on July 31, 2000
A gritty, fast-paced gangster film that ranks among the best. Made with a purpose in 1932, take into consideration for example the complete title; 'Scarface: The Shame Of A Nation' and the beginning credits that ask you 'what are you going to do about it?', very straightforward but naïveté aside this is one of the best gangster films of all time. Paul Muni delivers a powerful performance, he is a driving force throughout the movie. Muni plays Tony Camonte, a character that is more than 'loosely' based on Al Capone. He easily dominates every scene he's in except one or two scenes that get stolen by Ann Dvorak as his sultry little sister. George Raft is equally impressive as Tony's best friend and partner in crime. Boris Karloff, fresh from the success of 'Frankenstein' just one year earlier, also appears as one of Tony's competitors. Ann Dvorak is excellent as Tony's sultry sister who is also in love (or is it lust?) with Tony's best friend (Raft). Scandalous at the time particularly because of the unhealthy relationship between Tony and his sister. Those hints of incest are still kind of shocking today. Some of the elements were taken from real life like the 'St. Valentine Day Massacre' for example and the name 'Scarface' is directed at Al Capone himself. The ending is a knockout. An intense and brutal gangster drama that's brilliantly directed by Hawks. A remake was attempted in the 80's with Brian DePalma and Al Pacino in the role of Tony Montana, but was much more graphic and violent not to mention overlong. This remains the best of the Scarface films. From a scale of 1-10 I give this film an 8!
on March 26, 2006
----- * IN A NUTSHELL: NO GLAMORIZING OF PUBLIC ENEMIES HERE -*
A dark and dank insight into the depraved and exciting world of bootlegging gangsters at their worst.
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT: [WARNING -- CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS BELOW]
Tony Camonte [Paul Muni], is the lead, and a character patterned after Al Capone (also called "Scarface")but not in every way. The obviously amoral Camonte gradually seizes control of the bootlegging racket, from Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins), his boss, through a series of barbaric murders which eventually include Johnny Lovo. Apparently, Camonte's ambition is translated into brutality as his sole constructive force, which is hardly constructive at all. There is no bargaining, communicating or making deals, Camonte simply kills everyone that stands in his way even if it is really not needed. I think I counted 26 murders in the film, but others have stated that they counted 28.
BACK TO THE ACTION:
After bumping off his boss Lovo, with the aid of henceman Guino Rinaldo [George Raft], Camonte took up with Lovo's mistress, Poppy [Karen Morley]. Though he has lusted after Poppy from the start, Tony has shown oddly incestuous interest in his own sister, Cesca [Ann Dvorak] that seemed more emotionally deep than that for his newly found trophy girl. There were hints about the incestuous nature of their relationship throughout the film with their mother, who Tony never implied was anything more than a domestic servant, constantly warning Cesca about Tony's intentions in veiled but unmistakable language.
Believe it or not, there is actually humor woven into "Scarface" throughout, with one of the best examples being the murder of Gaffney, [Boris Karloff] while he was bowling. The camera pans to Gaffney's bowling ball knocking down all the pins which is a strike, and one of the many examples of the "X" being used to indicate a murder being committed throughout the film. This reduced the explicitness of the violence, but was perhaps more effective and thought provoking through the implicitly clear outcome.
In the end, Camonte got what he had coming and took it like a weasel, which was required by the censors, but it also removed the romanticism that frequently was given to the many violent criminals of the day, especially Capone. His sister died with him, actually before him. At which point he became a defeated man, ready to throw in the towel, but not before he provided proof that he was no hero and unworthy of anyone's respect, which the police had told us to expect.
ABOUT THE TONE OF THE FILM AND ITS TIME:
Hughes had all kinds of problems with the censors of the day, and we are told that two versions of the film were released. One without the censors approval and one with. Also, that a moral prologue had to be added at the beginning of the film, and added several times during it, to make clear that this was a bad thing we were seeing, [the ruthless life of a killer] and that it was not okay to emulate. In essence, to make clear that the message of the film was NOT to encourage this kind of lifestyle.
MY TAKE ON THE MESSAGE:
To me, the lead character, Tony Camonte, is a vicious swine whose courage came in the form of a gun in his hand. His lusts' and interests' were both perverted and dispicable, making him an unsympathetic character, and a blight in any civilized society. Good - because that is how he was meant to be seen. That, in no way, diminishes the potency of this film. Instead it punctuates and highlights the right from the wrong, the good from the bad. We may not be sure what the good and right is, after seeing this film, but we can be sure what is bad and wrong, because we have seen it for 93 minutes by the time the film ends.
