Scarface (1932)

Scarface (1932), directed by Howard Hawks.

This influential gangster film -- inspired by the career of Al Capone -- lays a lot of foundation work for the genre, emphasizing the gang warfare element, having as its lead an out of control hoodlum in a hurry. The new group moving in on the old families reminds me of The Long Good Friday (1980), told from the other side.

They cover the ethnic geography: Italians on the south side, Irish in the north. The lawyer is Jewish.

The action picks up when the gang discovers tommy-guns, which they use with abandon. The police are so frantic they talk about deportations and martial law.

It is fun to compare Brian De Palma's version in Scarface (1983). A lot of plot is retained.

George Raft flips his coin and Boris Karloff has a competing mob.

Paul Muni's sister is played by 20-year-old Ann Dvorak, who was off-stage friends with Karen Morley who plays his love interest.

The two Howards -- Hawks and Hughes -- are sometimes confused with each other, made worse because they sometimes worked together, as in this case where they co-produced. Hughes went to war with the pre-Code Hays Office which insisted on cuts. When required to add a civics lecture opening he included his own spin:


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?

An alternate ending was filmed where Tony survives and goes to trial. Paul Muni was unavailable and they used a stand-in.

Photographed by Lee Garmes (Morocco (1930), The Desperate Hours (1955), Nightmare Alley (1947)).

Available on DVD. The alternate ending is included as an extra.