‘Get outta my way, Johnny, I’m gonna spit!’
The 1932 Scarface, starring Paul Muni and directed by Howard Hawks, was the most gloriously violent and perverse gangster movie of its day. Its release was held up for two years by censorship boards, and producer Howard Hughes eventually was forced to re-cut the film and change the title to Scarface: The Shame of a Nation.
Five decades later, Brian De Palma and Al Pacino remade Scarface as the most gloriously violent and perverse gangster movie of their day. Fans of the original were repulsed by the extreme violence, but De Palma was just updating the excess of Hawks’ movie to the mores of the time (which allowed for several hundred f-bombs, the odd chainsaw to the head and Robert Loggia with a Cuban accent).
As the 1932 Scarface finally makes its solo DVD debut (it was released as an extra on a 2003 De Palma Scarface box set), it’s accepted that most viewers are probably coming to Pacino’s Tony Montana first, and Muni’s Tony Camonte second, if at all. For modern viewers, the 1932 version can’t possibly match the sheer gore of De Palma’s bloodbath, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on action or kinkiness.
One aspect that both versions share is the uncommon intensity of their lead actors. Pacino’s performance is love-it-or-hate-it legendary, but the popular ’30s actor Muni matches him. Muni makes Camonte, who rides a Capone-esque trajectory to the top of the Chicago underworld, into a savage, sexually charged beast (a shaved gorilla, practically) with a twisted soulfulness and an incestuous streak a mile wide.
The DVD has an introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne, and also features the film’s alternate ending—a dull, de-kinked version made to appease censors—that was scrapped by Hughes when the New York state board rejected the movie anyway.