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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.
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!
In an attempt to try and snap some sense into the public and the
government about the crime wave (mostly in due to Al Capone, who was a
major inspiration for Tony Camonte), Howard Hughes and Howard Hawks
brought to the screen one of the landmark early gangster pictures.
It's a film that does take its subject seriously (while on one hand one argues that the film is an indictment of crime and peoples responses, one could also argue that it's a subtle indictment of the prohibition), however it's also an exciting, and sometimes wickedly funny, take on a genre that would flourish in the thirties and forties. What comes most surprising (and I mean that as a big compliment) is how it hasn't lost much of its vitality in seventy years. The implied violence in the film is, in fact, shocking in places, and while it lacks the blood content and major shocks of the De Palma remake, it doesn't compromise to showing the (slightly Hollywood-ized) truth of the matter- crime doesn't pay, but sometimes it's all people know.
Tony Camonte is played by Paul Muni, in a performance that wonderfully ranges from angry to sarcastic, funny to romantic, and just down-right crazy; it's no wonder that Pacino was inspired by his performance to take on Tony Montana in the remake (though one could argue that Muni's bravura presence and delivery in this film out-ranks Pacino's in the later). He is surrounded by supporting players that also give very good work as well, with the story being told in various threads that work perfectly. There's one semi-comic story around one of Camonte's assistants who is rather illiterate and slow (though it's also a subtle commentary on the lack of prospects for immigrants at the time). Another (which was given much prominence in the remake) involves the power-struggle between Tony and his younger sister. And then there's the good-old mixture of solid, fascinating bits with the cops and other criminals, not to mention a boss that has to control Tony's manic ideals of taking over the city (and, perhaps, the world).
I once heard Quentin Tarantino in an interview say that Howard Hawks is the 'single greatest storyteller in the history of cinema'. Although that could be a heavily debatable statement, with this film Hawks proves that he definitely can do so very well, and of the few I've seen of his so far, this is my favorite. On the technical side of things, some of the technique is very straight-forward, but then there is also proof that Hawks was a step-ahead of the crowd that would bloom out in the film-noir period a decade later. Shadows used with a fine flair; great over-head and dead-on shots of cars riding and shooting; a couple of really keen close-ups.
Add to that a script from Hecht that doesn't go too deep into character for too long, and you got your basic powerhouse gangster picture. And, believe me, it's a must-see if you're into the genre, or if you'd like to have a comparison test with the highly revered remake.
The early 1930's produced a whirlwind of mobster films, commenting on the
real-life problem of organized crime throughout Prohibition America.
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
see what was going on. Hawks' film came out in 1932 and has been a
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
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.
RATING: 10 of 10
One of the best directors ever makes one of the best films ever: Howard
Hawks makes "Scarface". Everything is outstanding in this masterpiece of
cinema, the exciting, neatly told story of the raise and fall of Tony
Camonte (Al Capone's alter-ego).
Powerful script, magnificent black and white photography, excellent
camera-work, an important and courageous social message, just four years
after the St. Valentine's massacre.
Great action and great psychological design of the characters are perfectly woven into the story. One brilliant, innovative idea follows another. An example is the not-shown-scene of the St. Valentine's massacre. Another beautiful intuition: a key-point of the story is the arrival on the scene of the machine guns, destined to bring the gang-wars to an unheard-of level of violence. Look at Tony's scaring bliss when he handles the terrible weapon for the first time... The montage is extraordinary. Take the celebrated bowling-hall scene: we have a dozen of distinct, splendid shots, perfectly tied together. "Scarface" has a pace impressive for intensity. Not a single second is wasted in its narration.
The cinematic language attains its highest level. Look how Guino Rinaldo (the great George Raft) is introduced. A man is reading a newspaper in a barber shop. The approaching siren of a police-car is heard. Without even leaving his chair, the man throws his gun in the basket of towels, and, impassive, he restarts to read. In few seconds we have got a precise hint of the personality of Guino: smart, cool-headed, laconic, professional. Soon we will see that in fact he is the cornerstone of Tony's power and success in crime.
Another gem of cinematic language. Tony and his boss Lovo in the chamber of Poppy, Lovo's girl-friend. Poppy is doing her make-up. Tony tries to chat with her. Poppy doesn't pay attention. She is even rude with him. Her dressing-gown has slipped, showing Poppy's legs. Tony peeps at them. Poppy clearly notes it and she DOES NOT fix the dressing-gown...
