An ambitious and nearly insane violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall.An ambitious and nearly insane violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall.An ambitious and nearly insane violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall.
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.
- Jan 22, 2005