-----*- PRINCIPAL ACTORS -*
Paul Muni - Tony Camonte
Ann Dvorak - Cesca Camonte
Karen Morley - Poppy
George Raft - Guino Rinaldo
Boris Karloff - Gaffney
Osgood Perkins - Johnny Lovo
-----*- PRODUCTION CREW -*
Howard Hawks - Director / Producer / Screenwriter
Howard R. Hughes - Producer
W.R. Burnett - Screenwriter
Ben Hecht - Screenwriter
John Lee Mahin - Screenwriter
Seton Miller - Screenwriter
Fred Palsey - Screenwriter
Armitage Trail - Book Author
ABOUT THE VIDEO:
The video quality was variable, but it was watchable from beginning to end. The sound was even better, with very little of the background hiss that we can expect from a 74 year old film.
An excellent film and an excellent companion for the more recent remake of Scarface,1983, Directed by Brian De Palma and starring Al Pacino. When one recalls that Scarface was made in 1932, before film-noir, and actually during prohibition [1920-1933] it reminds us of what a gem this "talky" is.
I see reviews here dating back to the year 2000. This review is for the Universal Cinema Classics release of Scarface that came out in May 2007. First off, the video and audio on this print are excellent. There is no hissing in the audio, and there are very few artifacts in the video. The extras are another matter. First there is an introduction by TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne who provides the same excellent short introduction that he would were Scarface playing in prime time on TCM and he were introducing it there - no more, no less. The only other extra is an alternate ending scene for Scarface. There is no commentary track, which is a shame considering this film, along with "Little Caesar" and "The Public Enemy" form the founding trio of the gangster film in the sound era of the motion picture.
As for the movie itself, it is based on real events that happened in the criminal career of Al Capone, although Capone's criminal career had already ended with his conviction on charges of tax evasion six months before this film was released in April 1932. You know you're watching a Howard Hughes production when, during the first scene, a bar employee is sweeping up after a party held by one of Chicago's big gangsters and finds a bra among the confetti. The film shares some aspects with its gangster film predecessors - Tony Camonte is motivated by a desire for power just as Edward G. Robinson's Rico was in "Little Caesar", and also like Rico takes over the gang from a boss he perceives as weak. However, Camonte doesn't seem to have the pent-up rage of Public Enemy's Tom Powers. When Tony performs acts of violence it is usually related to gangland business. The actual deaths are strictly business, but the execution of the killings themselves are something Tony takes pride in - a sort of work of art on his part. Like Tom Powers, Tony Camonte is given a family background, but unlike Tom Powers, Camonte's family is a completely dysfunctional one. What is unique in this gangster picture is Tony's trio of love interests. He wants his boss' girl, Poppy, as a status symbol. He also seems to have a love affair going with the machine gun, acting like he has discovered America the first time he shoots one. Finally, Tony is in love with his own sister Cesca. Tony's only true fits of rage occur when he sees her with another man, and it is this loss of emotional control over this one issue that is ultimately his downfall. George Raft, an ex-gangster of sorts himself, is terrific as the smart and level-headed Guino Rinaldo, Tony's right-hand man. Finally there is Vince Barnett as Tony's extremely inadequate secretary in a bit of comic relief turned tragic at the end of the film. This film is truly a classic. I just wish Universal had put in a commentary track, for such a cinema landmark is certainly worthy of one. Highly recommended.
on May 18, 2003
"Scarface", belongs to the trio of classic gangster films with "Public Enemy", and "Little Caesar", of the early thirties that defined forever what a gangster or crime tale should like like.Even all these years later "Scarface" cuts a vivid and often frightening picture in its depiction of one ruthless crime boss and the means he uses to make his way in the world. Being of the pre code era "Scarface", in some respects has a surprisingly modern and non sentimental feel to it which makes it really entertaining viewing even today.
Paul Muni had one of his most memorable screen roles in "Scarface' as Tony Camonte a small time hood who by most often ruthless methods, manages to climb up the crime ladder to be one of the crime bosses involved in everything from paybacks to illegal bootlegging. The film chronicles his seedy rise from small time thieving and intimidation to where he undermines his old "boss" and takes over all his underworld operations, to where he becomes the crime boss of the city while destroying everyone who loyally supported him on his rise. Loosely modelled on the Al Capone character Tony Camonte is a highly unlikeable character and it's to Paul Muni's great credit that he manages to instill in the character as much dimension as is possible in an individual that possesses few redeeming qualities. He begins as a cocky nobody out for anything he can get, developing into a more polished crime lord till his fall when he becomes the sniverling pathetic individual that was always lurking beneath the surface. It is a terrific performance which cemented Muni's stardom for the decade and placed him forever with the all time gangster greats like Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Paul Muni would go on to create many memorable pieces of work in such diverse films as "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", "The Story of Louis Pasteur", and "The Good Earth",among others, but this performance is the one he would always be most remembered for.
