Scarface (1932 film)  

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"It is a transposition of the incestuous love of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia to the underworld of Chicago." --Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Scarface (also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation and The Shame of a Nation) is a 1932 American pre-Code gangster film directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes. The screenplay, by Ben Hecht, is loosely based on the 1929 novel by Armitage Trail which was inspired by Al Capone. The film stars Paul Muni as gangster Antonio "Tony" Camonte violently rises through the Chicago gangland. Meanwhile, Camonte pursues his bosses' mistress as Camonte's sister pursues his best hitman. In an overt tie to the life of Capone, one scene depicts a version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre.

After Hughes purchased the rights to Trail's novel, Hughes quickly selected Hawks and Hecht to direct and write the film. Beginning in January 1931, Hecht wrote the script over an eleven-day period. Scarface was produced before the introduction of the Production Code Administration in 1934, which enforced regulations on film content. However, the Hays Code, a more lenient precursor, called for major alterations, including a prologue condemning gangsters, an alternate ending to more clearly reprehend Camonte, and the alternative title The Shame of a Nation. The censors believed the film glorified violence and crime. These changes delayed the film by a year, though some showings retained the original ending. Modern showings of the film have the original ending, though some DVD releases also include the alternate ending as a feature; these versions maintain the changes Hughes and Hawks were required to make for approval by the Hays Office. No completely unaltered version is known to exist.

Audience reception was positive, but censors banned the film in several cities and states, forcing Hughes to remove it from circulation and store it in his vault. The rights to the film were recovered after Hughes's death in the 1970s. Alongside Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both 1931), Scarface is regarded as among the most significant gangster films, and greatly influenced the genre.

Scarface was added to the National Film Registry in 1994 by the Library of Congress. In 2008, the American Film Institute listed Scarface as the sixth best gangster film. It was the basis for the 1983 film of the same name starring Al Pacino.


In 1920s Chicago, Italian immigrant Antonio "Tony" Camonte acts on the orders of Italian mafioso John "Johnny" Lovo and kills "Big" Louis Costillo, the leading crime boss of the city's South Side. Johnny takes control of the South Side with Tony as his key lieutenant, selling large amounts of illegal beer to speakeasies and muscling in on bars run by rival outfits. However, Johnny repeatedly warns Tony not to mess with the Irish gangs led by O'Hara, who runs the North Side. Tony soon ignores these orders, barraging bars belonging to O'Hara, and attracting the attention of the police and rival gangsters. Johnny realizes Tony is out of control and aspires to take his position.

Meanwhile, Tony pursues Johnny's girlfriend Poppy with increasing confidence. At first, she is dismissive of him but pays him more attention as his reputation rises. She visits his "gaudy" apartment where he shows her his view of an electric billboard advertising Cook's Tours, which features the slogan which inspires him: "The World is Yours."

Tony eventually decides to declare war and take over the North Side. He sends the coin flipping Guino Rinaldo, one of his best men and close friend, to kill O'Hara in a florist's shop that he uses as his base. This brings heavy retaliation from the North Side gangs, now led by Gaffney and armed with Thompson submachine guns—which instantly capture Tony's dark imagination. Tony leads his own forces to destroy the North Side gangs and take over their market, even to the point of impersonating police officers to murder several rivals in a garage. Tony kills Gaffney as he makes a strike at a bowling alley. The South Side gang and Poppy go to a club and Tony and Poppy dance together in front of Johnny. After Tony conspicuously shows his intention to steal Poppy, Johnny believes his protégé is trying to take over, and he arranges for Tony to be assassinated while driving. Tony manages to escape this attack, and he and Guino kill Johnny, leaving Tony as the undisputed boss of the city. In order to elude the increasingly aggravated police force, Tony and Poppy leave Chicago for a month.

Tony's actions have provoked a public outcry, and the police are slowly closing in. After he sees his beloved sister Francesca ("Cesca") with Guino, he kills his friend in a jealous rage before the couple can inform him of their secret marriage. His sister runs out distraught, presumably to notify the police. The police move to arrest Tony for Guino's murder, and Tony takes cover in his house and prepares to fire at the police. Cesca comes back, planning to kill him, but decides to help him to fight the police. Tony and Cesca arm themselves and Tony shoots at the police from the window, laughing maniacally. Moments later, however, Cesca is killed by a stray bullet. Calling Cesca's name as the apartment fills with tear gas, Tony leaves on the stairs, and the police confront him. Tony pleads for his life but makes a break for it, only to be shot by an unknown officer with a Tommy gun. He stumbles for a moment and falls in the gutter and dies. Among the sounds of cheering, the electric billboard blazes "The World is Yours".


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