The early 1930’s produced a whirlwind of mobster films, commenting on the real-life problem of organized crime throughout Prohibition America. LITTLE CAESAR and PUBLIC ENEMY were the first significant films of the genre, but not until Howard Hawks tour-de-force smash, SCARFACE, did the public get to see what was going on. Hawks’ film came out in 1932 and has been a mainstay in filmmaker’s minds and fans alike ever since.
Scorsese, Coppola, and especially De Palma, have all drawn inspiration (and the ’83 remake) from Hawks and Ben Hecht, the picture’s screenwriter. Paul Muni was loosely based on Al Capone, and SCARFACE begins with yet another message to the government telling them to get off their butts and rid the country of Tony Carmontes everywhere. I think the picture works more as brutal, realistic entertainment than moral message. In hindsight, SCARFACE made it all look fun.
This searing flick looks so spooky and dark, you truly get the feeling of the real “underworld” and how uncompromising it was and still is. Some brilliant images grace the screen: the passage of dates on a calendar by machine gun; Muni’s gruesome scar; an opening murder scene done with such subtly the mere sound of Muni’s whistle triggers doom; a sideshow of possible incest between “Tony” and his tortured sister. No joke. It appears almost blatantly in varying scenes of building jealousy and murder. Many of the elements show up in De Palma’s remake, such as the sister, her relationship with Tony’s best friend, and his disapproving mother. The original packs more substance into a shorter film and is clearly better than the flashy remake (which I also loved).
This was one of Howard Hawks’ 1st films and he continued to make pictures that differed so completely, one after the other. SCARFACE is his landmark film, a must-see that was considered by many to be unreleasable to the audiences of 1932. It is a predictable rise and fall portrait of a brooding goon, however the techniques and blunt force of the film make you come back for more. Watch it before the Pacino remake and see what you think. They are excellent representatives of Hollywood storytelling then and now. Keep an eye out for a svelte Boris Karloff in civilian clothing (a rarity) as a sinister enemy of the scarred one. He rolls quite a memorable strike in a bowling alley. A masterpiece of character, story, mood, and bullets flying.
Arguably superior to De Palma’s remake
Author: tghoneyc from United States
8 November 2004
Many purists would jump at this as being the definitive “Sacrface,” but so much had changed in the fifty-one years between the two movies that it is nearly impossible. Whereas the Al Pacino cult classic spanned close to three hours and included almost every imaginable cause of death, this version is a mere hour and a half, give or take a few minutes, and unlike the remake, takes place entirely in Chicago.
Made as an anti-gangster film, with a message buried under the many bodies that pile up, this is a surprisingly brutal movie for its time, and got a reputation as such. This was just before the so-called “Golden Age” of cinema, and in a time like that, chances are a movie this unapologetic wouldn’t get made. But it is a masterful gangster film.
Paul Muni is Tony Camonte, a pseudo-Capone psycho who believes in doing the dirty work himself, is a sleazebag. He talks in a lisp that holds him apart from the gangsters of Cagney and Bogart as a man who, even then, seems ethnic. To boot, his “secretary” is an immigrant who is only semi-literate and can’t hear people well on the phone. Boris Karloff shows up as an Irish gangster, Gaffney, who falls under Camonte’s gun. Aside from an entire segment where Camonte goes seemingly from point A to point B with the same tommy gun and kills off the competition, this is a brilliant milestone in the gangster genre, and probably the best of the era. Even now, it proves what people could accomplish by mere suggestion, sparing much of the language that is in movies (and, indeed, used in real life) today.
Ahead Of Its Time, Action-Wise
Action-wise, this movie was 60 years ahead of its time, at least in terms of the amount of action in it. I think it’s safe to say most classic films, including the crime movies, are much slower in pace than today’s fare. Not this one.
Since they didn’t show much blood in these old films, it isn’t gory but it is action- packed with few lulls. Paul Muni, as “Tony Camonte,” the head gangster, is compelling and fun to watch. He’s tough-as-nails until the end. The women n here – Ann Dvoark and Karen Morely – are interesting, too, as is one of Muni’s sidekicks, a big dumb guy who was funny. Don’t be fooled by the billing of George Raft and Boris Karloff. They got it because they turned out to be big names later. In this film, they have very small roles.
This is Muni’s show, though, all the way and few actors could ham it up in his day like him. It’s a wild ride for the full 93 minutes.
p.s. To anyone misreading my opening remarks: more action doesn’t always mean more interesting. Some times it does; some times it doesn’t.
Easily one of the best gangster films ever
Author: preppy-3 from United States
9 July 2005
Film chronicles the rise and fall of Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) an ugly, stupid and violent gangster.
This film was originally shot in 1930 but was held from release until 1932 because the censor demanded cuts. Watching it, I can only imagine how bad the missing material was. The film is full of shootouts and gun fights–they’re quick, violent and just incredible. The body count has to be in the triple digits. The best scene has Boris Karloff as a gangster (!!!) shot to death in a bowling alley. As incredible as the violence is, the film condemns it–they make it clear that Scarface and his gang are cold-blooded killers and nothing more.