The film has a gritty hard look about it and never compromises on showing the violent, unsafe and indeed terrifying underworld and the ruthless individuals that peopled it. Murders, incest, betrayal and illicit sex are all portrayed here with few attempts to gloss over the truth. "Scarface" contains many memorable performances, first and foremost in one of his best performances George Raft as the ruthless sidekick to Tony, Guino Rinaldo who pays the ultimate price for crossing Tony in his plans and falling for his little sister. His supposed real life gangster connections give Raft a glowing realism here and his trademark tossing of a coin was unforgettably sent up years later in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot". Ann Dvorak as Tony's over sexed sister Cesca who also has a vividly incestious realtionship with her brother is another memorable and no holds bared character who would never have been allowed in films in just a few years after this film was made. She is a very sexual creature that holds her brothers love above all else and is even willing in the end to help kill for him. Karen Morley strikes an unforgettable impression as the cold as ice moll of first Johnny Love Tony's gangster boss, and when he outlives his usefullness, of Tony himeslf. She is slick, cold blooded and someone who revels in violence and hard company. Her's is an unforgettable performance and one of the best female characters to appear in any of the 1930's gangster films as she is her own boss and decides what she wants to do herself with no help from any man. The film has many violent scenes of gang warfare, mass killings, car chases, characters outliving their usefulness to Tony and being eliminated, and seduction. It's a vivid tale that will stick in your memory long after the fantastic final shoot out when Tony meets his richly deserved end.
These pre-code efforts by studios like Warner Bros. and Universal hold up very well even today and "Scarface" has justly been considered a memorable classic since its release in 1932. Weakly remade in the 1980's, the Howard Hawks version starring Paul Muni is still the one to see. With its warts and all, no holds barred look at the seamy side of a gangster's life it is unsurpassed. For a slice of underworld life I highly recommend that you sit back and savour the delights of the violent yet extremely entertaining 1932 version of "Scarface".
on October 21, 2002
Crazysexycool is the best way I can describe Paul Muni's character in Scarface. Muni,as always is excellent. He takes a ruthless,coldblooded killer and gives him likeablilty and appeal. Except for the "moral lecture" in the middle, the movie is great. That scene was added to satisfy the censors in 1932. Director Howard Hawks said that the scene made him want to puke. If you see the movie, you will see what he means. It only serves to slow down the pace of the movie. Otherwise, I love it. My favorite scene is when Tony first gets a machine gun. He's like a kid with a new toy. He's says "out of my way while I spit" and procedes to mow the place down. I also love the scene where Tony and his entourage swagger into the nightclub. He is the epitome of cool. At that moment he is a man on top of the world. At the end when he is reduced to a sniveling coward and is mowed down in the street just as he deserved to be, I still found myself liking the guy!
on February 9, 2014
Simply the best version of the "scarface legend" ever made -- to date.
Muni's "Scarface" is far and away 1,000 times better than
the Al Pacino social-satire version (virtually a parody of the genre)
Howard Hawk's Scarface will always stand as the epitome of the early 1930's gangster film. The early talkie stars Paul Muni as Tony Camonte loosely based on the real life Al Capone. The acting in the film is typical of the time period. Muni goes way over the top in his portrayal( something that DePalma tried to get Pacino to do in the 1983 remake).
There are several performances that stand out in the film. Most notably is that of the coin flipping George Raft as Camonte confidante Guino Rinaldi. The script was written by Ben Hecht who won an academy award even though it gets somewhat preachy in order to satisfy the movie censors.
The action is particularly well filmed even with the technical limitations of the day. Note the shootouts and car chases. Another interesting plot device is the placing of X's throughout the film when something bad is about to happen.
This film was long unavailable on DVD but can now be found in that format as part of the Scarface Deluxe Gift Set. I'm hoping that the film will be remastered and released on its own with some additional bonus material. For now the only additional material that is available on the disc is an alternate ending Hawks shoot to get the film past the Film Review Board which has a captured Camonte led off to face trial and execution for his crimes ( a sort of crime doesn't pay message that the censors insisted on).
