- Howard Hawks
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, June 21, 2005
The film tells the story of Tony Camonte (Paul Muni), a small-time hit man who soon decides he’ll own the world. Starting small in the service of a man called Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins), he soon makes his way into organized crime and becomes a leader himself. Courage and determination is all he needs to overpower his many enemies and surpass his boss. In a town dominated by gangsters who control the booze, Camonte sets to gain distribution of every area and take over every joint. If anyone gets in the way, he might as well end up with a bullet (or more) in the head.
The straightforward tale is made richer by subplots involving Camonte’s relationships: His obsessive affection for sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak), which blinds him with jealousy if any man should come closer to her; his attraction to Lovo’s girlfriend Poppy (Karen Morley), which drives most of these two men’s rivalry; his closeness to long-time friend, the ill-fated Guino Rinaldo (George Raft); and his faith in loyal servant Angelo (Vince Barnett), well-intentioned and slow-witted.
Scarface is a fascinating character from the get-go. On the one side, it’s impossible to dislike such a determined and successful man; on the other, it’s easy to be repulsed by such an unscrupulous sociopath. Though exaggerated every now and then (as ever), Muni does an excellent job of convincing us that he’s more than a power-hungry villain. He goes from monstrous to childlike in just a snap, and he’s credible both ways. He makes it clear that the Italian immigrant who stars this story knew from the very beginning what he was up to and what he would face, and he still chose that path – only at the very end does he break. A complex, insatiable character, Camonte is an icon of gangster films and no wonder.
Scripted by Ben Hecht from a novel by Armitage Trail, the film makes it best to create an emotional drama from an infamous story. Atmospheric and potent, it works at almost every level. Even though it suffers from eventual lags here and there, the pace is extremely effective and more often than not presents heart-pounding sequences, especially those featuring machineguns.
There’s also an extensive use of symbolism in the form of an “X” appearing every time a murder occurs. Though obvious and unsubtle, it sometimes works to foreshadow someone’s death, which is exciting, especially in a scene that recreates the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Aside from Muni, every actor does a great job. Barnett is notable for his comic relief antics which seem a tad out of place until they turn into poignancy. Special mention goes to C. Henry Gordon as the unstoppable Inspector Ben Guarino, hot on the trail of Camonte. Boris Karloff has a minor role as a gangster.
“There's only one law - do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.”
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