When most people speak about the Scarface movie, they probably speak about the 1983 version with Al Pacinno in it. That's what I usually do too, so I was surprised to find out that the movie I'd considered a classic was actually based upon a much older movie with the same name, which in turn was based upon the book with the same name written by Armitage Trail, detailing the life of Al Caponne.
Maybe people are unaware of this prequel, or maybe it really is inferior to the modern-day remake (I certainly think so, though for it's time it was surely a work of art; much more controversial than most movies). The movie starts off with a message.
Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government:" What are you going to do about it?
The Government is your government, what are YOU going to do about it?
For a while I'm thinking maybe this'll be a movie without speech, Jolly Roger forbid! But after this brief intermission, the movie starts similarly to a scene in the remake, an Italian (you can tell by the almost excessively Mario-like accent) trio sitting, eating; speaking. The main character Big Loui just had a party, and he talks about how everyone is going to say that he 'sits on top of the world!' Deja vu. That's just before he dies, and that's when the movie really starts.
The 'Costillo Slaying' starts a gang war and the town is suddenly up for grabs. Costello was the last of the old gang leaders and now: every gun with a gun wants a piece in controlling the booze business. I seem to recall the US made alcohol illegal during the 1920s and 30s, and thats when the gangs popped up and started making a profit off of it. This movie tells that story. It's not coke (as it is in the new version), it's alcohol! Not such a lucrative investment now maybe, but at this time it was gold worth, just like coke was thirty years later.
Considering this is from 1932, and it's black and white, it was surprisingly good. It keeps a surprisingly high pace, and though the filmography is always still, it's varied and well-cut, and there's plenty of action. When Scarface gets shot at in a barber shop he's ecstatic that the enemy has a machine-gun you can carry, so his henchman runs out and gets one for him.
As for characters, there's Tony, his sister, his girl, his friend, his bosses and his gangs. Very similar to the remake. He gets his hands on a Chigago Typwriter (machine gun) and takes over, and then it all goes to hell.
The last stand wasn't quite as impressive as in the new version, though there's plenty of action, plenty of guns, and the actors aren't bad at all... they just had a different style of acting back then, especially when they're shot: they fall down really really slowly, no coughing, no spluttering, no desperation, just going unnaturally stiff like they've been paralyzed with deadly venom as they're going like an elevator down to the floor, usually holding onto either their wound or something nearby in a cramp-like fashion. Another big difference is that there are only cops at the end, no gangsters involved in the shootout.
Though the movie was probably controversial at the time, it's still considerably tame compared to the remake. There's no chainsaw, there's no blood, there's no nudity, there's never a real feud between Tony and his sister (even after he's betrayed her, she's on his side), even in arguments there's rarely any shouting, and he never gets to actually mow down large groups of foes before he goes down himself. In the end, it's traditional justice. Good movie.
rated 3/5: not bad