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Scarface (April 10, 2014)

There is a progression in the complexity of relationships shown through the movies we’ve seen in this gangster trilogy. In Little Caesar, Rico has no family and no interest in women. His only relationship seems to be with his erstwhile partner in crime Joe, and the major conflict is when Joe chooses to leave the gang. In The Public Enemy, Tom Powers has a mother, and a brother, and girlfriends, and his crime career causes many conflicts with those other characters. In Scarface, Tony Camonte has a family, including a sister, Cesca, whom he jealously guards. The quasi-incestuous relationship between them was suggested by the Renaissance’s Borgia family.

Scarface was based on a novel by Armitage Trail. It was produced independently by Howard Hughes. The story was written by Ben Hecht, and has many veiled references to well-known Chicago gangland incidents of the then recent past. Dialogue and continuity were by Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, and W.R. Burnett, the last named the man who wrote the book on which Little Caesar was based. It was directed by Howard Hawks, with Robert Rosson. Cinematography was by Lee Garmes and Lewis William O’Connell. It was filmed from June through October 1931. Producer Hughes and the Hays office censors had a series of conflicts over the final shape of the film. The Hays office thought the movie glorified the gangster lifestyle. After changes, many of which suggested that the threat from gangsters was that they could easily get guns, the picture was finally released in March, 1932. Hughes threatened a lawsuit against the Hays office in order to use the title. That would have been bad publicity for the censors, but great publicity for Hughes’ movie. The picture cost $700,000 and made $1.2 million. This was Paul Muni’s breakthrough performance in film. His career had started on the Yiddish stage in New York. Also featured were Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, and C. Henry Gordon. This movie also established the career of George Raft. Boris Karloff, who had acted in films since the early 1920s, was also shooting his breakthrough role,

Frankenstein, at Universal at the same time.

Tony shows Poppy a sign out his window. It says “The World Is Yours”, which is almost a direct quote from the 1927 film Underworld by Josef von Sternberg, where his gangster sees a sign that says “The City is Yours.” The tune Tony whistles is from the sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. As was the case throughout the three films we’ve seen in this series, live ammunition was used. Gaylord Lloyd, the comedian Harold Lloyd’s brother, lost an eye in an accident on set. Howard Hawks’ biographer Todd McCarthy wrote, “As for Hawks, whenever he was asked about his favorites among his own pictures, even as he shuffled the titles of the others, Scarface always remained at the top of the list. . .It was his favorite, he said in the 1970s, because, like high fliers and gamblers, ‘we were completely alone, Hughes and I.’. .he said he was proud that ‘we didn’t get any help from anybody. And that’s why I think I liked it best.’” McCarthy added “Scarface remains, as it was in 1932, the last word on Chicago gangsterdom of the 1920s, the smartest, cleverest, punchiest portrait of an individual mobster’s rise and fall.” I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.