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USA 1932
Directed by
Howard Hawks
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Scarface (1932)

A fine script by Ben Hecht, quality direction by Howard Hawks and effective performances by a first class cast including the then unknown Paul Muni in the title role, as well as George Raft (making his screen debut with the first of many similar roles) makes Scarface a pioneering classic of the gangster genre (although filming was completed by mid-1930 it was not released until 1932 due to censorship problems during which time Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, both released in 1931, stole its thunder) one that with its racy mix of sex and violence thrilled a contemporary audience.  Indeed it still holds up well today even if it is dated particularly in the realisation of the action sequences.

Muni plays Tony Camonte, a ruthless Chicago hoodlum who with the assistance of his friend Rinaldo (Raft), works his way up the ranks of The Mob to take over the top position occupied by Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins). He also takes over Lovo's platinum blonde mistress (Karen Morley), but can’t stop his young sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak) being drawn into a life he knows in his heart is no good. 

Based upon a novel by Armitage Trail adapted by former Chicago newspaperman Hecht with input from Hawks and others, the film allegedly had several underworld crime figures serving as extras and technical advisors. Hawks keeps the pace intense and bar the scrolling text that forms its"social conscience" opening and a short section, designed to appease the Hays Office with some tokenistic moralizing by decent citizens, the focus is firmly on the cut and thrust of gangster life. Blazing tommy guns, car chases, and gangsters whacking other gangsters abound.

Whilst screen violence has certainly become more graphic, all the elements of the gangster genre as practiced by Coppola, Scorsese and De Palma (who remade the film in 1983) are here. Although Dvorak has a distracting tendency to pop her eyes overmuch the only really significant shortcoming is the stereotypical Italian-ness which at times makes the film sound and look like it is a Marx Bros spoof.

FYI: For the more squeamish exhibitors producer Howard Hughes organised an alternative print with less violence and showing Tony arrested and then hanged instead of being gunned down by police.




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