Scarface (1932 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Scarface
by Armitage Trail
Music by
  • Adolph Tandler
  • Gus Arnheim
Edited by Edward Curtiss
The Caddo Company
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • April 9, 1932 (1932-04-09)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
Country United States
  • English
  • Italian
Box office $600,000[2]

Scarface (also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation and The Shame of a Nation) is a 1932 American pre-Code gangster film starring Paul Muni as Antonio "Tony" Camonte. It was produced by Howard Hughes and Howard Hawks and directed by Hawks.[3] Written by Ben Hecht, the screenplay is based on Armitage Trail's 1929 novel of the same title, which is loosely based on the rise and fall of Al Capone. The film features Ann Dvorak as Camonte's sister, and also stars Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, George Raft, and Boris Karloff. Based on the life of Al Capone, the plot centers on a gangster named Tony Camonte who through his aggressive and violent methods, manages to move up the ranks in the Chicago gangland world. A version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre is depicted.

Believing that the film was too violent and glorified the illegal acts of the gangster, Hollywood censorship offices called for major alterations of the film including a alternate ending that would greater condemn and shame Tony Camonte. The secondary title of the film Scarface: The Shame of a Nation, and the prologue condemning gangster crimes at the beginning of the film were both added by request of the censorship offices. Due to the censors, the film was released a year late, but was released with the original, violent ending. Audience reception was good, but censors banned the film in several cities and states, forcing Howard Hughes to remove the film from circulation and put it in his vault. The rights to the film were recovered after the death of Hughes in the 1970s. Along with contemporary classics, Little Caesar, and The Public Enemy, Scarface is regarded as one of the greatest gangster films ever made and significantly influenced the future of the gangster film.

Scarface was added to the National Film Registry in 1994 by the Library of Congress. In 2008, the American Film Institute listed Scarface as the sixth best film in the gangster film genre in its "Ten Top Ten". Out of 27 reviews, the film holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on the review website Rotten Tomatoes. The film was the basis for the Brian De Palma 1983 film of the same name starring Al Pacino.


Osgood Perkins as John "Johnny" Lovo and Paul Muni as Antonio "Tony" Camonte in a scene from the film's trailer.

In 1920s Chicago, Italian immigrant Antonio "Tony" Camonte acts on the orders of Italian mafioso John "Johnny" Lovo and kills "Big" Louis Costillo, the leading crime boss of the city's South Side. Johnny then takes control of the South Side with Tony as his key lieutenant, selling large amounts of illegal beer to speakeasies and muscling in on bars run by rival outfits. However, Johnny repeatedly warns Tony not to mess with the Irish gangs led by O'Hara, who runs the North Side. Tony soon starts ignoring these orders, shooting up bars belonging to O'Hara, and attracting the attention of the police and rival gangsters. Johnny realizes that Tony is out of control and has ambitions to take his position.

Meanwhile, Tony pursues Johnny's girlfriend Poppy with increasing confidence. At first, she is dismissive of him but pays him more attention as his reputation rises. At one point, she visits his "gaudy" apartment where he shows her his view of an electric billboard advertising Cook's Tours, which features the slogan that has inspired him: "The World is Yours."

Tony eventually decides to declare war and take over the North Side. He sends the coin flipping Guino Rinaldo, one of his best men and also his close friend, to kill O'Hara in a florist's shop that he uses as his base. This brings heavy retaliation from the North Side gangs, now led by Gaffney and armed with Thompson submachine guns—a weapon that instantly captures Tony's dark imagination. Tony leads his own forces to destroy the North Side gangs and take over their market, even to the point of impersonating police officers to gun down several rivals in a garage. Tony also kills Gaffney as he makes a strike at a bowling alley. The South side gang and Poppy go to a club and Tony and Poppy dance together in front of Johnny. After Tony conspicuously shows his intention to steal Poppy, Johnny believes that his protégé is trying to take over, and he arranges for Tony to be assassinated while driving in his car. Tony manages to escape this attack, and he and Guino kill Johnny, leaving Tony as the undisputed boss of the city. In order to escape the city for awhile, Tony and Poppy leave Chicago for a month.

Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak in Scarface
Paul Muni in the trailer for Scarface.

Tony's actions have provoked a public outcry, and the police are slowly closing in. Then he sees his beloved sister Francesca ("Cesca") with Guino, and kills his friend in a jealous rage—before the couple can inform him of their secret marriage. His sister runs out distraught and tells the police what he has done. The police move to arrest Tony for Guino's murder, and Tony holes up in his house and prepares to shoot it out. Cesca comes back, planning to kill him, but ends up helping him to fight the police. Tony and Cesca arm themselves and Tony begins shooting at the police from the window, laughing maniacally. Moments later, however, Cesca is killed by a stray bullet. Calling Cesca's name as the apartment fills with tear gas, Tony leaves down the stairs, and the police confront him. Tony pleads for his life, but then makes a break for it, only to be gunned down by an unknown officer with a Tommy gun. He stumbles for a moment and then falls down in the gutter and dies. Amongst the sounds of cheering, outside, the electric billboard blazes "The World is Yours."



