Janice Simpson (NBC Universal)
“The masterpiece of Hollywood in action, [the Hawks film] doesn’t commemorate anything; it speaks, it screeches, it shoots”. Talking pictures had only been around a few years, and so “the rat-a-tat-tat of the submachine guns and the staccato of the pistols of Scarface is a language you don’t forget”. As Tino Ranieri wrote (whose words we borrowed in the previous quotes), the epic story of Tony Camonte is something that goes far beyond the supposed biography of Al Capone. It is the film that sets the standards of a genre and at the same time establishes the myth, a journey into the “dark hinterland of the American underworld” (Ranieri again), but at the same time a heartless parable of the story of American success. Sure, the whole Italian ethics of family honor and the possessive relationship with his sister Cesca refer to the story of the Italian Renaissance and to the two illegitimate children of Pope Alexander VI, the incestuous love which so shocked the defenders of the Hays Code (as well as the Massachusetts Grand Council of the Order Sons of Italy in America, which wanted to boycott the film in all the state’s cities). And many of Camonte’s exploits seem to be literary quotations from the exploits of Al Capone and his peers: the death which opens the film (like that of ‘Big Jim’ Colosimo), the murder in the hospital (inspired by ‘Legs’ Diamond), the killing in the florist’s (like Dean O’Banion), and the siege of the gangster’s bunker (just like the capture of Francis ‘Two Gun’ Crowley). Not to mention the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. But the real driving force of the film is the unstoppable Americanization of Tony Camonte, the gradual loss of his accent, the metamorphosis of his clothes, where the flashy striped shirts and square shouldered suits are replaced by tie pins and silk suits, and a smoking jacket in the final scenes. More than anything, Scarface is the story of a man who knew how to get to the top of society. And maybe it is for this reason that while “Il Giornale d’Italia” railed against the film (banned under Fascism), Benito Mussolini asked to see a copy of the film, possibly because he recognized, in the aria of the sextet of Lucia di Lammermoor, which comes back at many decisive moments in the film, what Cammarano had written for Donizetti: “Who restrains me in such a moment?”.
Cast and Credits
T. alt.: Scarface, The Shame of a Nation. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Armitage Trail. Scen.: Ben Hecht, Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, William R. Burnett. F.: Lee Garmes, William O’Connell. M.: Edward Curtiss. Scgf.: Harry Oliver. Mus.: Adolph Tandler, Gus Arnheim. Int.: Paul Muni (Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte), Ann Dvorak (Cesca Camonte), George Raft (Guino Rinaldo), Karen Morley (Poppy), Vince Barnett (Angelo), Osgood Perkins (Johnny Lovo), Boris Karloff (Tom Gaffney), C. Henry Gordon (ispettore Guarino). Prod.: Howard Hawks, Howard Hughes per Caddo Company, Atlantic. DCP. D.: 94’. Bn.
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