Do yourself a favor and see Scarface as it was meant to be. This important film is in many ways superior to the 1983 remake but does stand as a bookend to that piece. Get out and see this great piece of gangster history.
on October 18, 2013
I rented it a few years ago and decided I should have it, just because. Violent - lots of car crashes. Unseemly racism appears in the portrayal of Italians as, shall we say - slow learners and undesireable types. Looking to put some teeth into the Immigration Act - sound familiar? Howard Hughes produces his 1st movie here -Howard Hawks directs.but it's terribly important to Hughes to make this his entrance to Hollywood filmmaking. At the same time, within months of each other, or during an overlapping time frame the hugely popular Warner Bros' Public Enemy is made and released.first. Scarface following because of 'censureship' re-shoots, and stalls, they say. There are a number of 1/2 lines and a few scenes that echoe in the Scarface movie story and script of Public Enemy. Call it a 'Tip of the Hat ' to the director Michael Mann? I don't think so. This production is not as classy either; poor print and/or little lighting and not as clever, scene for scene, in the look as Public Enemy.This is in a rack all it's own. Paul Muni, as Tony, had to really put on the act for this and he excels at it. George Raft is also good to look at - he's never displaying all of his charms tho at once, ever. My favorite character and actor here is Vince Barnett as 'Angelo' Tony's secretary. He's adorable. His film and tv bio is longer than my arm; I must mention that the 1983 version with Al Pacino which we all love and nearly has it's own channel, taps most of this very story pretty much. Surprising how even the casting in some roles matched the original actors. I got this within a very short time frame from order date and I used standard shipping. It came in easy to open DVD box. Reliable dealer shipped it right away.
on December 7, 2013
In 1930 two things happened in Hollywood. Firstly, what was to become the MPAA drew up plans for new censorship of all movies either made or played in the United States. Secondly, Howard Hawks’ film Scarface was set to be released but encountered significant setback because of the all new production code. A short history of the production code shows that in 1922 several high profile scandals involving Hollywood actors jolted the federal government to call for some sort of code. Increasingly alarming was the fact that “talkies”, or sound pictures, would bring about even more violence and profanity to the screens (The Production Code of 1930). It took 8 years, but finally the code was settled upon in 1930. Until this time “censorship” had been enforced by local censorship boards and “do’s” and “don’ts” could vary from state to state and even city to city. By the time the code came out, 2 of 3 films which were to make up the “gangster trilogy” had been released, or cleared for release; they were The Public Enemy and Little Caesar. Hawk’s film varied so greatly from both of these that he went through a two year struggle with the censorship board. Later ,details will be presented to show the specificity of the changes that were to be made to Scarface In order for it to be shown to the public. Scarface was a unique contribution to Hollywood in the manner of directing/style, acting, and thematic elements when compared to other films of the time. This paper is to explore where the differences are made up and how it contributed to the Hollywood of its time.
One of the first noticeable elements of Scarface is the way in which Hawks directed and shot his film. Hawks was already a semi-successful director by the time he came out with Scarface and because of this success he was able to shoot his film in the manner that he chose. The first scene of the film shows a club owner tidying up after a party and going to make a phone call. This is where Hawk’s influence starts to shine. Our yet to be titled main character, Tony, is seen only by his shadow approaching the club owner. In a long drawn out sequence, Tony’s shadow finally closes in on the owner and with 3 shots he is gunned down. The use of mise-en-scene is also heavily influential not only in this scene, but in others throughout the film, which will be discussed further later. This entire scene is dominated by backlighting and heavy shadows. Instead of the typical over the shoulder shot from Tony’s point of view to the club owners first person point of view shot, Hawks chooses to conceal Tony and let the opening scene set the mood for the film. Another example of Hawks’ unique approach to this film comes from the use, or lack there of, of the close up. During early 1930’s hollywood closeups were used to say something about a scene or character, much unlike today’s filming philosophy. It has been said about Hawk’s Scarface that:
...Howard Hawks was quite eloquent about (the closeup). There aren’t many closeups in his films. A closeup really meant something back then. Yes, it is the most efficient way to shoot a scene sometimes, but it’s not always the best, in terms of emotion. If you hold your closeups back, and use them sparingly, then they really have some impact (O’Malley).
