SCARFACE: THE 1932 GANGSTER CLASSIC. BASED ON THE 1929 BOOK ‘SCARFACE’ BY ARMITAGE TRAIL, WHICH PORTRAYS THE LIFE OF AL CAPONE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HOWARD HAWKS.
STARRING PAUL MUNI, GEORGE RAFT, OSGOOD PERKINS, ANN DVORAK, INEZ PALANGE, KAREN MORLEY, VINCE BARNETT AND BORIS KARLOFF.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
For years and years and years, I didn’t even know that there was an original version of the 1983 gangster movie, Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. This 1983 version is not only one of the best gangster movies of all time, but one of the best movies ever made, full stop. Or period, as our lovely transatlantic cousins the ‘Muricans say. But over here, you see, the word ‘period’ means something different altogether…
A lucky charity shop find this Christmas means that I now own the original 1932 film as well as its deliciously decadent and dangerous 1983 counterpart. As a gangster movie, SCARFACE 1932 is a real cracker, but when you’ve already seen the Al Pacino film, it’s even more fascinating because then you can see what the two films have in common and also where they differ.
SCARFACE 1932 has Paul Muni, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 1935 movie THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR, playing the lead role of Scarface. He’s Tony Camonte, an Italian-American hoodlum in Chicago in the Prohibition era. Once you see him back-answering the Chief of Police at the start of the film, you know he’s got the swagger and style needed to carry off the lead role.
At the outset, a Mob boss called Louis Costillo is shot and murdered- by Tony- because he’s gotten soft and sloppy. Johnny Lovo is the weedy-looking, slyly-moustached criminal who then slides neatly over into the position of ‘Boss.’ He’s the Frank Lopez/Robert Loggia character from the 1983 film.
Johnny Lovo is ably backed up by Tony, an up-and-coming young hoodlum, and Tony’s coin-flipping best friend Guino Rinaldi, whom Tony nicknames ‘Little Boy.’ Guino is the Manny Ribera/Steven Bauer sidekick character from the 1983 re-make.
I love the way that Tony and Guino do business. It’s all about cracking heads and instilling fear, see? It’s Prohibition time in Chicago Town and Tony and Guino simply go round to all the bars/speak-easies in town and say to their owners, after strong-arming them into the back-room: ‘Hey dickhead, where ya getting your bootleg booze from?’
After the terrified owners stammer out a reply, Tony then informs them: ‘Yeah well, ya getting it from us now, asswipe. How many barrels ya want?’ And when the guy tells ’em he normally gets three or four barrels a day, Tony comes back at them with: ‘Yeah well, ya getting ten now.’ When the barman starts blubbing that ten is too many barrels, Tony comes out with: ‘I’ll bring ya round a bar of soap, knobhead. Ya can take a bath in it…’ So funny.
Tony meets Poppy, his boss Johnny’s ‘broad’ and the Elvira Hancock/Michelle Pfeiffer character from SCARFACE 1983. Poppy is a stunning ‘Twenties blonde whom Tony first sees seated at her dressing-table in her slip, bare-legged, powdering herself languidly. He likes what he sees and he goes all out to get it.
Luckily for Tony Camonte, Poppy is more receptive to him than the world-weary, bored and jaded Elvira Hancock is to Tony Montana. He’s obviously way more attractive to her than the much older Johnny Lovo, who looks like a moral weakling in his little sleazy Fredo Corleone moustache.
Poppy is ripe for the taking and so, thinks Tony excitedly, is Johnny’s booze business. I love this scene in the middle of the night where Tony wakes up Poppy in her bed of silken sheets:
Poppy: ‘Tony, where’s Johnny?’
Tony, ominously: ‘Where d’ya think?’ Allows this to sink in for a minute, then: ‘Pack your stuff.’
Tony has a little sister in this version too, Cesca, an absolute knockout of a ‘Twenties broad with dark curly hair and huge dark eyes like Gina/Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the re-make.
Cesca, just like Gina, is happy to take Tony’s blood money and spend it on clothes and going out dancing with dubious characters. Tony and Cesca’s Mamma, however, is all of-a-flutter, telling Cesca that Tony is nothing but trouble and so is his tainted money.
There’s the merest suggestion- but it is there- that Tony behaves more like a boyfriend than a brother to Cesca. She’s as feisty and mouthy as the 1983 Gina character and she gives him plenty of lip, but there’s nothing she can say- nothing anyone can say- to placate him when he finds out about Cesca and Guino, his sister and his best friend…
Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) has a small role here as the gangster Gaffney, who narrowly escapes slaughter at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre but who gets his come-uppance later while bowling- or trying to!- a perfect game.
I was surprised to see him in such a small part and so far down the credits, after his humongous worldwide success as Frankenstein’s Monster. Angelo, Tony’s ‘seckertary’ who can never accurately take a telephone message, is kind of a sweet, lovable character, considering he’s a gangster’s sidekick.
Machine-guns play a big part in the film. When Tony discovers that such magnificent weapons exist, he nearly wets himself with excitement. It’s a sad day for the law-abiding citizens of Chicago, however, when these terrible guns are invented. Men, women and children are being caught in the cross-fire, mown down ruthlessly by these guns, and the gangsters who wield them don’t give a shit about any casualties.
There’s a distinct anti-gangster message being put across by the film-makers (‘What are YOU going to do about it?’). But the problem with making a film like this is that you can’t avoid glamorising the criminals and their awful criminal acts. In fact, this was what they unintentionally did do in this 1932 film.
Well, never mind, they weren’t the only ones. After watching the 1983 version of the film- one of the sexiest, most glamorous films ever made- I bet a million young lads everywhere ran straight down to the job-centre and applied to be a cocaine kingpin. Me, I wanted to be a cocaine kingpin’s moll and wear Michelle Pfeiffer’s dresses…!
THE WORLD IS YOURS, the slogan that appeals so much to Scarface in the 1983 film, turns up here first. It’s astonishing how many of the brilliant scenes from the 1983 film have their genesis, their beginnings, here.
The DVD I have of the 1932 film features two endings, so you can decide for yourself which one you like the best. Both are actually equally chilling. You can convey quite a surprising amount of fear with just a pair of prison-issue slippers.
I’m so pleased with my accidental charity shop find. Mind you, that’s where I’ve found all the gems of my collection so far, in charity shops on shelves next to the ‘faulty electrical goods and jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing.’ (LITTLE BRITAIN!) It pays to keep your eyes open. And ya mouth shut, as Tony Camonte would probably add. We hear ya, Tone, loud and clear. We hear ya.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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