Scarface: The explosion of gangster films in the first years of the Depression reached a violent, incendiary crescendo with this classic from Howard Hawks. Also known as “The Shame of a Nation,” this follows the rise of a power-mad, ruthless killer (Paul Muni) as he murders his way to the top of the Chicago gangs. Writer Ben Hecht drew on his Chicago newspaper experience and Hawks received plenty of advice from real mobsters to create what was clearly a portrait of Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, and Bugs Moran and the killing sprees that enraged and fascinated the public.
From the first scene, it’s clear that Muni is a remorseless murderer, stupidly arrogant, rather than the rakish outlaws that Hollywood was in the process of mythologizing. He first kills on order from his boss, Perkins, but soon goads Perkins into rubbing out his boss, Vejar. Muni soon turns the gun on Perkins and takes over his operation and his moll, Morley.
Throughout, Muni and his friend Raft have a running battle with North Side gang boss Karloff, a duel that culminates in a slaughter modeled after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. When Muni discovers that Raft has been living with Dvorak, Muni’s sister, with whom he has a near-incestuous attachment, he kills his only friend and then faces, sniveling, the guns of the cops. Hawks pushes the action as fast as the bullets fly, using innovative camera moves and insisting on realism, with live machine-gun fire used to decimate sets and multiple car crashes.
The result was a box-office smash (it was also popular with its subjects; Capone himself owned a print) and both Muni and Raft became instant stars, but it also created a tangle with the censors. Hughes released both Hawks’s cut, which depicts Muni’s ignominious death in a gutter, and a version that has Muni tried and sentenced to death. The laserdisc contains both the original ending and the Motion Picture Producers’ Association ending.
Remade with Al Pacino in 1983.
Paul Muni Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte
Ann Dvorak Cesca Camonte
Karen Morley Poppy
Osgood Perkins John ‘Johnny’ Lovo
C. Henry Gordon Insp. Ben Guarino
George Raft Guino Rinaldo
Vince Barnett Angelo
Boris Karloff Gaffney
Purnell Pratt Mr. Garston, publisher
Tully Marshall Managing editor
Inez Palange Mrs. Camonte
Additional Editing Lewis Milestone
Director Howard Hawks
Producer Howard Hawks
Additional Writing Howard Hawks
Screenplay Ben Hecht
Director of Photography Lee Garmes
Novel Armitage Trail
Producer Howard Hughes
Editor Edward Curtiss
Sound Engineer William Snyder
United States of America / The Caddo Company / 93 minutes / Released 1932-04-09