Background and development[edit]

Multimillionaire business tycoon Howard Hughes, who occasionally dabbled in film making, wanted to make a box office hit after his success with the film The Front Page. Gangster films had become popular in the early 1930s in the age of Prohibition and Hughes wanted to make a gangster film based on the life of Al Capone that would be superior to all others in the genre. He was strongly advised against making the film, because there had been one hundred gangster films made since sound movies had been invented. Little Caesar and The Public Enemy were already popular films; Warner Bros. claimed that there was nothing new that could be done with the gangster genre. Furthermore, censors in the industry were becoming concerned with the immense amount of glamorization of the dangerous and illicit life of a gangster in film. Despite all this, Hughes bought the rights to the Armitage Trail's novel Scarface, which was inspired by the life of Al Capone.[5] Trail (pseudonym for Maurice Coons) wrote for a number of detective story magazines during the early 20s, but died of a heart attack at the age of 28, shortly before the release of the 1932 film.[6] However, the novel bears little resemblance to the film.[5] Hughes managed to hire on Fred Pasley, a New York reporter and authority on Capone, as a writer. Howard Hughes asked Ben Hecht, the first winner of the Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1929 for his silent crime film Underworld (1927 film), if he would write the screenplay.[7]:84[8]:70[9] Suspicious of Hughes as an employer, Hecht strictly requested that he would only work for him if he was paid one thousand dollars every day at six o'clock. Hecht claimed that this way, he would only waste a day's labor if Hughes turned out to be a fraud.[10]

Howard Hughes wanted prominent film director Howard Hawks to direct and co-produce the film. Hughes admired Hawks' Film The Dawn Patrol, even though he had previously attempted to prevent the release of the film claiming that Hawks had ripped of his film Hell's Angels. This job offer came as a surprise to Hawks as the only encounters with Hughes that he had, had been poor, including a period of time when Hughes was suing him because he had become interest in a play that Hughes had already bought the rights to for filming. Hughes attempted to persuade Hawks during a game of golf. Hughes promised to drop the lawsuit, and by the eighteenth hole, Hawks was more willing to direct the film. Hawks became even more convinced to work on the film when he found out that Ben Hecht would be the head writer.[8]:71-72 Hecht and Hawks worked together well, both interested in the idea of portraying the Capones as if they were the House of Borgia, including echoing and augmenting a subtle hint of incest between the main character and his sister even present in Trail's novel.[7]:85 The film was adapted by Hecht in only eleven days in January 1931 from Armitage Trail's 1929 novel Scarface. Additional writing was provided by W. R. Burnett and Fred Pasley who based the screenplay on Pasley's book Al Capone: Biography of a Self-Made Man whose book begins with a barbershop scene with Al Capone similar to the one introducing Tony Camonte in the film. John Lee Mahin and Seton I. Miller rewrote and altered the script for continuity and dialogue. Pasley was not credited in the film.[11]:77[8]:71[7]:85 Because there were five writers, it is difficult to distinguish who contributed what to the film; however, the ending of Scarface is similar to Hecht's first gangster film Underworld where gangster Bull Weed traps himself in his apartment with his lover and shoots it out with the hoards of police outside, and thus was likely a Hecht contribution.[12]:43, 67

Ties to Capone[edit]

Both the film and novel are loosely based upon the life of Al Capone, whose nickname was "Scarface".[11]:75-77 In his memoir about his time as a young reporter in Chicago, Gaily, Gaily (1963), Ben Hecht reminisced about having known “Big Jim” Colosimo socially and briefly meeting a young Capone.[13] Hecht also said that Capone sent two of his men to visit him to make sure that the film was not based on Capone's life.[14] He told them that the character of "Scarface" was a parody of numerous people with whom Hecht was acquainted. He claimed that the reason that he called it "Scarface" was not because it was about him (which it was), but because Al Capone was one of the most famous men of the time and it would intrigue people to go see the film. After that, the two left him alone.[10] However, the film was intended to be a biopic and the names of the characters and locations were only changed minimally in order to maintain historical accuracy of the film. Capone became Camonte and Moran became Doran. According to some of the original scripts, Colosimo was intended to be changed to Colisimo and O'Bannion was intended to be changed to Bannon, but later the names were changed to Costillo and O'Hara respectively. This including other alteration to make characters and other identifying locations were due to censorship and Hawks's concern that the historical details were too overt and excessive.[11]:78,380

The most obvious references to Capone and actual events from the Chicago gang wars — especially to audiences at the time of the film's release:

  • Al Capone had a large, visible scar on the side of his face, like the Paul Muni character. The film reveals that the Muni character got the scar in a barroom brawl. Capone received his scar in a similar way: in a bar fight at the Harvard Inn after making a pass at a patron's sister.[15]
  • Tony kills his boss "Big Louis" Costillo in the lobby of his club; Capone was involved in the murder of his first boss "Big Jim" Colosimo in 1920.[16][17]
  • Rival boss O'Hara is murdered in his flower shop; Capone's men murdered Dean O'Bannion in his flower shop in 1924.[7]:86
  • The shooting murder of seven men in a garage, with two of the gunmen costumed as police officers, mirrors the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. Also, the leader of this rival gang in the film (Karloff) narrowly escapes the shooting, which is precisely what happened to gang leader Bugs Moran in the actual St. Valentine's Day Massacre.[16][18][19]

Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he owned a print of it.[20] Capone was imprisoned in Atlanta for tax evasion during the film's release.[7]:86


Howard Hawks and Howard Hughes had a difficult time casting well known actors, because most actors were under contract and studios were reluctant to let their actors freelance to independent producers.[21]:64 Irving Thalberg first suggested that Hawks consider Clark Gable, but Hawks felt that Gable was more of a personality than an actor.[22]After having seen Muni on Broadway, talent agent Al Rosen suggested that Hughes consider Paul Muni for the lead role. When Muni was first asked if he would be interested in the role of Tony, he declined, feeling that he wasn't physically suited for the role. After reading the script, his wife Bella urged him that it would be a good opportunity.[8]:72 After a test run in New York, Hughes, Hawks, and Hecht approved Muni for the role.[8]:74 Critics didn't agree with the casting of British actor Boris Karloff as British gangster Gaffney, believing that his accent was out of place in a gangster film. However, some critics considered him a high point of the film.[23] Jack La Rue was originally chosen to play Tony Camonte's sidekick Guino Rinaldo, but because he was taller than Muni, Hawks needed to find another actor, worried that La Rue would overshadow Muni's tough Scarface persona.[22] George Raft, a struggling actor at the time, was chosen instead to play character Guino Rinaldo, modeled after Al Capone's bodyguard Frank Rio, after Hawks encountered him at a prizefight.[21]:64[24]:52

Even though Karen Morley was under contract at MGM, Hawks was close with MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix, who loaned out Morley for the film. She was reportedly given the choice between the role of Poppy and Cesca. Morley forewent the stronger role of Cesca, because she wanted to help her friend Ann Dvorak's film career and she thought Dvorak might be better fit for the role of Cesca than Poppy. She considered this, "probably the nicest thing I did in my life".[24]:52-53 Morley invited twenty-year old Dvorak to a party at Howard Hawks' house in order to introduce them. According to Hawks, at the party, Dvorak zeroed in on George Raft who would be playing her love interest in the film. He initially declined her invitation to dance. She tried to dance in front of him in order to lure him to dance with her and eventually he gave in, and their dance together stopped the party.[24]:3,53 After this event, Hawks was interested in casting her, but had reservations about her experience as merely a chorus girl. After a screen test, he gave her the part, and MGM was willing to release her from her contract.[24]:53 Dvorak had to both receive permission from her mother Anna Lehr and petition at the Supreme Court to be able to sign on with Howard Hawks as a minor.[24]:55


Filming lasted six months, which was significantly long for the time period.[23] Howard Hughes remained off-set to avoid interfering with the filming of the movie. Hughes urged Hawks to make the film as visually exciting as possible by adding car chases and crashes and machine gun fire.[8]:75 Hawks shot the film at three different locations: Metropolitan Studios, Harold Lloyd Studios and the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles. Shooting took three months with the cast and crew working seven days a week. Several accidents happened on the set. Harold Lloyd's brother, Gaylord, lost an eye when he visited the set and was accidentally shot with live ammunition. Raft also received a head injury during the death scene of his character when he accidentally hit the door frame while he was slumping to the floor.[25] For the most violent scene of the film in the restaurant, Hawks cleared the set to avoid harming extras and then had the set fired on by machine guns. The actors acted out the scene in front of a screen with the shooting projected in the back, so as everyone crowded under the tables in the restaurant, it looked like the room was simultaneously under fire.[7]:87

During filming, Hawks and Hughes met with the Hays Office to discuss revisions, but the film still managed to get shot and put together quickly. In September 1931, a rough cut of the film was screened for the Production Code Administration and the film was subsequently shown to the California Crime Commission and police officials, none of whom thought the movie was a dangerous influence for audiences or would illicit a criminal response. Irving Thalberg was given an advanced screening and was impressed by the film. Despite all the positive feedback the film was given, the Hays Office was insistent on changes before final approval.[24]:58-9