The truest form of the closeup that is seen in the film is towards the very end when Tony carries out the order to execute his then boss Johnny. The camera moves in for an extreme close up of Tony. “Now comes the best closeup in Scarface: Tony staring sightlessly at his “Boss,” his T-Shaped (X) scare played up by superb lighting” (Hagemann, 36). The depth of detail in this shot alone symbolizes Tony’s struggle throughout the entire film. His character is plagued by people he must get rid of and those that he can’t trust. The third significant decision Hawks made when shooting Scarface was the lack of “shot, reverse-shot”. By this time in Hollywood, studios were cranking out films at an unbelievable rate and had established a certain set of guidelines which guided how quickly a movie could be produced. One of the standards that had been set was the “shot, reverse-shot” used during dialogue. Hawks chose to ignore convention and instead play with creative angles and wide shots to show characters in conversation which makes his directing stand above the rest of the films during this era.
Another way that Hawks ensured Scarface would be set apart from the rest was in his choice of actors and storytelling. Unlike Little Caesar, which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, and Edward G. Robinson, and The Public Enemy that starred James Cagney and Jean Harlow, two megastars of the time, Scarface was plagued with no-name and new actors. The choice of having new actors in Scarface allowed Hawks to manipulate the story by having a cast that didn’t already have a defined “character” such as James Cagney would have. Another problem that Hawks ran into with the production code was how his actors acted in Scarface. In other films of the time the director made it clear that the villain wasn’t to be glorified and “...usually (took) great care to describe as psychopathic gangsters: EG and Robinson in Little Caesar (1930) Mervyn LeRoy and James Cagney who crushes half a grapefruit in the face of his companion in the enemy public (1931)” (Cine Club Decaen). Hawks, on the other hand, made Tony the hero of the film with no real enmity against him from other gangsters or the police for that matter. For the most part, Tony IS glorified as having the life in Scarface. He gets the girl, he has the car, the money, and the title of king. The other problem with Tony’s character is that he is infatuated with his younger sister. The first encounter that is seen between Tony and Cesca (Francesca) is at their mother’s small apartment where Tony catches her kissing another man. This scene is broken down into two parts, first jealousy, then protectiveness. Cesca responds unaptly to both of these. “Rather than acting like her brother, she is about to describe his unnatural protectiveness and sexual jealousy when she is interrupted: "You act more like...I don't know. Sometimes I think..." To give her "real fun" and to prohibit her from having "more fellas," he places a wad of bills in her hand” ([...]). Tony’s character here immediately responds the only way he knows how, by solving the problem with money. Later in the film, one sees the same solution when it comes to his girl, Poppy.
Tony’s character and how he is portrayed, both in regards to his sister, and mainly because of the glorification of his character, the villain, among other smaller reasons, are the driving force behind the trouble Hawks and producer Hughes encountered with the production code. “For two years, Howard Hughes, the film's producer, battled with the industry's censors, who only allowed the film's release with the deletion of some scripted material” ([...]). The results of the code being enforced upon his film were apparent from the very start. The title was changed to Scarface: Shame of a Nation, and a moralizing introduction was added: “This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: 'What are you going to do about it?' The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?” ([...]). These titles placed at the front end of the film were demoralizing to the script and showed first hand the power of the code. The ending of the film was also modified. The original ending saw Tony and Cesca come to a realization with each other that led to Tony trying to escape from the police. In the altered ending, this dialogue is cut so that Cesca seems to be a passive and "womanly" accomplice, rather than as an active accomplice” (xroads.virginia.edu). The altered ending coincided with dubbed over dialogue and scenes that were cut from the original. The alternate ending never received Hawk’s approval and in fact was shot by a different director, Richard Rosson. Hays was the leading man behind the production code and changes to Scarface. Hays and Hawks never reached an agreement on the film and “Director Hawks refused to alter Scarface in response to Hays' demands, but producer Howard Hughes eventually defers on certain points. Hughes changes the title to Scarface: The Shame of the Nation, and adds Hays' suggested prologue that describes the film as an "indictment of gang rule in America." In addition, an entire scene is inserted to address the Code's concerns, in which citizens confront the newspaper publisher, frustrated by all the publicity gangsters receive in the press” ([...]). The alternate ending removed Tony’s status as hero and instead ended with him begging for mercy from the police. The police decide not to meet Tony’s demands and instead mow him down and win approval through the cheering of a crowd that has gathered near the scene.
