Scarface (1932/1983)


D: Howard Hawks

United Artists/The Caddo Company (Howard Hughes & Howard Hawks)

US 1932

95 mins


W: Ben Hecht, W.R. Burnett, John Lee Mahin & Seton I. Miller [based on the novel by Armitage Trail]

DP: Lee Garmes & L.W. O'Connell

Ed: Edward Curtiss

Mus: Gus Arnheim & Adolph Tandler

Paul Muni (Tony Camonte), Ann Dvorak (Francesca Camonte), George Raft (Guino Rinaldo), Boris Karloff (Tom Gaffney), Osgood Perkins (Johnny Lovo), Karen Morley (Poppy)

Adapted from a novel which was loosely based on the rise and fall of infamous mobster Al Capone, Scarface was released during the prohibition era and was considered at the time to be both gratuitously violent and that it glorified gangsters. In fact, Capone himself was a huge fan of the movie and cast member George Raft, a childhood friend of real life gangsters Ben Siegel and Meyer Lansky, became a surrogate style consultant, due to his participation in the film.

As for the movie itself, it may have been groundbreaking for the early 1930's, but it's incredibly tame by modern standards, and even in comparison to the 1983 remake (starring Al Pacino). For the time, it's incredibly well made, directed with some style and good performances.  Influential and groundbreaking it may have been, but it's definitely weakened by age.


Paul Muni in Scarface
Paul Muni in Scarface

D: Brian de Palma
Universal (Martin Bregman)
US 1983
170 mins


W: Oliver Stone [based on the screenplay by Ben Hecht, Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, W. R. Burnett & Fred Pasley]
DP: John A. Alonzo
Ed: Edward Curtiss
Mus: Giorgio Moroder

Al Pacino (Tony Montana), Steven Bauer (Manny Ribera), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elvira Hancock), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Gina Montana), Robert Loggia (Frank Lopez), Paul Shenar (Alejandro Sosa)

Brutalised remake of a 1932 biopic which was clearly based on Al Capone. 
In this version, Scarface is portrayed as a Cuban émigré who rises from petty crime to become Miami's most notorious cocaine drug lord. The film utilises the standard rags-to-riches formula and blends it with not-so-subliminal political messages of a man's rise from communism to consumerism and taking it to huge excess.
Aside from a few iconic soundbites and a memorably wide-eyed, loud-mouthed performance from Al Pacino it really isn't the masterpiece that it's heralded to be. 
A 1980's classic, yes perhaps, but for all the wrong reasons. When compared to other great crime films like The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Once Upon A Time In America and others, Scarface feels incredibly overrated.
This review may feel harsh to those who have it listed amongst their favourite movies. It's probably the must subjective film of the 1980's, with just as many people loathing it as those who laud it. Al Pacino is great, as are the supporting performances, and there's a handful of memorable scenes, but it's fair to say that it's all ridiculously OTT. 
In retrospect, it has to be mentioned that Giorgio Moroder's music score and a selection of the 1980's pop songs on the soundtrack belong in a different film altogether.

Al Pacino in Scarface
Al Pacino in Scarface