J.E. Smyth called Scarface, "one of the most highly censored films in Hollywood history."[26] Howard Hawks believed the censorship office had personal vendettas against the movie specifically.[26] Will Hays was the chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) at the time. This board later became known as the Hays Office. After repeated demands for a script rewrite from the Hays Office, Hughes ordered Hawks to shoot the film, "Screw the Hays Office, make it as realistic, and grisly as possible." [27] The Hays Office was outraged by Scarface when they screened it. The Hays office called for scenes to be deleted, scenes to be added that condemn gangsterism, and a different ending. They believed that Tony's death at the end of the film was too glorifying. In addition to the violence, the MPPDA felt that an inappropriate relationship between the main character and his sister was too overt, especially in one scene where he holds her in his arms after he slaps her and tears her dress; they ordered this scene be deleted. Hughes, in order to receive the MPPDA's approval, deleted some of the more violent scenes, added a prologue to condemn gangsterism, and wrote a new ending.[8]:75[7]:88 In addition, a couple scenes were added to overtly condemn gangsterism such as a scene in which a newspaper publisher looks at the screen and directly admonished the government and the public for their lack of action in fighting against mob violence and a scene in which the chief detective denounces the glorification of gangsters.[12]:68 Hawks refused to shoot the extra scenes and the alternate ending so they were directed by Richard Rossen, earning Rossen the title of "co-director".[28]:43-44 Hughes was instructed to change the title to The Menace, Shame of the Nation or Yellow to clarify the subject of the film; after month of haggling, he compromised by titling it Scarface, Shame of the Nation and adding a foreword condemning the "gangster" in a general sense.[11]:80[7]:89 Hughes also made an attempt to release the film under the title "The Scar" when the original title was disallowed by the Hays office.[29] Besides the title, the term "Scarface" was removed completely from the film. In the scene where Tony kills Rinaldo, Cesca says the word "murderer", but she can be seen actually mouthing the word "Scarface".[24]:59

The original script had Tony's mother loving her son unconditionally, accepting his lifestyle, and even accepting money and gifts from him. In addition, there was a politician who, despite campaigning against gangsters on the podium, is shown partying with them after hours. The script ending had Tony staying in the building, unaffected by tear gas and a multitude of bullets fired at him. It is not until the building is on fire that Tony is forced to exit the building, guns blazing. He is sprayed with police gun fire but appears unfazed. Upon noticing the police officer who's been arresting him throughout the film, he fires at him, only to hear a single "click" noise implying that his gun is empty. He is then killed after being shot several times by said police officer. A repeated clicking noise is heard on the soundtrack implying that he was still attempting to fire while he was dying.[30]

Alternate ending[edit]

The first version of the film (Version A) was completed on September 8, 1931, but censors required that the ending be modified or they would refuse to grant Scarface a license. Paul Muni was unable to re-film the ending in 1931 due his work on Broadway. To combat this Hawks used a body double. The body double was mainly filmed through shadows and long shots in order to mask the fact that Muni was not in the ending of the film.[8]:75[11]:80

The alternate ending (Version B) differs from the original ending in the manner that Tony is caught and in which he dies. Unlike the original ending in which Tony escapes the police and dies after getting shot several times, the alternate ending starts with Tony reluctantly handing himself over to the police. After the encounter, Tony's face is not shown again. A scene follows in which a judge is addressing Tony during sentencing. The next scene is the finale, in which Tony (seen from a bird's eye view) is brought to the gallows, where he is finally put to an end by being hanged.[31][28]:44

However, Version B still did not pass the New York censors. Howard Hughes felt the Hays office had suspicious intentions in rejecting the film, because Hays was friends with Louis B. Mayer and Hughes believed the censorship was to prevent wealthy independent competitors from producing films.[11]:80 Hughes issued a statement to the press which helped him received support of the press. The New York Herald-Tribune praised Hughes for his courage to stand up against censors. Howard Hughes disowned the censored film and finally in 1932 released Version A—with the added text introduction—in states that lacked strict censors (Hughes also attempted to take the New York censors to court). This 1932 release version led to bona-fide box office status and positive critical reviews. Hughes was successful in subsequent lawsuits against the boards that censored the film.[8]:76[32]

Cultural references[edit]

The serious play that Tony and his friends go to see, leaving at the end of Act 2, is John Colton and Clemence Randolph's Rain, based on W. Somerset Maugham's story "Miss Sadie Thompson". The play opened on Broadway in 1922 and ran throughout the 1920s. (A film version of the play, also titled Rain and starring Joan Crawford, was released by United Artists the same year as Scarface.)[33] Though fairly inconspicuous in the film, and unnoticed by most viewers, the Capone family was meant to be partially modeled after the Italo-Spanish Borgia family. This was most prominent thought the subtle and arguably incestuous relationship that Tony Comonte and his sister shared.[7]:85 Camonte's excessive jealousy of his sister's affairs with other men hint at this relationship.[16] The tune that Tony whistles in the film is the sextet from Gaetano Donizetti’s popular opera Lucia di Lammermoor.[5] This tune is accompanied by words that translate to, "What restrains me in such a moment?", and this tune continues to appear during violent scenes in the movie.[7]:93 The song Cesca sings while playing the piano is "Wreck of the Old 97".[34]

