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One of the most influential movies of all time, the original Scarface is an exciting story of organized crime's brutal control over Chicago during the Prohibition era. Academy Award winner Paul Muni gives an electrifying performance as Tony Camonte, an ambitious criminal with a ruthless drive to be the city's top crime boss. Produced by the legendary Howard Hughes and directed by Howard Hawks, this compelling tale of ambition, betrayal and revenge is a groundbreaking masterpiece that influenced all gangster films to follow. Filmed during the "pre-code" era before censorship shaped the way movies were made, "this powerful gangster film is the most potent of the 1930s" (Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide).
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1 – It is one of the first real gangster movies, and set a standard for both film noir style films of the 30s and 40s, and for gangster films as a genre. There are scenes in this movie which are still being written into movie and TV shows today.
2 – It’s authenticity. The Chicago and Italian accents are a little difficult to understand, but the filmmakers were trying to make it as authentic as possible – as filmmakers do today. Also, sound on film technology was still in its infancy in 1932 (about 5-7 years old), and although it is not what you expect when you watch a contemporary film, it is a very good example of the time.
3 – The social moralizing that is the ongoing conversation theme at the police station and newspaper office shows what a heavy influence the Hays Office actually wielded. Thereby never letting the audience forget that the main characters may be sympathetic, but they are really a menace to fabric of American society.
4 – The suspense. Even though a modern audience pretty knows what is going to happen in Scarface, getting to the end had to have been a bit of a ride for earlier audiences because they would have come to this film without expectations (and without seeing the same scenes/narrative filmed over and over in a hundred different movies and cop shows).
5 – The last scene, with Tony lying in the gutter ‘where the horses have been,’ is exactly the end foretold by the police in the beginning of the film when they questioned him about Big Louie’s death. It is gruesome, but rich with irony as the camera pans up to the ‘Top of the World Tours’ sign (see Note).
Note: I also find it interesting that nearly every cinematic leading man who said they were ‘on top of the world’ is usually dead by the end of the last reel (i.e.,Arthur "Cody" Jarrett [James Cagney] in White Heat, Jack Dawson [Leonardo DiCaprio] in Titanic). I don’t have the stats on this, but I am pretty sure Tony Camonte was the first to say it – and die for his insolence.
when people were questioning Hollywood morals and a board of censors was created. The original ending of this movie offended
those people, so an alternate, less violent, ending was made. This movie was made 80 years ago, and it is interesting to note
how much stricter censorship was in those days as compared to now (Sons of Anarchy being a modern example of what is allowed.)
Scarface is extremely entertaining despite cheesy smart-alecky dialogue. The old cars racing around and Tommy gun destruction
are fun to watch. Both the original ending and the alternate ending are provided on this DVD.
Paul Muni stars as Tony, a ruthless neandrathal-like thug with a heater and a three piece suit who systematically takes over the illegitimate business of his goin' soft employer one burrough at a time. George Raft is the epitome of slick, wolfish cool (check out the coin flipping, which Billy Wilder had Raft scoff at years later in SOME LIKE IT HOT, in a nod to this movie) as Guino, Tony's right hand man, and Ann Dvorak as Tony's off-kilter sister is one of the most seductive women ever to be cast in light and shadow. Plus you've got Boris Karloff doing a turn as an Irish mobster...nice.
Surprisingly fast paced and brutal (great car chases -ever see a Model T roll down a hill?), this is spectacularly captured in black and white. There is a bit of `What're YOU gonna do about it?' preaching in the middle (the DA actually points at the audience as he delivers his tirade against crime), but so what? This one hits and hits hard. A year later the film commission would never allow the incest and the violence (in subsequent showings, a scene was actually tacked on the end in which Tony was brought in alive, and a stand-in filmed from the back stood in handcuffs before a finger wagging judge who sentences him to life in the cooler -or is it execution, I forget? - for his crimes) in later American films.
For a real hoot, pay close attention to the screen - there is a corresponding `X' somewhere in the frame every time somebody gets killed!
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