George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley (Poppy), Osgood Perkins (the spine-less boss Lovo) make a fantastic job. And then there is Paul Muni as Tony Camonte... how good an actor he is could only be eye-witnessed, words can't describe the power of his performance. Tony is cruel, loathsome, brutal, hideous: we all hate him. Tony's clash with Lovo, with the sadistic suspense he deliberately creates, is a really ghastly scene. Nonetheless, Muni succeeds to be even touching, when Tony shows his childish enthusiasm for bad-taste "expensive" stuff, ties, silk shirts, luxury restaurants etc. Tony's final nervous breakdown is essential for the moral message of "Scarface", but it could have been a weakness of the film. Yet Muni is so great, so intense, that he can render Tony's disgusting sudden cowardice in a smooth, realistic way, and without provoking in the audience any sympathy for the gangster (an important aim for the film-makers).
A crucial theme of the movie is Tony's morbid affection (to say the least) toward his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Well... "Scarface" would deserve a book, not just a comment. Let me skip this important motive of "brotherly love", which is extremely difficult to judge correctly, in my opinion.
How can a comic character like the illiterate "gangster-secretary", who never gets the name at the telephone, fit so well in the tragic, action-packed story of "Scarface"? The answer is: Hawks' artistic genius.
"Scarface", Muni, Hawks... That is great Art of Cinema.
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.
Unlike James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson in their career making roles
as gangsters, Paul Muni after Scarface was able to avoid being typecast
for his career. Only rarely did Muni return to a gangster part in his
It must not have been easy for him because Muni is absolutely mesmerizing as the totally amoral Tony Camonte. After Scarface was released Muni was inundated with offers to play gangsters which he rejected. Interesting because without knowing it another of the cast in Scarface, Boris Karloff, would be ultimately trapped in the horror film genre. Muni assuredly avoided Karloff's fate.
Another cast member, George Raft, got his big film break playing Muni's right hand man. For Raft this was art imitating life, these were the people who were his pallies in real life, there was never any acting involved. Raft never really had too many acclaimed performances away from the gangster/big city genre.
Camonte is the ultimate killing machine. He knows only one law the law of the jungle. He'll rise by any means possible, use anyone it takes, kill anyone who gets in his way. He has only two weaknesses, an obsession that borders on incestuous desires for his sister Ann Dvorak and a kind of affection for his factotum Vince Barnett. That's the kind of affection you have for a pet.
Barnett who usually played drunks and hangers-on got his career role out of Scarface. What comic relief there is in the film he provides. He's got some good moments as a 'secretary' trying to take a phone message with bullets flying all around him. Had he been not dispatched to take the message the machine gun bullets would have found their mark easily in the taller Muni.
Scarface is also art that imitates life. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the history of gangland war in the Chicago of the Twenties will recognize Muni as Capone, Boris Karloff as Bugs Moran, and Osgood Perkins as Johnny Torio. Capone could have sued, but right about then he was having much bigger problems with Internal Revenue.
We can't forget Karen Morley who played Poppy the girl who likes to go with a winner. She shifts from Perkins to Muni and away from Muni when it becomes necessary. In her own way, she's as amoral as Muni.
Scarface along with Public Enemy and Little Caesar set the standard for gangster films. The updated 1983 remake with Al Pacino in Muni's part is a good film itself and got a lot of its audience with some really gory scenes.
Muni did it with talent alone.
Howard Hawks directs this harsh and frank and sometimes humorous look at a
small time gangster's(Paul Muni) taste of success before his mob world
crumbles around him. This is one of the best gangster movies of the 1930's.
Very well written and full of terrific characters. Fast paced and free
flowing story line.
My favorite scene is when the Muni character first gets his hands on a machine gun. This arrogant, violence driven mobster becomes child like with a brand new toy. Others in this fine crime drama are Osgood Perkins, George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Boris Karloff and C. Henry Gordon. Also notable are Karen Morley and Edwin Maxwell as the Chief of Detectives.
Ambition, greed and pride come before a fall. The mob way or no way is a tough way to live. Excellent flick.
*** 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."
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.
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