Arguably the iconic 30s Gangster film, the original Scarface charts the rise of Tony Camonte during prohibition. For anyone that hasn’t seen it, it’s worth a look if only for the fact that it contains every single cliché that you would expect from a 30s black and white film. Tony’s sidekick flicks a quarter in his hand all day long, the police say things like ‘You’ll turn yella like the other rats!’ and the whole film is just full of that amazing old dialogue; ‘This is my town, see!’
Of course Scarface is a great film for much better reasons than simply laughing at the dialogue. There are some great cinematic devices in Scarface. It’s little touches like the way Tony whistles the Sextet from Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ before he kills people, and how the letter ‘X’ appears somewhere in every scene of someone being murdered that makes this film such a classic. The film lacks the bite of the remake, but then considering the huge difference in censorship between 1932 and 1983, the original is relatively violent for its era. Directors Hawks and Rosson had to release the film with the subtitle “The Shame of a Nation” to appease the Studio’s and the reason for Tony’s eventual breakdown and capitulation after the shootout is that the morals of the mass media in the 30s meant that crime had to be seen to pay, hence why Tony Camonte is shot running away from the police and Tony Montana dies fighting.
One of those rare cases of a remake far outshining the original and becoming an iconic film in it’s own right. Now whilst the story line is essentially the same, the setting has changed from prohibition Italian mafia gangsters to Cuban and Colombian drug dealers in Miami. The change is what makes the film such a success. It takes the best aspects of the original and adds an entire new slant to the story that brings in the Colombians and the money laundering. Paccino’s performance as Tony Montana is one of his finest and best remembered in his career. His deranged and psychotic character is everything that the Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte was and more – he dips his face into mountains of cocaine and fights about a million Colombian hit men with just his massive cojones and his massive gun.