Everything about Brian DePalma’s Scarface old gangster movie is over-the-top, beginning with the settings, the acting of Pacino, the horrid 80’s music, and the blistering ending that has made the film a modern classic. Many people know, and many people do not know, that DePalma and Oliver Stone’s (he wrote the screenplay) Scarface is a re-make of one of the most popular pictures of early Hollywood.

In an era or re-make after re-make, this is a not so unexpected revelation; however, when Scarface was made (1983) re-makes were merely an occasional occurrence.  We were not inundated with unoriginal ideas recycled for the purposes of selling theatre seats, over-priced popcorn, and gallons worth of Mountain Dew for eight bucks.  In 1983, a re-make of a 50 year-old Hollywood classic was not so mundane a thought.

Scarface Full Movie (1932) Thriller

The First Scarface: The Best and Famous Old Gangster Movie

The first Scarface, made in 1932, was produced by the famous, or infamous, Howard Hughes, and directed by Howard Hawks, one of the greatest, most-respected directors of early Hollywood.  The 1932 version may be difficult for today’s audiences to comfortably watch.  It is, of course, B&W, and had to subvert itself to the censorship of the era.  It was, however, one of the most brutal films of the early Hollywood period and considered ground-breaking in its violence and realism.  It was not the first gangster film, though it became the template for the plethora of gangster pictures that followed in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The 1932 version is based, very loosely, on Al Capone.  Tony Camonte, an Italian immigrant, is a hit man/bodyguard for the top guy in a crime organization involved in running booze during Prohibition.  There is also a brutal scene (for the time) re-creating the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

The 1932 version is handicapped by antiquated language and not being able to show blood, bullet holes, or shots to the face or head.  Violence and sex had to be implied, which gives the earlier movies a certain style and subtlety lacking in modern movies, but also makes them harder to watch for those used to a more realistic approach to popular language and graphic displays of violence.

Many of the classic lines from Scarface (1983) are taken from the original. The ending is not as dramatic as the first version, again, because of guidelines barring its release. In the years before the rating system, the “bad guy” could not be seen as heroic in the end. The criminal elements had to lose out to the authorities and could not be portrayed as anything even remotely close to sympathetic or admirable characters. Tony Camonte could never go out with the same bang as Tony Montana.

Scarface 1983 Gangster Movie Version

Both Films Comparison

Both films make a statement to the viewer that there exists a problem that must be addressed.  The films begin with a documentary style, introducing the viewer to a major issue going on in the world at the time.  The 1932 problem centers among the gangsters running booze during Prohibition and shooting up the streets as they war over territories.  The 1983 film deals with the sudden influx of Cuban refugees arriving all at once on the south Florida coast.  Among the refugees were some of the worst criminals from Castro’s Cuba.

Many of the plot lines are the same: the peddling of some sort of illegal substance, an immigrant pulling himself out of the gutter, stealing the boss’s lady, an incestuous desire of his own sister, and a disapproving mother.  In both pictures, The “Tony’s” are the number 2 guys with grander ideas than the number 1 which, of course, means a showdown is inevitable. 

Both films are warnings to all of those in pursuit of that big, bad, glorious American Dream.  It can be a powerful, lustful inspiration to those that lose sight of what it actually means and stands for.  It is this greed that is harmful to society and destructive to the individual.  Tony Montana and Tony Camonte see this pursuit as simply moving from the stoop to the penthouse.

The American Dream is filtered through these two immigrants who are so hungry that their ambition is turned into simple greed.  Their bastardized version of the American Dream results in empty, fleeting success.  The pervading image in both movies is the large glowing words in the sky, “The World Is Yours.”  Those words provide inspiration for both protagonists.  Their problem stems from their interpretation of this to mean the world is theirs to OWN. 

The two films differ in their impact.  The 1932 version had a profound impact on the gangster films that followed.  The 1983 version had little cinematic influence, (so-so box office numbers and a critical flop upon its release) though it has had a profound cultural impact.  People, on a daily basis, quote the memorable lines of Tony Montana, though the film is now 24 years old.  If you can get a hold of the 20th Anniversary DVD there is a documentary on the bonus disc about the massive impact the film has had on the hip-hop and minority cultures.

If you haven’t seen the 1983 version of Scarface gangster movie, then I say shame on you.  What are you doing with your life?  To those of you who haven’t seen the 1932 version, I say give it a chance.  It may be a little harder to find, but not too hard, and possibly it will open your eyes to a whole new world of movies.  If you love the DePalma/Stone version, at the very least, the 1932 film will be an interesting history lesson.