Scarface (1932) Review

Directors: Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Although it’s less famous than its remake, Scarface (1983), I actually find the 1932 original to be the more entertaining movie. It’s a shorter and tighter film, even if it doesn’t have the high highs that the 1983 version has. Anyway, the story’s about ambitious mob enforcer Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) murdering his way up the gangland food chain during Prohibition. This is perhaps the best gangster flick of the 1930s.

Paul Muni is the real star of the show, playing his character as a charismatic psychopath. He’s almost as captivating as James Cagney is in one of his typical performances. The movie also benefits from shadowy, proto-noirish cinematography and a relatively zippy pace. Scarface plays out like a perverted American Dream story, with its outsider protagonist diligently working his way to the top…with murderous hot lead.

This picture was quite controversial back in the day for its quantity of violence. It also blended comedy and carnage in a way that was unheard of at the time. It’s interesting to note that many of the killings in the film are accompanied by a brilliant visual motif that will have audiences guessing where it will show up next. It really has just about as much action as was possible to cram into a 1932 movie, although the final standoff isn’t quite as good as some of the action sequences that preceded it. That’s not a major complaint, though.

Scarface was released during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, before the Production Code was enforced, and it shows. People are gunned down with little consequence, police authority is casually scoffed at, and the picture contains what just might be the first two “f-words” in the history of cinema (once when the “secretary” Angelo [Vince Barnett] gets angry at the telephone and once when a gun-wielding man is stopped after firing a few shots at a nightclub). This film is up there with the best mobster movies of the 1930s and 1940s, like The Public Enemy (1931), ‘G’ Men (1935), and White Heat (1949). If you like the 1983 version of the tale, but haven’t seen the 1932 rendition, you’re missing out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

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