Also the film has PLENTY of sexual innuendo. Ann Dvorak plays Scarface’s sister and it is made clear that she and her brother are VERY interested in each other. Also she does a very sexy dance in front of George Raft which is more than a little suggestive. I’m surprised that the censors let all this get by! The acting is superb. Muni plays Scarface as dumb, stupid, violent and ugly–and, in a way, very sexy. When he shoots down people it seems that he’s actually getting a sexual charge from it! Also Muni, a very handsome man, was purposely made to look ugly. He looks more like an ape than human. George Raft as his best friend is also good–cold-blooded and heartless.
Dvorak overplays it a bit but she is incredibly sexy. Hell, even Karloff is good as a gangster! The film is very well-directed by Hoaward Hawks–he pulls no punches. The script is quick and intelligent–it never stops moving.
After it was released (to great acclaim) in 1932 it was abruptly pulled–many people said glamorized gangsters (which is just ridiculous). It didn’t surface until 1979 (Francis Ford Coppola helped get it re-released) and it was finally recognized for the classic it is.
Quite simply a GREAT film. Don’t miss this one!
“Scarface” is most often brought up in discussions on the gangster movie…
Author: Righty-Sock (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Mexico
8 May 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
“Scarface” is the film of the Thirties which is most often brought up in discussions on the gangster movie…
According to Hawks, he directed “Scarface” with the idea of telling the story of the Capone family as if they were the Borgias living in Chicago in the Twenties…. This may well be- true… At the time, however, there was much publicity to suggest that “Scarface” was the Capone story – which it certainly wasn’t…
It was a very good, exciting gangster film, and it stands up well when viewed today, more than 70 years on…
Paul Muni gave a great performance as Tony Camonte, the scarred gang-leader, but it bears little resemblance to Capone as he really was… Camonte is tough, ruthless, a handy man with a gun and – at the end – a figure hysterically afraid of death as he battles it out with police from his steel-shuttered fortress…
Capone was certainly tough and ruthless, but he tried to avoid gunplay himself and employed others to do his dirty work… He was not cowardly, and he did not die in battle…
“Scarface”should be seen and remembered as a film devised to exploit the Chicago of its day – and it must be remembered that Chicago gang wars made front-page banner headlines all over the world… It is the story of a battle for power between two gangster figures: Tony Camonte and Gaffney, played by Boris Karloff… A secondary plot hinges on Camonte’s strength of feeling for his sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak), and the romance between Cesca and Camonte’s henchman, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft).
Eventually Camonte kills Rinaldo in the belief that he has violated Cesca – though the pair are actually married… This is the famous scene in which Rinaldo, whose trademark throughout the picture is his constant flipping and catching of a gold coin, drops out of picture as he dies… and the coin this time falls to the floor…
Gaffney, the rival gang-leader, is sometimes likened to Edward “Spike” O’Donnell, with whom Capone fought a war for control of the Chicago South Side…
In the film, however, the Gaffney character is totally unlike the real Spike, who was a rough-and-ready criminal of Irish descent with a tendency towards practical jokes… He and his three brothers, Steve, Walter and Tommy, did just about everything in their time, from bank robberies to strike-breaking, with a little pick-pocketing on the side… “Spike” was a devout Catholic who attended services regularly… yet his most-quoted remark is: “When arguments fail – use a black-jack.”
Ugly and brilliant
15 October 2001
Rat-rat-a-tat goes Hawks’s direction, opening and closing with a bang, and what’s in between is pretty sensational, too. Muni, who could be an awful ham, is just right here — slick and sexy and a little stupid, a hot-tempered paisano unable to control his ambitions or passions.
The incest subplot, never overtly stated but always close to the surface, makes the movie seem startlingly modern. And the dialogue goes snap, snap, snap. The only place the movie stumbles is in a civics-lesson scene where the self-important newspaper editor spells out exactly what’s wrong with the criminal justice system of 1932 and delivers his dull speech straight to the camera, like a high school lecture. It’s the briefest of lulls in one of the most exciting early talkies, and certainly one of the greatest of all gangster flicks.
Muni, Robinson and Cagney
Author: sryder-1 from United States
4 April 2006
Inevitably, Scarface will be compared with the near-contemporary gangster films, Little Caesar and Public Enemy, and Paul Muni with their stars Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. What does it tell us about that era: that all three careers took off with portrayals of gang leaders? The three performances significantly differ. Robinson rises to the top by the use of a crafty intelligence as well as violence; Cagney by a type of shrewdness and personal charisma.
Paul Muni’s Tony Comonte is neither intelligent nor personable; his manners are crude; and at times he is almost childlike in his behavior: for instance, when he is enjoying a play and is interrupted after the second act, summoned to do another killing,and leaves a henchman behind, who can tell him later how it came out, then is delighted to hear that the “guy with the collar” didn’t get the girl; rather, the rougher suitor. He can be described as cunning and animistic: a young wolf who eliminates any rival who stands in his way; finally the leader of the pack One can be moved by Robinson’s last words, “Is this the end of Little Caesar?” or by Cagney’s body falling through the open door of his family home, he having been killed off-screen. Comonte’s death is that of a trapped or cornered animal, wordless in a beautifully staged sequence,as brutal as his life, depicted for the audience in every detail. Of the three portrayals, Muni’s comes across to me as the most chilling, in its enactment of instinctive evil. How ironic that He would later win his greatest fame for his performances as Emile Zola and Louis Pasteur.