Film Noir: Scarface


Directed By: Howard Hawks

Screenplay By: Ben Hecht

Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Boris Karloff, George Raft

Perhaps not generally considered a film noir, this original version of Pacino’s seminal gangster movie, does have a lot in common with noir.

Although essentially a gangster biopic, the look and feel of the movie lends a lot to film noir.  It is an extremely violent movie, with a particularly violent subject matter, so I wonder if the use of silhouettes (a regular gimmick of noir) was down to the fact that the violence had to be implied rather than explicitly shown to get it past the censors.

The story follows Tony Comonte as he rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld; eventually usurping his boss and placing America in the grip of an all out gang war.

Muni is outstanding this film; he was on a short run of form as he also starred in the excellent “I am a fugitive from a chain gang” in the same year.  He is explosive in the role of Tony and it is easy to make comparisons with Pacino’s much more recognized portrayal.

Early showings of Raft and Karloff are also noteworthy and both show glimpses of the charisma that would make them stand out from the others…although perhaps Raft’s alleged real involvement with gangsters had something to do with his career.

I was surprised to see how much of this movie did make it into the Oliver Stone scripted version: “the world is yours” motif features frequently, as does Tony’s unhealthy obsession with his sister and her doomed relationship with Tony’s best friend.

For those that are fans of the 1983 Scarface, this is worth watching as a curiosity piece.  For fans of film noir, it’s worth watching to see some of the hallmarks and a view of the underworld in America during a turbulent time.

Noir Cynicism 08/10: Everybody is on the make and almost anyone can be bought, but ultimately crime does not pay.
Noir Femme Fatale 06/10: Poppy is the girl who Tony steals from his boss, but she does not drive him; his lust for power is much more prominent.  His sister is more of a fatale for Tony as she leads to his spectacular downfall.
Noir Anti-Hero 08/10: Very close to being the ultimate anti-hero, except in film noir circles; he brought all of this upon himself, whereas film noir anti-heroes are more often victims of happenstance.    
Noir Crime 09/10: All out gang warfare. 
Noir Dough $?? – the world is yours
Noir Body Count I lost count at 24
Noir Style 06/10:  Glimpses of film noir, in particular the lighting and use of silhouettes, but by no means the full package.

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