Promotional card for the film


In his book Underworld U.S.A, Colin McArthur identified three phases in the gangster film genre based on differences between characters, the setting, and the technology used by gangsters. Along with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Scarface is classified in the "first phase" or "classic phase". This phase is characterized by gangster figures who are born gangsters, not made gangsters. All of their gangster-like traits such as violence, vulgarity, and charisma are innate attributes of the classic phase gangster. The ethnicity of the gangster reflects immigration patterns of the time, as the newest immigrants often started at the bottom of the social classes. For example, in the first phase of gangster film, gangsters are often of Italian or Irish descent, because that reflected the immigration patterns of the 1920s and 1930s.[35]:8 The gangster anti-hero in the classic phase of the gangster film genre is characterized by their use of violence and the way that they are punished with violent deaths, frequently in public. Their death is important and regarded in a tragic or heroic manner. The ambiguous portrayal of the gangster as neither the hero nor the villain was seen as a problem to the film censorship offices of the time who required Scarface to put a justifying prologue at the beginning of the film, clarifying the menace of the gangster to modern society and a call to action for the government and the audience. The inevitable fall of the gangster is most visible in this phase through his conspicuous consumption. The lavishness of his life and his craving for material items and status symbols shows the gangster's compulsion for success. The turning point of the film is when the gangster tries on his new clothes; it is the beginning of his demise.[35]:10 Tony Camonte takes pride in the number of shirts that he owns which serves as a symbol of the decline and self-delusion of the gangster. These films are often characterized by misogynistic views evident in Scarface by the way Tony treats his sister. Yet, there is another aspect to the classic era gangster in that he often has an abnormal sexuality. This idea is represented in Scarface by Tony's inability to have a normal relationship with a woman because of the incestuous feelings that he harbors for his sister.[35]:11

The classification of Scarface as a film with historical significance or a merely a Hollywood gangster-era flick has been greatly debated by scholars.[11] Many scholars view gangster films as an era genre and argue that Hollywood filmmakers lack the depth and critical distance required to considered historians. Historian and film critic J.E. Smyth argued of the biopic nature of the film Scarface. Sound films or "talkies" were a new genre at the time of production of Scarface. The filmmakers took advantage of the technology to create characters that looked and talked like gangsters using urban speed and accent to create an accurate historical portrayal of the gangsters of the prohibition era.[11] Its historical significance was augmented by the film's writing credits: W.R. Burnett, author of gangster novel Little Caesar from which the film of the same name was based on, Fred D. Pasley, a prominent Chicago gangland historian, and ex-Chicago reporter Ben Hecht.[11]:552 Events similar to the assassination of Jim Colismo and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre contribute to the film's realism and authenticity.[16]

Major themes[edit]


According to film studies professor Fran Mason, one of the most prominent themes of the film is excessiveness. The opening of the film serves to set the stage as Big Louie Costillo sits in the remnants of the wild party he had just had, convincing his friends that his next party will be bigger, better, and have "much more everything".[36]:25 This indicates the excessiveness of the life of a gangster, whether in pleasure or in violence. The death scene of Costillo sets the next tone of excessiveness. In this scene, the audience only sees the shadow of Tony Camonte with a gun, hears the shots and the sound of the body hitting the floor. The violent scenes become more severe as the film progresses. Most of the violence in the film is shown through montage as scenes go by in sequence, showing the brutal murders that Tony and his gang commit such as roughing up bar owners, a drive by bombing, and the massacre of seven men up against a wall. There is a scene in which a peel-off calendar shown rapidly changing dates is being shot by a machine gun, making clear the excess of violence committed. The violence is not only perpetrated by the gangsters. The police in the final scene with Tony and Cesca spare no effort to catch the notorious Camonte siblings, visible through the disproportionate number of police officers and cars surrounding the apartment complex to apprehend one man. Tony and the police's excessive use of violence throughout the film normalizes it.[36]:25-26 An element of parody underlies Tony's excessive and abnormal joy in using Tommy guns. In the scene in the restaurant in which men from the North side gang attempt to shoot Tony down with a Tommy, he obtains pleasure from the power. Rather than cowering beneath the tables, he tries to peek out to watch the guns in action, laughing maniacally from his excitement. He reacts jovially upon getting his first Tommy gun and enthusiastically leaves to, "write [his] name all over the town with it."[36]:26

The gangster's excessiveness in consumption is comically represented through Tony's quest to obtain expensive goods and show them off. In Tony's first encounter with Poppy alone on the staircase, he boasts about his new suit, jewelry, and bullet-proof car. Poppy largely disregards his advances calling his look, "kinda effeminate".[36]:26 His feminine consumption and obsession of looks and clothes is juxtaposed by his masculine consumption which is represented by his new car. Later, Tony shows Poppy a stack of new shirts, claiming that he will only wear each shirt once. Tony's awkwardness and ignorance of his own exorbitance makes this Gatsby style scene more comical than serious. Tony's excessive consumption of goods serves to symbolize the disintegration of values of modernity, specifically represented by Tony's poor taste and obsession over money and social status. Tony's excessiveness transcends parody and becomes dangerous, because he represents a complete lack of restraint that ultimately leads to his downfall. Tony is blinded by his obsessive desire to control everything, particularly his sister, and thus doesn't waste any time to understand the circumstances of Cesca's romance with Rinaldo. His own excess and obsession lead to his own lack of control and not too long after, his own death.[36]:26-27

