SCARFACE

(1932)
With Paul Muni, George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, C. Henry Gordon, Vince Barnett, Boris Karloff
Directed by Howard Hawks
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

Paul Muni: The Benicio del Toro of his day     Even though it was released by United Artists, SCARFACE bears a familial resemblance to THE PUBLIC ENEMY and LITTLE CAESAR, the two seminal gangster films of 1931 from Warner Brothers. Together, the three classics form a trilogy of early gangster films that influenced just about every other film in the genre for the next century.  Director Howard Hawks proved himself the master of the hard-driving action film, just as later he would prove himself the master of the screwball comedy, the western and whatever genre he took a stab at. The camerawork is often fluid and stunning, like a late period silent film, and does much to distract from the early-talkie quality of some of the acting.  Keep in mind that although SCARFACE was released in 1932, by which time most directors and actors had figured out you no longer had to overplay your part to reach an audience, SCARFACE was actually filmed in 1930, a time when most movie actors were still struggling with the new medium of sound film.  So you've got to put yourself in a 1930 mindset to fully get past the slow acting and the occasional interminable speeches.  If you can do that, you'll discover a film as good and at least twice as violent as THE PUBLIC ENEMY and LITTLE CAESAR.  For such an early film, the violence is a little shocking, with one stretch depicting a gangland war being probably the most violent scene of its time.  There is also a clever and darkly funny transitional scene in which the pages of a calendar flying off is superimposed with a machine gun blasting to show the pasage of time in the gangster world.

     Paul Muni, as Capone-like gangster Tony Camonte, virtually carries the film, creating a low-life, nearly amoral thug whose answer to every problem is to mow it down with a tommy gun.  Although he received a best actor nomination for his first film VALIANT, it was SCARFACE which made Muni a star and convinced Warner Brothers to sign him to a contract.  He is aided here by George Raft, who, although not given much to do, walks away with the "Most Subtle Acting" award of the film.   His schtick of flipping a quarter would stick with him for the rest of his life. 4 - JB


THIS FILM BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER "F"

     While the Hollywood censors battled long and hard over some aspects of SCARFACE, they just may have let slip two instances of profanity, both significantly in scenes in which dialogue may have been ad-libbed.  About 35 minutes into the film, a gangster (Vince Barnett) with little grasp of English or etiquette gets so frustrated with the person on the other end of a phone call, he throws the receiver down and threatens to shoot it.  In his mini-tirade, it sounds like he tells the other person to "F**k off!". Later, at just about the one hour mark, another gangsters is causing a scene at a nightclub, and two bouncers grab him. It is less distinct than the scene with the telephone, but it does sound like one bouncer says "What do you think you're doing, f**ker?".  If anybody out there has this movie on DVD, I have given you the cues and you can listen for yourself.  Please tell me if you agree.  

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Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee