Movie Review


Scarface Movie Poster

US Release Date: 04-09-1932

Directed by: Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson


  • Paul Muni
  • Tony Camonte
  • George Raft
  • Guino Rinaldo
  • Ann Dvorak
  • Francesca Camonte
  • Karen Morley
  • Poppy
  • Osgood Perkins
  • Johnny Lovo
  • C. Henry Gordon
  • Inspector Ben Guarino
  • Vince Barnett
  • Angelo
  • Boris Karloff
  • Gaffney
  • Inez Palange
  • Mrs. Camonte
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: May 12th, 2010
Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak

Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak

Scarface is a marred early gangster film classic. Produced by Howard Hughes, the film was toned down, edited and had scenes added to it in an attempt to please the censors despite being produced prior to the enforcement of the Hays Code. The finished film is still great, but it could have been stronger without the enforced changes.

Paul Muni plays Tony Clemente, an Italian gangster based loosely on Al Capone. Tony isn't Vito Corleone or Tony Soprano, although both of those characters can be traced back to him, because he doesn't have the brains that either one of them possesses. Strategy doesn't play a big part of his plans, he's an enforcer who uses brute force to rise to the top of the Chicago underworld.

When the movie begins Tony kills off his boss to begin his rise. He goes from bodyguard to right hand man to the new boss. He uses his new found success to splurge on a nice apartment (complete with steel shutters in case of a gun fight), new clothes (he brags that he's only going to wear a shirt once before sending it to the laundry) and generally lives the good life. When he falls for his new bosses girlfriend you can see that trouble won't be far behind.

Muni does a great job as Tony. He's a brute killer with a low IQ and he's no hero or even an anti-hero, but he's a fascinating character that captures and holds your attention. He's also not without humor. At one point he is watching a play but is called away to commit a murder, but he has to know how the play ends, so he orders one of his men to stay behind to find out how the play turns out. Another facet of his character is his loyalty and protectiveness towards his family, especially towards his sister.

The film is undercut by a caption at the beginning of the film and a scene plopped smack into the film that condemns gangsters and the politicians and the public who aren't doing enough to stop the rampant crime. The point of these added elements is to show that the movie isn't showing a criminal lifestyle to be glamorous or fun. It's for this same purpose that the movie ends the way it does and the ending feels like a betrayal of the character of Tony.

Despite the castration of the movie, it does remain quite violent. There are murders right and left. There's virtually no blood and quite a few of the murders take place off screen, but the number of people knocked off has to be something like 50. Tony isn't subtle. When something's in his way, he shoots it.

You have to give Scarface credit for setting certain standards in the gangster genre. There are echoes of this movie in many of today's gangster films. It's not a perfect film, but it is an entertaining one.

Reviewed on: January 22nd, 2011
George Raft and Paul Muni up to no good in Scarface.

George Raft and Paul Muni up to no good in Scarface.

Scott, according to Robert Osbourne of TCM Scarface was released in two different versions depending on the city it played in. Perhaps you saw the edited version? TCM showed the cut that Hawks originally envisioned and the captions are there but, SPOILER ALERT: Tony is gunned down on the streets trying to run and not sent to the gallows like in the sanitized version. I believe it was this alternate ending that Rosson directed.  If this is the version you watched then it is the one that was originally intended and wasn’t changed for the censors. The edited version tones down the number of murders, but the captions were intended by Hawks all along.

Scarface completes the trilogy of great early thirties gangster pictures after Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. As Scott mentioned it has the highest body count of the three but Hawks definitely borrowed a few scenes from William Wellman’s Public Enemy. The drive by bombings and the scenes where the guys run into a building and we hear the gunfire but don’t see the actual killings, as well as the scenes of them forcing pub owners to buy their beer are very similar to scenes in that James Cagney classic, which had been released the year before this movie.

This is the movie where George Raft created his dapper coin-flipping gangster character that he would parody many years later in Some Like It Hot and several other movies. He plays second fiddle to Muni but made an impression on audiences and would be identified as a gangster movie star for the rest of his career.

Ann Dvorak is good as the sister Tony seems a bit too protective of. The movie hints at an incestuous attraction. She was a damn good actress and brings some real emotional grit to the climax. She was a popular actress throughout the 1930’s and ‘40’s but is barely remembered today apart from hardcore fans of old movies.

Like Scott I found the scene where Tony goes to see the play Rain and leaves wondering which guy Sadie winds up with to be amusing. It adds a bit of levity to a brutal story. This is one of the rare non-horror movie roles for Frankenstein's Monster himself Boris Karloff.  He plays a rival gangster who controls Chicago's North Side. 

Al Pacino would emulate Paul Muni for the 1983 Brian De Palma version. They changed the Italian Tony Camonte to the Cuban Tony Montana but both movies end with explosively violent showdowns. The original Scarface is a must see for any serious movie buff.

Reviewed on: December 7th, 2011
Paul Muni admires Karen Morley in Scarface

Paul Muni admires Karen Morley in Scarface

As Scott wrote, Scarface blatantly condemns gangsters and the politicians and the public who aren't doing enough to stop the rampant crime.  This is something we would never see today.  Could you even imagine a movie that says the same about all of the illegal Mexicans running guns and drugs across our borders? Granted there are large segments of our society that would cheer such a statement, Hollywood no longer has the balls to point the finger at a particular ethnicity as this movie does to Italians. 

The speech given by the publisher applies to the contemporary problems of illegal aliens. He yells,  "Run em out of the country!"  and, "Half of them aren't even citizens."  The line, "Make laws and see that they are obeyed."  Hits as much home today as it did then.  The governor of Arizona got all kinds of bad press from the liberal media when she enacted a state law on illegal immigrants that mimicked federal law.   Had the federal government been doing it's job, Arizona would not have had to do it themselves.

I like these pre-code films for their honest approach to sex.  Early on Tony says he was with a girl the night the mob boss was killed.  "She's very nice."  He smirks.  I also noticed the insinuation of incest that Patrick mentioned.  So often an actress in a movie wears a sexy outfit while the actor seems more impressed looking in her eyes.  Tony does not even attempt to mask his lust for Poppy, staring at her legs and cleavage.  Later, at a restaurant, Tony says to Poppy, "I'm not hungry. Except for you. You got something I like."

As my brothers wrote, this is an action packed film with one killing after another.  As Patrick mentioned, there is some levity.  When Tony shows Poppy his new apartment, she says, "Kind of gaudy, isn't it?"  The clueless Tony responds, "Ain't it though? Glad you like it."

My favorite scene is when Tony goes to visit his boss after an attempt was made on his life.  Tony is battered and bruised, while the boss plays it cool.  When Tony starts to whistle you know there is about to be a new mob boss in town. 

The preaching is a bit distracting but it is as topical today as it was then.  The directors included an "X" every time there is a significant death.  It is either a painted "X," an "X" on a bowling scorecard or a shadow, such as what is behind Raft when he gets his.  In those days newspaper put an "X" on photos showing where a body was.   Scarface remains a great watch!


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