Tony's excess is also manifest in the gang wars in the city. Tony is given express prohibition to leave O'Hara, Gaffney, and they rest of the North side gang alone. He disobeys because of his lust for more power, violence, and territory. Not only does Tony threaten the external power structure of the gangs in relation to physical territory, but he also disrupts the internal power structure of his own gang by blatantly disobeying his boss Johnny Lovo.[36]:27 Gaffney's physical position juxtaposes that of Tony. Throughout the film, Gaffney's movement is restricted by both setting and implication because of the crowded spaces in which he is shown onscreen and his troupe of henchmen that he is constantly surrounded by. Although Tony is able to move freely in the beginning of the film, because of his lack of physical restrictions, at the end of the film, he has become just as confined and restricted as Gaffney. He is surrounded by henchmen and cannot move as freely throughout the city. This, however, is self-imposed by his own excessive desire for territory and power.[36]:27

The theme of excessiveness is further exemplified by Tony's incestuous desires for his sister. Tony attempts to control and restrict Cesca's freedom. Tony's mother acts as the voice of reason, but Tony does not listen to her, subjecting his family to the excess and violence that Tony brings upon himself.[36]:27 Tony's lust for violence mirror's Cesca's lust for sexual freedom, symbolized by her seductive dance for Rinaldo at the club. Rinaldo is split between his loyalty for Tony and his passion for Cesca, serving as a symbolic trophy of the power struggle between the Camonte siblings. Rinaldo is also a symbol of Tony's power and prominence; his murder signifies Tony's excessive lack of control and his downfall, which end with Tony's death.[36]:28

American Dream[edit]

Camonte's rise to prominence and success is modeled after the American Dream, but more overtly violent. As the film follows the rise and fall of the Italian gangster, Tony becomes increasingly more Americanized. When Tony comes up from under the towel at the barbershop, this is the first time the audience gets a look at his face. He appears foreign with a noticeable Italian accent and slicked hair and an almost Neanderthal appearance with the scars on his cheek.[7]:93 As the movie progresses, he becomes more Americanized as he loses his accent and his suits change from gaudy to elegant.[7]:93 By the end of the film, his accent is hardly noticeable. Upon the time of his death, he had accumulated many "objects" that portray the success suggested by the American Dream: his own secretary, a girlfriend of significant social status (more important even is the fact that she was the mistress of his old boss), as well as a fancy apartment, big cars, and nice clothes. Camonte exemplifies the idea of the American Dream that one can obtain success in America by following Camonte's own motto to, "Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doin' it."[7]:95 On the other hand, Camonte represents the American urge to reject modern life and society, in turn rejecting Americanism itself. The gangster strives for the same American Dream as anyone else, but through violence and illicit activity, approaches it in a way that is at odds with modern societal values.[37]:1-2

Minor themes[edit]


Control of territory is an theme in the gangster film genre of both a physical sense and on the movie screen. Tony works to control the city by getting rid of competing gangs and gaining literal physical control of the city, but he also gains control of the movie screen in his rise to power. This is most evident in scenes and interactions involving Tony, Johnny, and Poppy. In an early scene in the film, Tony comes to Johnny's apartment to receive his payment after killing Louie Costillo. There are two visible rooms in the shot, the main room, where Tony sits and the room in the background where Poppy sits and where Johnny keeps his money. Lovo goes into the back room but Tony does not, so this room represents the power and territory the Johnny controls but Tony does not. The men are sitting across from each other in the scene and with Poppy sitting in the middle of them in the background representing the trophy that they are both fighting for. However, the fact that they are both equally taking up room in the shot represents their equality of power at that point. Later, in the nightclub scene, Tony sits himself in between Poppy and Johnny showing that he is in control through his centrality in the shot. At this point, he has achieved the most power and territory, as indicated by "winning" Poppy.[36]:23-24

Fear of technology[edit]

Ideas in Scarface represent the American fears and confusion that stemmed from the technological advancement of the time: whether technological advancement and mass production should be feared or celebrated. There was an overall anxiety of the time about whether new technology would cause ultimate destruction in the future or whether it would help make lives easier and bring happiness. In the film, Tony excitedly revels in the possibilities that machine guns can bring by killing more people, more quickly and from further away. This represents the question of whether mass production equals mass destruction or mass efficiency.[35]:16


