Scarface (1932)

I Was A Fugitive From A Poignant Drama
I Am A Fugitive From A Poignant Drama

Genre: Gangster Crime Drama

Starring: Paul Muni (I Am A Fugitive From A Chain GangThe Life of Emile Zola), Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match • 'G' Men)

Directed By: Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday Only Angels Have Wings), Richard Rosson

Overview: An upwardly mobile gangster works his way up to his downfall during prohibition.

The 27 Rotten Tomato critics that tossed in their vote are unanimous in their critical acclaim of Scarface. They agree that it is 'seminal', that it broke boundaries in its hard-hitting condemnation of the American government, and that it's an important entry in cinema history. This is why I'm glad I have my little blog in the corner over here, because I disagree with them.
Yes, if you asked me "do you dismiss this as an important event in Hollywood?" I'd say of course not, but I'm not looking at this film as the national treasure it's been deemed to be, I'm looking at it from the purely entertainment side. I agree that Scarface is hard-hitting and poignant as all Hell. I'm not surprised that the Hays Office (those guys that just began enforcing their censorship code) leaned on producer Howard Hawks for rewrites to the racy script. My problems with Scarface are certainly not in the very decent plot. Well let's go there first.
'Tony' Camonte is a young upcoming go-getter of a gangster, and as such he sees plenty of opportunity to run his boss' booze to other neighbourhoods by rubbing out a couple of competitors. His upward mobility takes him from the South Side to the North Side, much to the dismay of his saner and much less bloodthirsty boss Johnny Lovo, a worm who'd prefer a more peaceful existence than Tony is offering. Tony's other interest include hitting lasciviously on a dame named Poppy, freaking out on anyone who hits on his sister and being ecstatic about finding a machine gun. He's a one-man murder spree and the cops are doing all they can to pin society's ills on him.
Tony Camonte: I'm not hungry. Except for you. You got something I like. 
Poppy: Yeah. I'm nice with a lot of dressing. You work fast, don't you Tony?
The first problem I had with Scarface was Paul Muni, who turned his paraphrased Al Capone into a nigh-ridiculous over-the-top caricature. Obviously Paul was directed that way, but I didn't like him in the last movie I saw him in either so maybe it's me. The big issue I had however is the fact that I can't come anywhere near appreciating this film due to the ever-present clunkiness that comes from films being made between 1929 and 1933, that being the growing pains that come with the advent of sound and humanity's terrible insistence on forcing Hollywood to use it while the technology was still crap. I've always been taught that good sound work is never noticeable, and bad sound work is. For most of Scarface, I was entirely aware of the absence of a soundtrack when the film needed it, of dead air and of timing that just didn't jive, and occasionally the script suffered from what seemed to be off-the-wall dialogue, in that ever-hammed "Nhay, see!" Little Caesar way, which I didn't like all that much either.

But Hoo Boy does he ever loves to shoot things!
But Hoo Boy does he ever loves to shoot things!

Performance: 6 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 70% (Didn't Leave Much Of A Mark)

Scarface, for me, sat more in the realm of study than of entertainment, and for as much as it was obviously a film that helped define Noir, it was disappointing for someone who expected so much more.

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