Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: Scarface (1932 film)

Based on the novel by Armitage Trail, Scarface is the story of a young hood who rises from working for a gang leader into becoming a mob leader in Chicago. Directed by Howard Hawks and screenplay by W.R. Burnett, John Lee Mahan, and Seton I. Miller from a story by Ben Hecht, the film revolves into the world of gang warfare and police intervention for the control of Chicago where a young hood wants it all. Starring Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, and Boris Karloff. Scarface is a phenomenal and thrilling film from Howard Hawks.

The film revolves around a mob boss’ bodyguard who decides to work for the second-in-command in the hopes to rise and become the biggest crime boss in Chicago during a conflict between different factions as he would succeed through terror and killing everyone involved while antagonizing the police. For Tony Camonte (Pal Muni), he hopes to do more than own Chicago as he wants to be the big shot where he knows he has to be second-in-command for Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) as they deal with the boss from Chicago’s north side area in O’Hara where Camonte has his own ideas but Lovo doesn’t want to cause trouble. Instead, Camonte would do things his way where he wins over Lovo’s girlfriend Poppy (Karen Morley) and score lots of money but alienates Lovo and raises the suspicion of the police.

The film’s screenplay isn’t just a rise-and-fall tale but also a study of ambition and cruelty in the hands of a young hood who would kill the man he’s been hired to protect just so he can get him out of the way. Especially as the boss was someone has more old values and doesn’t feel the need to expand when he already has everything he needs. Yet, Camonte and Lovo are part of a new world order where they want more but Lovo still carries some old values about being cautious and knowing when not to cause trouble. Camonte is someone that wants more and more but he’s also quite sadistic as it relates to his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak) whom he’s protective of. Once he gets rid of all of the rivals and becomes the big man, it is clear that the only way for Camonte to go is down. Especially in the third act as it plays into Camonte’s eventual downfall.

Howard Hawks’ direction is very mesmerizing from the way he opens the film with this long take of a party celebration winding down that includes a unique tracking shot where the camera captures everything in a wide shot. Notably as it sets up the things that Camonte would do as some of Hawks’ compositions are stylish in terms of the wide and medium shots he would create and how he would put his actors in a frame. Some of the violence in the film is quite graphic as well as moments of violence that is captured off-camera as it does create a sense of impact of what is going on. Even in a scene where Hawks, with the aid of co-director Richard Rosson, would recreate the St. Valentine Day’s Massacre of 1929 in a stylish manner where it is the aftermath that shows how intense things were in those times. Hawks’ usage of close-ups are also evident as it plays into the complex personalities of Camonte where he can be charming but also quite scary. Even in moments where he tries to maintain some control but also have this feeling that he’s invincible until its third act where he’s eventually going to fall and fall hard. Overall, Hawks creates an enthralling yet entertaining film about a gangster’s rise and fall in the city of Chicago.

Cinematographers Lee Garmes and L.W. O’Connell do amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography in setting some unique moods with the usage of shadows and lights for many of the exterior scenes set at night along with more lavish lighting for its climax. Editor Edward Curtiss does excellent work with the editing in knowing when to cut for some rhythmic moments in the drama and action as well as some stylish fade-outs to help set-up the next scene in the film. Set decorator Harry Oliver does nice work with the sets from the look of the city exteriors to the rooms and places where Camonte works and celebrates at. The sound work of William Snyder does terrific work with the sound to capture the layers of sound with the machine gun noises and other things to play up the world of violence. The film’s music by Shelton Brooks is superb for its orchestral score that plays into the sense of chaos that occurs with its bombastic string arrangements and percussions as well as some jazz pieces that play into the period of the times.

The film’s brilliant cast include some notable small roles from Harry J. Vejar as Tony and Johnny’s old boss, Edwin Maxwell as a chief of detectives, Tully Marshall as a newspaper editor, Vince Barnett as Tony’s dim-witted assistant Angelo, and Inez Palange as Tony and Cesca’s mother who disapproves of their lifestyle choices. C. Henry Gordon is terrific as Inspector Guarino who despises Camonte as he hopes to take him down while Boris Karloff is superb as crime boss Gaffney who tries to figure out how to combat Camonte and not create too much trouble. George Raft is excellent as Tony’s right-hand man Guino Rinaldo as a guy who helps take care of business for Tony while having some feelings for Cesca.

Karen Morley is wonderful as Poppy as this beautiful blonde who is Lovo’s girlfriend until she is charmed by Camonte as she ends up being his woman and showing him how to look like a boss. Ann Dvorak is amazing as Tony’s sister Cesca as a woman that wants to have fun and be with men as she has some feelings for Guino. Osgood Perkins is fantastic as Johnny Lovo as this crime boss who is part of a new school of bosses but wants to be cautious as he’s alienated by Camonte’s ambitions prompting him to try and regain control. Finally, there’s Paul Muni in a phenomenal performance as Tony Camonte as this young hood who worked his way to become the top boss while being ruthless in his drive for success as it’s really a fun performance to watch.

Scarface is a remarkable film from Howard Hawks that features Paul Muni in an exhilarating performance. Not only is it one of the definitive films of the gangster film genre but also a unique study of ambition and violence set in one of the most turbulent periods in American history. In the end, Scarface is a spectacular film from Howard Hawks.

Related: Scarface (1983 film)

Howard Hawks Films: (The Road to Glory) - (Fig Leaves) - (Cradle Snatchers) - (Paid to Love) - (A Girl in Every Port (1928 film)) - (Fazil) - (The Air Circus) - (Trent’s Last Case (1929 film)) - (The Dawn Patrol (1930)) - (The Criminal Code) - (The Crowd Roars (1932 film)) - (Tiger Shark) - (Today We Live) - (The Prizefighter and the Lady) - (Viva Villa!) - (Twentieth Century) - (Barbary Coast) - (Ceiling Zero) - (The Road to Glory) - (Come and Get It) - Bringing Up Baby - (Only Angels Have Wings) - (His Girl Friday) - (Sergeant York) - (Ball of Fire) - (Air Force) - (To Have and Have Not) - (The Big Sleep (1946 film)) - (The Outlaw) - Red River (1948 film) - (A Song is Born) - (I Was a Male War Bride) - (The Big Sky) - (Monkey Business) - (O Henry’s Full House) - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - (Land of the Pharaohs) - Rio Bravo - (Hatari!) - (Man’s Favorite Sport?) - (Red Line 7000) - (El Dorado) - (Rio Lobo)

© thevoid99 2015


Dell said...

I saw this for the first time a few years ago, after I had seen the Brian DePalma remake about 1000 times. Surprisingly, I like this one nearly as much. It also shows how the remake was all about excess in every facet in front of and behind the camera as it told its story in basically half the runtime. That's concise story-telling for you. Love it.

Brittani Burnham said...

I haven't seen this version, but I'm glad you liked it and that it's good like the remake. (You don't hear those words often)

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-While I prefer de Palma's remake of the film, this is just as good as I think both of these films back-to-back would make a hell of a double feature. It's fun as hell as I found myself hearing the music of the remake while watching the original.

@Brittani-I would totally recommend this as it's just a lot of fun to watch. Especially when you watch it with the remake as it's just 2 gangster classics at their best.