The use of playful motifs throughout the film showcased Howard Hawks' unorthodox sense of humor he expressed through his directing.[16] In the bowling alley scene, where rival gang leader Tom Gaffney was murdered, when Gaffney throws the ball, the shot remains on the last standing bowling pin, which falls to represent the death of kingpin Tom Gaffney. In that same scene, before the death of Gaffney, a shot shows an "X" on the scoreboard, foreshadowing that Gaffney would die.[38][16] Hawks used the "X" foreshadowing technique 15-20 times throughout the film (seen first in the opening credits) that was chiefly associated with death appearing many times (but not all) whenever a death is portrayed; the motif shows up in numerous places, most prominently as Tony's "X" scar on his left cheek.[5] The motifs in the film serve to mock the life of the gangster.[16] The gangster's hat is a common theme throughout gangster films specifically Scarface as representative of conspicuous consumption.[37]:173 Hand gestures were a common motif that Hawks included in his films. In Scarface, George Raft was instructed to repetitively flip a coin, which he does throughout the film.[39][40]

The gang and the gangster[edit]

As the gangster rises to success, he must rely more on his gang and those he surrounds himself with as well as object protections than himself. At the beginning of the film, Tony performs most of his work by himself or with his friend Rinaldo. As he gains power and prominence, he is constantly surrounded by his group of gang members and bodyguards such as in the nightclub scene, as well as the window fortifications he adds to his apartments.[36]:23


The family in the gangster genre is characteristically close and self-reliant. They represent their own microsociety with their own hierarchical structure. The gangster's downfall is his obsession with the protection and preservation of his family. In Scarface, Camonte's downfall is directly due to his overprotective and incestuous feelings for his sister.[35]:122 Tony's lack of a father or patriarchal figure influences his desire to find a replacement through another means and is a common theme in other gangster films as well.[36]:60


Camonte in the beginning of the film is shown as successful. After he allows himself to be alone, it's clear that he is going to be killed. This further establishes a significant theme from gangster films: that it is dangerous to be alone.[41] Camonte separates himself from both his mother and his past life of poverty in pursuit of success.[37]:202 According to Robert Warshow, this represents a conflict for the gangster, because success in itself creates solitude, because it sets someone apart as an individual. The gangster always fails because of his compulsion to succeed. The dilemma of the gangster is that of the failure versus success, which will ultimately lead to failure. The goal of the gangster film genre is to represent this dilemma through the gangster and resolve it through death.[41]


"The World Is Yours" sign outside Tony Camonte's apartment

"The World is Yours"[edit]

Camonte's apartment looks out on a neon, flashing sign that says "The World Is Yours". This sign represents the modern American city as a place of opportunity and individualism. As attractive as the slogan is, the message is impossible, yet Tony doesn't understand this. The view from his apartment represents the rise of the gangster. When Camonte is killed in the street outside his building, the camera pans up to show the billboard, representative of the societal paradox of the existence of opportunity yet the inability to achieve it.[35]:17 According to Robert Warshow, the ending scene represents how the world is not ours, but not his either. The death of the gangster momentarily releases us from the idea of the concept of success and the need to succeed.[42] In regards to the theme of excessiveness, the sign is a metaphor for the dividing desires created by modernity seen through the lens of the excessive desires of the gangster persona.[36]:28

Tommy gun[edit]

The Tommy gun serves party to represent Tony himself. During the massacre scene, the gun is seen and Tony is not, yet the viewer is still led to understand that Tony is present, because he is associated with the gun. This represents Tony becoming increasingly more akin to an object than a person in his pursuit of power by use of objects (largely guns).[36]:25


Hawks created a violent, gripping film through his use of strong contrast of black and white in his cinematography, for example: dark rooms, silhouettes of bodies against drawn shades, and pools of carefully placed light. Tight grouping of subjects within the shot and stalking camera movement followed the course of action in the film.[7]:93 The cinematography is dynamic and characterized by highly varied camera placement and mobile framing.[43]


Due to struggles with censors, the film was released almost a year late, behind The Public Enemy and Little Caesar which had been filmed at the same time, Scarface was released in theaters on April 9, 1932.[26] The film was released on DVD on May 22, 2007, and again on August 28, 2012, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios, by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.[44] On video and shown on television, the film maintains Hawks's original ending but still contains the other alterations.[28]:45


Audience reception was generally positive.[8]:75 According to George Raft, who met Al Capone a few times at casinos, even Capone himself liked the film adding, "you tell 'em that if any of my boys are tossin' coins, they'll be twenty-dollar gold pieces."[21]:76 Variety cited Scarface as having, "that powerful and gripping suspense which is in all gangster pictures is in this one in double doses and makes it compelling entertainment," and that the actors play, "as if they'd been doing nothing else all their lives."[45] The National Board of Review named Scarface as one of the best pictures of 1932.[46] However, at the time of release in 1932, there was a general public outcry about the film and the gangster genre in general which negatively affected box office earnings of the film. The film earned $600,000 at the box office and while Scarface had more of a financial success than some of Hughes's other films at the time, due to the large cost of production, it is unlikely that the film did any better than break even.[2] The studios was forced to add "The Shame of the Nation" to the title, because of the audience perception that the film glorified gangsterism.[16][5] Believing the film to be offensive to the Italian community, the Order Sons of Italy in America formally denounced the film. Nazi Germany permanently prohibited showings of the film.[7]:91 Several cities including Chicago and states refused to show the film. The magazine Movie Classics ran an issue urging the people to demand to see the film at theaters despite the censorship bans.[47] The film broke box office records at the Woods Theatre in Chicago after premiering Thanksgiving Day, November 20, 1941 after having been banned from showing in Chicago by censors for nine years.[48]

