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Film / Scarface (1932)

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The shame of a nation.

"Some little typewriter, huh? I'm gonna write my name all over this town with it, in big letters!"
Tony Camonte, while pointing at his tommy gunnote 

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 based on a novel of the same name published three years prior, itself loosely based on the life of Al Capone. The film 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. Bertolt Brecht's 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. Its 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 (1931) and Little Caesar, popularized the gangster genre in The '30s. Scarface has a place on the National Film Registry.

Not to be confused with the other Scarface flick, the one that was released five decades hence.

The original 1932 film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: In the book this film is based on, Antonio 'Tony' Camonte is born Antonio 'Tony' Guarino with his brother Ben Guarino. After several crimes the police are looking for him so he goes off to war, gets his scar, and when he returns he finds out he had been reported dead and no one recognizes him because of his scar. He becomes Antonio 'Tony' Camonte and starts a new life. This is where the film begins. That means if we're staying true to the book, Insp. Ben Guarino is his brother.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Camonte himself at the end.
  • Arch-Enemy: Tony Camonte to Inspector Ben Guarino
  • Author Tract: The film has a message of "what is the government going to do about the gang violence plaguing the streets of our major cities?" This is even made explicit in the beginning title cards.
  • Axe Before Entering: In the climax, Guarino and the police force do this to Tony's front door.
  • Big Bad: Tony Camonte.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Tony was Costillo's bodyguard.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The ending, where the Mob War finishes in a spectacular gun battle-all the police in the city opening fire at Tony's apartment from their cars, and inside, Tony is firing his Tommy Gun away while Cesca covers him with her Winchester 1897 shotgun.
  • Brick Joke: A few times in the story, Angelo is trying to figure out the name of who's calling him. Eventually, he gets the name while he is dying.
  • 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 Dialogue: 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.
  • Cool Guns: Tony loves his Thompson:
    "There's only one thing that gets orders and gives orders. And this is it. That's how I got the south side for you, and that's how I'm gonna get the north side for you. It's a typewriter. I'm gonna write my name all over this town with it, in big letters!"
  • 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.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: 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 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: 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". He briefly talks into the wrong end of the phone, has a pen while claiming not to know how to write, even staying at a cafe's public phone while the place is sprayed with bullets.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Tony Camonte himself shot dead in the end. Not only that, prior to his downfall, he killed Guino Rinaldo when he thought that the latter was harassing Cesca, his sister, which results in the police chasing after him. His sister was also shot by a stray bullet while she was at his hideout.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Tony briefly serves as this to Johnny.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Tony pulls a Better to Die than Be Killed Suicide by Cop in classic 30s gangster film fashion.
  • Easily Forgiven: Although she initially plans to kill him, Cesca is rather quick to forgive Tony for killing Guino 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: Overlaid with a machine gun such that it appears that the shots are tearing off the calendar pages, as Camonte wreaks havoc in Chicago over the course of a whole year.
  • Fake Shemp: Paul Muni was played by a double in the alternate ending, as he was doing a play at the time. Note that he's never actually seen.
  • 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.
  • The Hero Dies: More like The Villain Dies. Tony indeed does die in the end.
  • Insult Backfire: Poppy calls Tony's jewelry "effeminate" and his house "gaudy." Apparently he doesn't know those words.
  • Klingon Promotion:
    • In the beginning, Tony kills Big Louie so Johnny can become mob boss.
    • Later, Tony becomes the mob boss by killing Johnny, with Guino pulling the trigger.
  • 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.
  • Mob War: There is one going on throughout the whole film and it's based on the Chicago Beer Wars, which killed 500 to 800 people.
  • 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. Even Tony's scar is cruciform — interpretable as a canted X.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Tony is rather protective of his sister Cesca.
  • Named After the Injury: The title refers to the main character, Tony Camonte, who sports a pronounced facial scar, though this nickname is seldom used in-story.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Screenwriter Ben Hecht modeled the incestuous attraction between Tony Camonte and his sister Cesca, on the rumours surrounding Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, down to Tony Camonte's murderous jealousy directed at any of her boyfriends, which many argue was the true cause of the death of Lucrezia's first husband.
  • Not Quite Starring: The alternate ending was filmed with a stand-in.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Boris Karloff attempts an American accent and a different voice but very quickly, his lisp comes out and his mumbling ends up being hard to understand. By his third scene, he performs in his customary English accent, switching back and forth between both accents, when other actors address him.
  • Organ Grinder: There's one outside that amuses Cesca.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "Don't you know it's Valentine's Day?"
  • Precision F-Strike: One of few PG-rated films to drop an F-bomb, and the earliest example of the F-bomb being dropped in a Hollywood film, as Angelo yells for someone else to "fuck off" over the phone.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the alternate ending, the judge delivers one when pronouncing sentence.
  • Revised Ending: The censors of the time thought that the film depicted that a life of crime was too easy and that Tony had still gotten away with his crimes. A second ending was shot, showing Tony being taken away by the police. He is then tried, found guilty, given a "The Reason You Suck" Speech by the judge, and hanged. Paul Muni is not seen throughout this ending, as he had already returned to New York to appear in a play, and a double was used in his place.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film is very loosely based on the life of Al Capone. Indeed, during the film's production, two associates of Capone confronted Ben Hecht in his hotel room about the film's resemblances to Capone's life; Hecht convinced them that the film had nothing to do with Capone and was named "Scarface" only to bring in audiences.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: The film depicts Tony becoming one of the leading figures in the Chicago bootlegging industry in the 1920s. However, his Hair-Trigger Temper and impulsiveness lead to him getting killed by the police.
  • Roman à Clef: Similaries to the life of Al Capone include:
    • The scar, and the nickname "Scarface."
    • 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 Siege of Cicero, where a caravan of cars full of hitmen destroyed the dining room of the hotel Capone was staying in.
    • The shooting in the garage strongly resembles the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre that may have been ordered by Capone himself.
  • Rules Lawyer: A literal lawyer as well. Whenever Tony gets arrested, his personal lawyer Epstein searches for loopholes to have him released. It works every time.
  • Showdown at High Noon: The detective chief Converses this, saying that cowboys at least waited until high noon to shoot, unlike gangsters who just sneak up on rivals and shoot them.
  • The Starscream: Tony constantly and openly tests Lovo's authority. When Lovo finally sends assassins, Tony kills him and takes his place.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: In the scene where Tony is denounced by a group of bankers, an Italian-American one complains that Tony is giving people like him a bad name.
  • Tempting Fate: "We'll always be happy, won't we?", says Cesca to Rinaldo, right before Tony kills him.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: 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: Tony towards Cesca. Even more blatant than in the 1983 film, and it doesn't seem to necessarily be one-sided, either.
  • Villain Protagonist: Tony 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 the play Rain by William Somerset Maugham and discuss it with great enthusiasm on their way to whack a rival.
  • You Monster!: In the alternate ending, the judge at Tony's sentencing labels him as this in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    Judge: Antonio Camonte, I want to go on record as stating that you deserve this verdict more than any criminal who has come before me for sentence. You are convicted of one crime but you're guilty of hundreds. Until now, you've escaped by corruption, perjury, and vicious coercion of witnesses. Since your arrest, they've come forward the first time and told the truth. You've commercialized murder to satisfy your personal greed for power. You've killed innocent women and children with brutal indifference. You are ruthless, immoral, and vicious. There is no place in this country for your type.


Video Example(s):



One of few PG-rated films to drop an F-bomb, and the earliest example of the F-bomb being dropped in a Hollywood film, as Angelo yells for someone else to "fuck off" over the phone.

How well does it match the trope?

4.71 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / PrecisionFStrike

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