Johnny Lovo rises to the head of the bootlegging crime syndicate on the south side of Chicago following the murder of former head, Big Louis Costillo. Johnny contracted Big Louis' bodyguard, Tony Camonte, to make the hit on his boss. Tony becomes Johnny's second in command, and is not averse to killing anyone who gets in his and Johnny's way. As Tony is thinking bigger than Johnny and is not afraid of anyone or anything, Tony increasingly makes decisions on his own instead of following Johnny's orders, especially in not treading on the north side run by an Irish gang led by a man named O'Hara, of whom Johnny is afraid. Tony's murder spree increases, he taking out anyone who stands in his and Johnny's way of absolute control on the south side, and in Tony's view absolute control of the entire city. Tony's actions place an unspoken strain between Tony and Johnny to the point of the two knowing that they can't exist in their idealized world with the other. Tony's ultimate downfall may be...Written by
"This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: "What are you going to do about it?". The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it? See more »
Due to censorship requirements in several states, a second ending was shot after the film was finished, in which Camonte doesn't try an escape, but is sentenced to death and finally executed on the gallows. This alternate ending was shown only during the original 1932 theatrical run in certain states. All prints, home video, and television versions in current circulation use director Howard Hawks' ending, in which Camonte tries to escape and is shot down. The DVD includes the alternate ending as a bonus feature. See more »
Preferred far more than the remake; Hawks, Hecht, and Muni are first-rate here
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.
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