Scarface (1932 Film) Background

Scarface (1932 Film) Background

Before there was Al Pacino and the profanity-laden iconic gangster movie "Scarface", there was the 1932 version, directed by Howard Hawks, a movie that, although constrained far more than its modern counterpart by rules that prevented the showing of too much violence, still accomplished its goal of startling the public and making a stir with its previously un-matched violence. 1932 was the heyday of the notorious gangster who almost glamorized organized crime, the most infamous of all being Al Capone. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Armitage Trail, which tells the story of Tony Guarino, and his brother Ben. After several escalating run-ins with the law, Tony learns that the police are looking for him to help with their enquiries, and so he goes off to war. At some point during this time he acquires a terrible scar, which earns him his nickname. When he returns to America he finds that he has been reported dead, and nobody recognizes him due to the scar. He changes his name to Antonio "Tony" Camonte, and begins the rest of his life. This is where the movie story begins. The plot follows Tony as his almost insanely violent ambition allows him to climb the ladder of "success" within the criminal syndicate until he ultimately unseats his Boss and assumes the mantel himself.

Of course, with organized crime being so rampant at the time, Hawks' movie was as much an indictment on the way in which the syndicates seemed to be riding roughshod over the authorities as it was a fictionalized movie made for the public's viewing pleasure. One of the screenwriters, Ben Hecht, returned to his hotel room one evening to find two of Al Capone's associates (for that, read "leg breakers") waiting for him and demanding to know why the movie had been based on their boss and his business. Hecht, familiar to Capone because of his prior work as a crime reporter in Chicago, assured them that they were mistaken. "Scarface" was based on somebody else, but it was beneficial for the Studio to have the public assume that it was about Capone; it would attract a larger audience and also get more press attention. He told them that this was part of the racket called show business. Rackets and scams being something that the mobsters both fully understood and felt able to get behind, they were placated, and left the hotel room leaving Hecht relieved, and with his limbs intact. Later, Capone was said to have loved the movie, and even obtained his own copy.

Because of the violence, the film's release was delayed almost a year, because producer Howard Hughes had problems getting past the regional censorship boards. In fact, in order to satisfy the boards, Hughes made a second ending for the movie with considerably less violence. Ironically, although the most heinous crimes committed by the Mafia were between syndicates in Chicago, the Chicago board of censors was one of the last to allow the film to be shown, banning it for almost a decade until it opened in 1941. The Chicago Movie Review Board was at that time a department of the Chicago Police Department.

The movie is also known for a number of "first appearances" by then bit players who would go on to become box office sensations themselves. George Raft made his movie debut in "Scarface", and found the role an easy one to play, since he had grown up in New York around gangsters Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. After the movie's release, many of these real-life gangsters would ask for Raft's advice on how to dress and act like a gangster. The movie also saw the first appearance of blonde bombshell Jean Harlowe, whose role as a blink-and-you-miss-her hostess at the Paradise Club. Harlowe alternately confirmed and denied this appearance throughout her career, but it is widely believed that she is the blonde in the film because of her frequent appearances in Hawks' movies later on. This version of Scarface is ranked Number Six on the American Film Institute's list of the Ten Greatest Gangster Movies of All Time. The Pacino remake comes in at number ten. The National Board of Review gave the movie its Best Movie award in the year of its release.

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