Scarface

Movie Information

Scarface will be shown Saturday, Aug. 15, as the third in a series of four films being screened Saturday nights at dark in Pritchard Park. Presented by the Alvy Fund and the Friends of Pritchard Park, in association with the Hendersonville Film Society. Film historian Chip Kaufmann will introduce the films, which were all made in 1932, the year the park opened.
Score:
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Genre: Gangster Drama
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, George Raft, Boris Karloff
Rated: NR

Forget Brian De Palma’s remake; Howard Hawks’ original Scarface from 1932 is the goods as far as classic gangster flicks are concerned. Taken together with Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1930) and William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931), it marks the essence of the genre—yet it takes everything to new heights. Of the three movies, it’s the nastiest, most brutal and kinkiest (the incestuous nature of Tony Camonte’s fixation on his sister is undisguised)—and the darkest of the lot. Paul Muni stars in his breakthrough role as the more-or-less screen version of Al Capone—and for an actor who would come to be known for his “prestige” performances, he pulls out all the stops in his portrayal of completely insane and unchecked evil. Muni was often a bit hammy, but here the ham is like a terrifying force of nature.

Scarface is fascinating entertainment on so many levels that it’s impossible to even scratch the surface here. It’s an atypically stylized and symbol-laden film for Hawks—fascinatingly so. The constant use of the symbol “X” (in various forms) as a harbinger of impending death may be on the more-clever-than-good level, but it’s certainly creative and entertaining. In addition to Muni, the film also offers George Raft (doing his trademark coin-flipping shtick) in his breakthrough role—along with Boris Karloff in something other than his breakthrough role. There’s also one of the rare screen appearances of Broadway star Osgood Perkins, who is best known today for having been Anthony Perkins’ father. All in all, it’s simply the quintessential classic gangster picture.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

5 thoughts on “Scarface

  1. Ken Hanke

    Was De Palma’s “Scarface” a remake of this? I’d gotten the impression the two had nothing to do with each other.

    I’ve never seen any reference to it not being one. The stories are similar — substitute cocaine for bootleg liquor and Cuba for Italy — and the De Palma was promoted as a remake at the time and is always cited as one.

  2. I’ll have to check out the original. I never really liked the De Palma film very much, and I certainly didn’t think it was good enough to merit the iconic status it has. Maybe I’d enjoy it more, or at least understand what he was going for, if I knew what he was riffing on.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Well, the original only takes about 90 minutes, the remake takes something like 169 minutes. I like De Palma, but I’ve never liked his Scarface — even if he did have the decency to dedicate his version to Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht.

  4. brianpaige

    I can’t help but think the best version of this tale would be about 2 hours long. The first film chronicles Tony’s rise brilliantly but it’s almost like once he ousts Johnny Lovo it’s “Okay, let’s get to the finale!” The remake is way too long for what it is, but it does give us more of a taste of Tony on top before his fall.

    Wonder if someone should remake the original in the 1920s/30s setting and maybe expand on it a bit?

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