It's a typewriter
. I'm gonna write my name all over this town with it, in big letters!
The original 1932 gangster film by Howard Hawks
, written by screenwriter Ben Hecht and produced by eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes(also producer and director of Hell's Angels
). It was loosely based on the life of Al Capone
. The films stars Paul Muni, George Raft and Boris Karloff in a character part as an Irish gangster.Scarface
is the tale of Antonio "Tony" Camonte (Paul Muni). Tony kills Big Louis Castillo, the crime boss of Chicago's South Side, and takes his place, also taking control of a thriving bootlegging business. Tony's Mafia boss, Johnny Lovo, tells him not to interfere with the Irish mob on the North Side, but Tony ignores him, and Johnny realizes that Tony is a threat to his position. Tony defeats the Irish mob and takes over the North Side, survives a hit put out by Lovo, and then kills Lovo, thus becoming the boss of all Chicago. Eventually the police close in, and Tony is killed in a hail of bullets.Scarface
ran into a lot of problems with the Hays office
. Censors tried to force an alternate ending in which Tony voluntarily surrenders and is eventually executed. This led to the addition of two scenes, one where bankers denounce and condemn Tony Camonte for his crimes which includes a token rich Italian-American noting that Camonte is giving Italian Americans a bad name and setting a bad example. The other was the alternate ending used in theatres in the South. Neither of these scenes were shot by director Howard Hawks
. However, the film was released during the The Pre Code Era
and as such widespread industry self-censorship was not in full effect so the film did come out more or less as Hawks intended and was regarded as a real shocker and cited for causing Moral Panic. The original film, much like the remake, set up a controversy for depiction of violence and glorifying gangsters since the film tended to make Tony Camonte a Byronic Hero
and indeed screenwriter Ben Hecht stated he modelled the dynamic between Camonte and his sister Cesca on Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia from Renaissance Italy.
The film was a major box-office hit around the world and became an iconic gangster film and it became the Trope Maker
and Trope Codifier
for the Depression gangster film. It even had a Big Name Fan
in Bertolt Brecht
whose play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
borrowed from it extensively.However, the film became a victim of its controversy and success. When The Hays Code
went into effect, all films released before had to be re-submitted for censorship to continue screenings in repertory cinemas. Scarface
was considered so difficult, even in censored and bowdlerized versions, that it was shelved and banned from American screens until the late 70s!!! To see the film in America you had to go to private collectors
or in other out of the way places. And it was easier to see in France, in the Cinematheque Francaise of the same period where it was a major favorite. And indeed Howard Hawks
considered the film his Magnum Opus
. It's rediscovery in America in the 70s made it a cult favorite again and this actually inspired calls for the 1983 remake
that would overshadow it for the new generation.
This film, along with The Public Enemy
and Little Caesar
, popularized the gangster genre in The Thirties
has a place on the National Film Registry
The original 1932 film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Camonte himself at the end.
- Anti-Villain: Tony Camonte.
- Bodyguard Betrayal: Tony was Costillo's bodyguard.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Tony's protectiveness of Cesca is so redolent of this that other characters even comment on it. While Cesca is irritated with it at first, by the end of the movie she seems to reciprocate. (She certainly doesn't seem very sisterly when she tells Tony "I love you!" and starts breaking out the tommy guns.)
- Casual Danger Dialog: Angelo trying to get the name of a caller on the phone, while a hail of bullets is riddling the bar that he and Tony are in.
- Darker and Edgier: New audiences who come to this film after seeing the Pacino movie might be surprised by how this film is less sentimental. Camonte is a remorseless killer here without any of the moral compunctions put in place in Tony Montana and his Hair-Trigger Temper is genuinely frightening. It makes the film's decision to essentially make him a Tragic Hero that much bolder and make the initial panic against it understandable.
- The main thing is that Camonte is a genuine outlaw who defies the police, the law enforcement and pulls a Better to Die than Be Killed rather than be captured, and this is treated in classic 30s fashion as a Dying Moment of Awesome for the gangster Byronic Hero. Indeed its to avert this very glorification that the fake ending with the execution is created. In the remake, Pacino messes with an an even bigger crook because Even Evil Has Standards rather than defying the police.
- Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster: Deconstructed. Also happens to The Eighties remake.
- It is played straight to some extent. What made this film shocking to some is to show gangsters as more or less people who do enjoy and have fun. There's genuine delight when Tony picks up the Tommy Gun and goes More Dakka on his enemies. Indeed Tony's downfall comes largely because of his tragic obsession with his sister, an aspect that makes him a Tragic Hero rather than the police building a case.
- Deadpan Snarker: Poppy.
- Defrosting the Ice Queen: Somewhat more successful here, as Tony not only manages to win over Poppy but pretty much stays with her until he's gunned down.
- Despair Event Horizon: Cesca's death for Tony. Prior to that, the fact that Tony can even be scared seems to lead to Cesca's Death by Despair eventually.
- The Ditz: Angelo, Tony's "seckertary".
- Easily Forgiven: Although she initially plans to kill him, Cesca is rather quick to forgive Tony for killing Guido when it comes down to it.
- Epic Tracking Shot: The opening scene of the film, the murder of "Big Louie" Castillo is conducted in a single extended take that is a remarkable technical achievement in early sound cinema, where cameras became bulkier and more restrained compared to the later silent films.
- Exploding Calendar: Accompanied by a machine gun, as Camonte wreaks havoc in Chicago.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The guy at the nightclub who picks a bra up from the floor after the party's over.
- Heads or Tails: George Raft's gimmick in the film, which became the Trope Codifier for gangsters who do this. Has been parodied in later movies, too.
- Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Castillo is president of the "First Ward Social Club". After Camonte kills him and Lovo takes over, it becomes the First Ward Athletic Club.
- Motifs: Any time a character is about to die, his death is signaled by an ominous X in some corner of the frame or the other, either as part of the grill(as in the St. Valentine's Massacre) or in the scorecard of a bowling alley signalling strikes or sometimes by use of chiaroscuro lighting. The X also appears on the title card and in several other obvious places.
- Organ Grinder: There's one outside that amuses Cesca.
- Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "Don't you know it's Valentine's Day?"
- Roman à Clef: Similaries to the life of Al Capone include:
- The titular scar, for starters.
- Tony's killing of "Big Louie" Costillo is inspired by Capone's involvement in the murder of "Big Jim" Colosimo.
- O'Hara gets killed in his flower shop just like Capone's rival Dion O'Banion was.
- The caravan of cars that attempts a drive-by assassination of Tony is taken from a failed attempt on the life of Capone.
- The shooting in the garage strongly resembles the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre that was ordered by Capone.
- Tempting Fate: "We'll always be happy, won't we?", says Cesca to Rinaldo, right before Tony kills him.
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: No drugs are involved as in the remake, but Tony Camonte ends up killing Guino Rinaldo (his best friend), when he thinks the guy's abusing Cesca (his sister). Turns out they married in secret because his sister knew Tony would never approve. Oops.
- Villainous Incest: Even more blatant than in the 1983 film, and it doesn't seem to necessarily be one-sided, either.
- Villain Protagonist: Camonte himself.
- Wicked Cultured: Tony Camonte whistles an opera tune as a Leitmotif. This was based on the real-life fondness for Enrico Caruso displayed by several gangsters. Later, he and his hoods attend a play Rain by William Somerset Maugham and discuss it with great enthusiasm on their way to whack a rival.