s. Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde romanticised the inane exploits of a pair of real-life Texan outlaws, reframing them as countercultural rebels.
With The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola was far more incisive, exploring how organised crime had allowed a marginalised social group to ape the corporate success of legitimate companies.
There was a Shakespearean grandeur to the first two Godfather films, as warring crime bosses fought for power, charmed priests and bought politicians. But Martin Scorsese was more interested in the little guys, the foot-soldiers of the mafia.
In a revealing 1990 interview with Empire magazine, Scorsese explained why mobsters interested him so much. The Sicilians who emigrated to the enclave of Little Italy, he explained, came from small towns, and tended to stick together subsequently.
"My grandfather came from Polizzi Generosa," he said. "All the people from Polizzi moved to Elizabeth Street - in one building. Very rarely would a Sicilian live on Mulberry Street - that was for the Neapolitans. So, what they did was import the village mentality and the village social structure to Elizabeth Street."
Goodfellas would explore the daily lives of the new breed of swaggering and ultra-violent wise guys who emerged in the Fifties and Sixties and developed a system for their extortion and gambling rackets that almost made them seem like normal businesses.
It would tell the stories of real people, specifically Henry Hill, an Irish-Italian kid from Brooklyn who was drawn into the Lucchese crime family in the mid 1950s.
Scorsese chose Ray Liotta to play Hill after seeing his twitchy portrayal of an ex-con in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild. He was little-known, but the director knew Liotta would have the manic energy needed for this central role.
Warner Brothers were not best pleased by this piece of casting, but everyone was reassured when Robert De Niro agreed to play Hill's Irish-Italian mentor Jimmy "the Gent" Conway, with that other Scorsese regular Joe Pesci playing their swaggering mobster partner Tommy DeVito. All are soldiers in the service of Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino), the avuncular, but chillingly decisive, local capo.
Scorsese has said he saw the film as a version of Pilgrim's Progress, with Henry starting out fresh-faced and innocent and ending up debauched and addled after years of violence and killing.
Told with extraordinary verve and colour, Goodfellas is packed with memorable moments, from the scene where a coked-up Hill realises a helicopter is following his car, to the moment when the boys, body in trunk, stop at Tommy's mom's for spaghetti, and the famous restaurant scene in which Henry tells the volatile and psychotic Tommy: "You're funny". "Funny how?" comes the dread response. "Do I amuse you?"
Most famous of all is the great tracking shot as Henry whisks wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) through the kitchens of the Copacabana towards the best table in the house, hailing all and sundry as The Crystals warble Then He Kissed Me on the soundtrack.
Like many brilliant pieces of film-making, it was a creative response to a crisis.
The club's owners wouldn't let them use the main doorway for the scene, so Scorsese was forced to use the tradesman's entrance and made a virtue of it by creating a long, sweeping, single shot.
Does Goodfellas glamorise its lawless subjects? At times, yes. As they eat and drink and flash the cash and thumb their noses at the law, one feels a certain admiration for their chutzpah; they take what they want, are fiercely loyal, and do their prison time in style when required.
But, ultimately, they are pathetic figures, inured to violence, hollow men. Henry ends up a howling drug addict then, worse, a non-entity, Jimmy is never quite accepted because of the stain of his Irishness and fails to rise within the mob, while for all his bluster, Tommy ends up getting whacked himself.
In a way, Scorsese builds them up only to brutally and unsentimentally demystify them.
Goodfellas was one of a number of gangster pictures released in the autumn of 1990, but it was not the most eagerly anticipated. Critics were all a twitter when Francis Coppola released The Godfather Part III in December of that year, almost two decades after its illustrious predecessors.
But thanks to Goodfellas, its heavy morality and stately storytelling suddenly seemed old-fashioned.