Hughes had plans in 1933 to direct and produce a sequel to Scarface, but due to strict censorship rules, the film was never made.[49] Despite the favorable reception of the film among the public, censorship battles and some unflattering reviews from the press contributed to the film's flop at the box office. Upset at the film's failure at the box office, Howard Hughes removed the film from circulation.[12]:68 The film remained unavailable for around fifty years except for occasional release prints of suspect quality from questionable sources.[50]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1994, Scarface was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[51] The character of Tony Camonte ranked at number 47 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list.[52] The film was named the best American sound film by critic and director Jean-Luc Godard in Cahiers du Cinéma.[53][54] In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Scarface was acknowledged as the sixth best in the gangster film genre. The 1983 version was placed 10th, making Scarface the only film to make the same "10 Top 10" list as its remake.[55]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Scarface is cited (often along with Little Casear and The Public Enemy) the archetype of the gangster film genre, because it set the early standard for the genre of gangster films that have continued to appear in Hollywood.[50]:2[56]:14 Howard Hawks cited Scarface as one of his favorite works and the film was an subject of pride for Howard Hughes. Hughes locked the film up in his vaults a few years after it released, refusing many profitable offers to distribute the film or to buy its rights. After his death in 1976, filmmakers were able to gain access to the rights to the film which sparked the 1983 remake starring Al Pacino.[8]:76

Paul Muni's performance in Scarface contributed greatly to his rapid ascent into his acclaimed film career.[8]:74 Paul Muni received significant accolades for his performance as Tony Camonte. Critics praised Muni for his robust and fierce performance.[8]:74 Al Pacino stated that he was greatly inspired by Paul Muni and that Muni influenced his own performance in the 1983 Scarface remake.[57] However, despite the impressive portrayal of a rising gangster, critics claim that the character minimally resembled Al Capone. Unlike Camonte, Capone typically avoided grunt work and typically employed others to do his dirty work for him. Moreover, Muni's Scarface at the end revealed the Capone character to be a coward as he plead for mercy and then tried to run for it before getting shot in the street. Capone wasn't know for his cowardice and didn't die in battle.[56]:21

Scarface would be Ann Dvorak's best and most well-known film.[24]:1 The film launched Raft's lengthy career as a leading man. Raft, in the film's second lead, had learned to flip a coin without looking at it, a trait of his character, and he made a strong impression in the comparatively sympathetic but colorful role (It was Howard Hawks' idea to get Raft to use this in the film to camouflage his lack of acting experience).[58] A reference is made in Raft's later role as gangster Spats Columbo in Some Like it Hot (1959), wherein he asks a fellow gangster (who is flipping a coin) "Where did you pick up that cheap trick?"[59]

The movie Scarface had an influence on actual gangster life four years after the film was released. In 1936, Jack McGurn who was thought to be responsible for the St. Valentine's Massacre depicted in the film, was murdered by rivals in a bowling alley.[60]:96

On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Scarface holds a 100% "Fresh" rating with all 27 reviews being positive.[61]

Related films[edit]


After the rights for Scarface were obtained after the death of Howard Hughes, Brian de Palma released a remake of the film in 1983 featuring Al Pacino as Scarface. The film was set in contemporary Miami and is known for its inclusion of graphic violence and obscene language, uncharacteristic of the 1932 film.[8]:76[62] The 2003 DVD "Anniversary Edition" limited edition box set of the 1983 film included a copy of its 1932 counterpart. At the end of the 1983 film, a title reading "This film is dedicated to Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht" appears over the final shot.[63][64]

Associated films[edit]

Universal announced in 2011 that the studio is developing a new version of Scarface. The studio claims that the new film is neither a sequel nor a remake, but will take elements from both the 1932 and the 1983 version, including the basic premise of a man who becomes a kingpin in his quest for the American Dream. Martin Bregman produced the 1983 remake, and he will produce this new version, as well.[65] David Ayer will write the screenplay.[66] On August 11, 2016, it was announced that Antoine Fuqua is in talks to direct the remake.[67] On February 10, 2017, Fuqua left the remake and the Coen brothers are rewriting the script.[68] As of 2018, Fuqua was back on the project.[69]

Scarface has been associated with other films of the classic sound gangster films era. Scarface is often associated with other Pre-Code gangster films released in the early 1930s such as The Doorway to Hell (1930), Little Caesar (film) (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931).[11] According to Fran Mason of the University of Winchester, Scarface is more similar to the film The Roaring Twenties than its early 1930s gangster film contemporaries, because of its excessiveness.[36]:24

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]