Finally Scarface stands apart from other films of the time through the use of motifs in its mise-en-scene. The most famous use of this is suggested in the symbolic use of X’s throughout the film. Some scholars have pointed out that the X’s throughout the film symbolize death, while others agree with ownership by Tony. For sake of continuity and clarification, the stance taken here will be that of the X marking death and not ownership. Hawks was very enthusiastic about using the X in his film. Hawks saw the X as a way to connect unseen murders for the viewing public. “”In the papers, in those days, they’d print pictures of where murders occurred and they always wrote “X marks the spot where the corpse was.” So we used Xs all through the film. When anyone connected with the picture thought up some way of using an X, I’d give him a bonus.”” (O’Malley). This sort of game that Hawks played with inserting X’s into the film is apparent in the lighting, props, and set pieces. The first time the viewer sees the use of an X is in the title cards for the film. Soon after that the viewer sees another X as Tony’s shadow moves closer and closer to the club owner, leading to his death. The X stands as a foreshadowing of death, whenever one sees an X on screen, outside of the title cards, it can be assured that a murder will happen soon after. Perhaps the most famous example of the use of X’s in Scarface comes from the “Valentine’s day massacre” scene. A trellis is hanging above an alleyway in which the murders are about to take place. Here, again Hawks uses shadows and backlighting to illuminate the scene. The gun-downed characters are never seen but their silhouettes are. The camera starts high in the trellis, pans down to the shadows, and after being riddled with gun-fire ascends again to the trellis ending on seven X’s, symbolic for the seven murders just committed. The gang members just murdered by Tony were a part of the last real threat left against him, Gaffney. In the next scene, the viewer sees Gaffney hiding with a white X right over his head. The next significant use of an X comes with the actual murder of Gaffney. The scene that is presented is much more complex than just simply dealing with X’s, however. Gaffney and his crew are found at a bowling alley when Tony enters.
The scene of Gaffney's death is artfully photographed as a whistling Tony strolls into the bowling alley and cases the joint. A scorekeeper marks an X - strike - on Gaffney's scoresheet - hinting at his impending death. During his next turn, Gaffney approaches the line and squats down to hurl his bowling ball. As he releases the ball, loud and rapid gun-fire rakes his body and mows him down. The camera follows the ball he's thrown - it's another strike. The metaphor of the pins falling symbolizes Gaffney's own death. The ball knocks down all the pins except one - symbolically, the remaining pin spins and whirls, stubbornly teeter-totters for a second longer, and then finally topples over. ([...]). Here one can see the X placed on the scoresheet from Gaffney’s strike, but perhaps more importantly are the pins shown at the end of the scene. In Scarface, there are three main players: Tony, Lovo (his boss), and Gaffney. Until this point, Tony has been the number two man to Lovo, and Gaffney has been his third place contender in the city. The slow falling of the third pin is Gaffney as he falls from the gunfire that is heard in the background. The last piece of the puzzle between Tony and being the king of the city is Lovo. Interestingly enough, the murder of Lovo is done without the use of an X and is done quite quickly (See the section about style for more). Overall the use of X’s throughout the film can be categorized differently all-together when compared to other films of this era. This time period of filmmaking didn’t see such a heavy use of symbolism until Hawk’s Scarface came out.
Scarface as both a film and a piece of art is an interesting study for the studio production system of the day in Hollywood. It is clear that Hawks went about the filming of Scarface in a completely unconventional style, especially in relation to casting and the storytelling of a mobster as the hero. The restrictions of the production code on this masterpiece were a real shame. In some places, the release was delayed and even banned in Germany. The film essentially disappeared for over fifty years and wasn’t re-released until after Howard Hughes’ death in 1979 (xroads.virginia.edu). Because of the scarring of this film by the censorship board, it never received any nominations or awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. When one looks at the style of Scarface and sees how uniquely it was composed and shot, it could only be hoped that in some way that would stand as reparations for the disdain that it received during its initial theatre run. Again, it is important to remember that this film may have been the centerpiece of gangster films in the 1930’s, had the censorship board not have been so disdainful of it. “That honor (instead) fell to two earlier Warner Bros. films that defined the genre (the three films formed a trilogy, of sorts)” ([...]). Here’s to Scarface going against the code and rewriting the rules of scriptwriting and motion picture making.
Forget Brian DePalma's bloated, overwrought, ill conceived blood-fest, Howard Hawks' original gangster picture is a brilliant and comic symphony of Capone-style gangsterism. The violence is real and Paul Muni is excellent as the swarthy hood in 1920's Chicago. There is as much comedy here as a Marx brothers film, so don't take Hawks' political posturings too seriously. Unlike the genre today, there is little attempt to connect the elements of crime with "deep" "psychic" or "nationalist" causes. Munni simply responds to his violent and macabre environment.