Thursday, October 27, 2011


A ruthless Italian immigrant gangster with a fixation on his sister wipes out his mobster boss, and goes to work for a higher up, eventually muscling him out of his racket, taking his girl in the process, and spreading him campaign of violence across the entire city. "Scarface" was a work born of three larger than life individuals, producer Howard Hughes, director Howard Hawks, and writer Ben Hecht, and the result is a stark, stylish, brutal, and even xenophobic early gangster film. Paul Muni gives a towering performance as the brutish and heartless Tony Camonte, making the character utterly despicable and leaving all likable traits at the door. Despite its relentless violence and perverse scenes involving Camonte and his sister (Ann Dvorak), there are some lighter scenes played to wondrous comic effect such as when Muni's secretary (Vince Barnett) fumbles with the telephone or when Muni returns to the theater after a hit to see how it ended. Having recently watched Ken Burns' "Prohibition" I was surprised how closely this film mirrored Al Capone's life, and I was also surprised how much of a rehash the overpraised 1983 Brian De Palma film is. Hawks' "Scarface" is a harsh film and a curious one in how it generates sympathy for a truly detestable character.