Total Film - 03/01/2001
"...This is the mobster flick that defined many of the genre's cliches....SCARFACE still packs considerable punch..."
Loosely based on the life of Al Capone, Howard Hawks's SCARFACE is one of the most shocking and powerful gangster films ever made, setting the standard for Hollywood screen violence for years to come. Tony "Scarface" Camonte (Paul Muni) is an enforcer for Johnny Lovo, an ambitious gangster who wants to combine all the liquor rackets in Prohibition-era Chicago into one crime empire. To achieve this goal Tony embarks on a reign of terror, threatening citizens and clawing his way to power until he is the number one mobster in town. Muni's fierce performance established the model for the Hollywood mobster, a violent yet charismatic figure. Censorship battles over the film delayed its release for two years, and resulted in additional moralizing scenes and an alternate ending. Visually dynamic and provocative, SCARFACE, produced by Howard Hughes, is one of the best films of the 1930s and the forerunner of the modern gangster film.
The powerful, original gangster film that is based on the story of Al Capone's rise to power in Chicago during prohibition, in the form of mobster Tony "Scarface" Camonte (Paul Muni), who fights his way to the top of the heap to become the top dog--but not without consequences. The well-made, controversial SCARFACE is the model for Hollywood's gangster film genre.
SCARFACE was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1994.
SCARFACE was based on the life of notorious mobster Al Capone, with details added about other real-life mobsters and historical events such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It became one of Capone's favorite films, and he bought his own print of it.
SCARFACE was filmed in 1930 but not released until 1932 because of censorship issues. Eventually producer Howard Hughes and director Hawks agreed to film additional scenes, including an alternate ending in which Tony is hanged for his crimes (filmed without actor Paul Muni), and adding THE SHAME OF A NATION to the film's title. This version and the film's original version were both made available to theaters for screenings, although the picture was banned in several states and not allowed to be shown in Chicago for over a year.
SCARFACE was the most violent film made up to that time, featuring 28 deaths on-camera, 19 car crashes, and the first use of a machine gun in the movies.
After its initial release, producer Hughes refused to allow SCARFACE to be screened. The film was rereleased in 1979 after his death.
An important visual motif is the appearance of an "X" to signify death, appearing through the film in many different forms.
Hawks would later say that SCARFACE was his favorite among all of his films, because it had been produced independently with money raised by Hughes.
Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht originally conceived of this film as "the Borgia family living in Chicago today," referring to the extravagant Italian Renaissance dynasty.
Hecht was offered $20,000 to write the screenplay. Instead he demanded $1,000 a day in cash, then finished work in eleven days.
After filming was over Hawks traveled to Chicago where he met Capone and a number of other mobsters.
Actor George Raft based his character's coin flipping on actual mobsters that he spent time with, and it became a gangster-movie trademark.
SCARFACE was remade in 1983 by Brian DePalma, starring Al Pacino.
Hawks makes a cameo as Meehan, the man Tony kills in a hospital bed.
Muni was an obscure actor performing mostly in New York theater when he was chosen by Hawks to play the lead role, while Raft was discovered at a prize fight, working as a hired goon for the mob. SCARFACE launched the Hollywood careers of both stars.