Classic Movie Review: Scarface (1932)


Title: Scarface
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
Production Company: The Caddo Company
Summary/Review:

Scarface is classified as the first gangster movie so it’s one of those situations where the tropes and gimmicks that are all so familiar are done for the first time.  It’s also full of ethnic stereotypes.  You get a good sense of what movies like the Godfather were reacting against, while also being influenced by it. For a film from 1932, it has some excellent action scenes including car chase, gun battles, and gun battles from racing cars.  The pre-code violence can be explicit, but there’s also some artistry in its depiction.  Particularly impressive is scene where a rival gang leader is shot while bowling and the camera follows his bowling ball to show that he still got a strike.

Paul Muni brings a kind of goofy charm to his performance hiding the monstrous violence of a Chicago gangster. Inspired by Al Capone, Muni plays Tony Camonte, a lieutenant in a gang who goes well beyond his boss Tony Lovo’s (Osgood Perkins) orders in carrying out hits on rival gangs leading to an all-out war.  Muni also pursues Lovo’s girlfriend Poppy (Karen Morley).  It’s particular hilarious when Poppy insults Muni and he’s too dumb to realize it.

The introduction to the movie claims that everything is based on real-life events and exhorts the audience to a moral panic over gang violence.  This is a lie. This movie revels in the violence, and enjoys the spectacle.  And no matter what you say about this movie, you can’t deny that it is entertaining.

Rating: ***

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