Scarface (1932 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by Ben Hecht
Based on Scarface 
by Armitage Trail
Music by Shelton Brooks
Edited by Edward Curtiss
The Caddo Company
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 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 and Richard Rosson. The story is based on Armitage Trail's 1929 novel of the same name, 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, and Boris Karloff. The plot centers on gang warfare and police intervention when rival gangs fight over control of Chicago. A version of the St. Valentine's Day massacre is also depicted.

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 (Paul Muni) acts on the orders of Italian mafioso John "Johnny" Lovo (Osgood Perkins) and kills "Big" Louis Costillo (Harry J. Vejar), 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 (Karen Morley) 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 (George Raft), 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 (Boris Karloff) 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. 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.

Tony's actions have provoked a public outcry, and the police are slowly closing in. Then he sees his beloved sister Francesca ("Ceska", Ann Dvorak) 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. Ceska comes back, planning to kill him, but ends up helping him to fight the police. Moments later, however, she is killed by a stray bullet. 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 the police. Outside, the electric billboard blazes "The World is Yours."



Paul Muni in the trailer for Scarface.

Background and development[edit]

The film was adapted by Ben Hecht in only eleven days[3] from Armitage Trail's 1929 novel Scarface, and additional writing was provided by W. R. Burnett, John Lee Mahin, and Seton I. Miller related to continuity and dialogue. 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.[4]

Both the film and novel are loosely based upon the life of Al Capone, whose nickname was "Scarface". Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he owned a print of it.[5] Ben Hecht also said that Capone's men came to visit him to make sure that the film was not based on Capone's life.[6] He told them that the film was fictitious, and the two men working for Capone left Hecht alone. The introduction for the film's screening on Turner Classic Movies even stated that Hecht convinced the men to work as consultants for him.[citation needed]

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 scar on the side of his face, like the Paul Muni character. We also learn in the film that the Muni character got the scar in a barroom brawl, which is essentially how Capone received his.
  • Tony kills his boss "Big Louie" Costillo in the lobby of his club; Capone was involved in the murder of his first boss "Big Jim" Colosimo in 1920.
  • Rival boss O'Hara is murdered in his flower shop; Capone's men murdered Charles Dion O'Bannion in his flower shop in 1924.
  • Gaffney leads a caravan of cars in a drive-by shooting at Tony in a restaurant; Capone's rival Hymie Weiss did the same thing to him in 1927.
  • Johnny Lovo attempts to get Tony killed in a car chase; Capone's ally Angelo Genna was murdered following a car chase in 1925.
  • 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.

Issues with censors[edit]

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.[7]

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."

Two other prominent gangster films produced about the same time but released over a year earlier to huge success were Little Caesar (January 1931) and The Public Enemy (April 1931). As is the case with Scarface, both of these films were also based on earlier novels.


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. Comedian 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.[8]

Alternate ending[edit]

The first version of the film (Version A) was completed on September 8, 1931, but censors would not allow its release because of concerns that it glorified the gangster lifestyle and showed too much violence. Several scenes had to be edited, the subtitle "The Shame of the Nation" as well as a text introduction had to be added, and the ending had to be modified.

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.

However, Version B still did not pass the New York censors, so Howard Hughes disowned it 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.[9] Hughes also made an attempt to release the film under the title "The Scar" when the original title was disallowed by the Hays office.

"X" motif[edit]

Hawks used an "X" foreshadowing technique 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.

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.)

Source music[edit]

The tune that Tony whistles twice in the film is the sextet from Gaetano Donizetti’s popular opera Lucia di Lammermoor. The song Cesca sings while playing the piano is "Wreck of the Old 97".


Brian De Palma directed a 1983 remake starring Al Pacino. 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.

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". The character of Tony Camonte ranked at number 47 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list.[10]

George Raft in a later film trailer.

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.)[11] 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?"

The film was named the best American sound film by critic and director Jean-Luc Godard in Cahiers du Cinéma.

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.[12]

On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Scarface holds a 100% "Fresh" rating with all 27 reviews being positive.[13]

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 this 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.[14] David Ayer will write the screenplay.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SCARFACE (A)". British Board of Film Classification. May 7, 1932. Retrieved May 13, 2015. 
  2. ^ Balio, Tino (2009). United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-23004-3.  p. 111
  3. ^ "Scarface (1932)". American Film Institute Catalog
  4. ^ Trail, Armitage. Scarface. Dell. (1959). foreword
  5. ^ Mcadams, William (1990). Ben Hecht: The man behind the legend. Scribner. p. 128. ISBN 0-684-18980-1. 
  6. ^ Hecht, Ben (1954). A Child of the Century. Simon and Schuster. p. 487. 
  7. ^ Black, Gregory (1994). Hollywood Censored. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45299-6. 
  8. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2000). Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. Grove Press. pp. 122–56. ISBN 0-8021-3740-7. 
  9. ^ "Cinema: The New Pictures: Apr. 18, 1932". TIME. 
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 7, 2011. Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  11. ^ Aaker, Everett (2013). The Films of George Raft. McFarland & Company. p. 24. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  13. ^ "Scarface (1932)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  14. ^ Fleming, M. "Universal Preps New ‘Scarface’ Movie." (September 21, 2011)
  15. ^ Fleming, M. "David Ayer To Script Updated ‘Scarface’." (November 29, 2011)

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