Theatrical Release Poster 1932

Scarface (also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation and The Shame of a Nation) is a 1932 American gangster film starring Paul Muni, produced by Howard Hughes and Howard Hawks, directed by Hawks and Richard Rosson, and based on the 1929 eponymous novel by Armitage Trail. The film also features Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, Boris Karloff. One of a number of pre-Code crime films, the film centers on gang warfare and police intervention when rival gangs fight over control of a city.

This film was the basis for the Brian De Palma 1983 film of the same name starring Al Pacino.


In 1920s Chicago, Italian immigrant Antonio "Tony" Camonte (Paul Muni), acting on the orders of Italian mafioso John "Johnny" Lovo (Osgood Perkins), kills "Big" Louis Costillo (Harry J. Vejar), the leading crime boss of the city's South Side. Johnny then takes control of the South Side with Tony as his key lieutenant, selling large amounts of illegal beer to speakeasies and muscling in on bars run by rival outfits. However, Johnny repeatedly warns Tony not to mess with the Irish gangs led by O'Hara who run the North Side. Tony soon starts ignoring these orders, shooting up bars belonging to O'Hara, and attracting the attention of the police and rival gangsters. Johnny starts realizing that Tony is out of control and has ambitions to take his position.

Meanwhile, Tony pursues Johnny's girlfriend Poppy (Karen Morley) with increasing confidence. At first, she is dismissive of him but pays him more attention as his reputation rises, at one point visiting his "gaudy" apartment where he shows her his view of an electric billboard advertising the slogan for Cook's Tours that has inspired him: "The World is Yours".

Tony eventually decides to declare war and take over the North Side and sends one of his best men and close friend, the coin flipping Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) to kill O'Hara in a florist's shop that he uses as his base. This brings heavy retaliation from the North Side gangs now led by Gaffney (Boris Karloff) and armed with Tommy guns, a weapon that instantly captures Tony's dark imagination. Tony leads his own forces to destroy the North Side gangs and take over their market, even to the point of impersonating police officers to gun down several rivals in a garage. Tony also kills Gaffney as he makes a strike-out at a bowling alley. Believing that his protegé is trying to take over, Johnny arranges for Tony to be assassinated while driving in his car. Tony manages to escape this attack, and he and Guino kill Johnny, leaving Tony as the undisputed boss of the city.

Tony's actions have provoked a public outcry, and the police are slowly closing in. After seeing his beloved sister Francesca "Cesca" (Ann Dvorak) with Guino, Tony kills his friend before either he or Cesca can inform him of their secret marriage. His sister runs out distraught and tells the police what he has done. The police move to arrest Tony for Guino's murder. Tony holes up in his house and prepares to shoot it out. Cesca comes back, planning to kill him, but ends up helping him to fight the police. Moments later, however, she is killed by a stray bullet. As the apartment fills with tear gas, Tony leaves down the stairs, and the police confront him. Tony pleads for his life, but then makes a break for it, only to be gunned down by the police. Outside, the electric billboard blazes, "The World is Yours".


  • Paul Muni as Antonio "Tony" Camonte
  • Ann Dvorak as Francesca "Cesca" Camonte
  • Karen Morley as Poppy
  • Osgood Perkins as John "Johnny" Lovo
  • C. Henry Gordon as Inspector Ben Guarino
  • George Raft as Guino Rinaldo
  • Vince Barnett as Angelo
  • Boris Karloff as Gaffney
  • Purnell Pratt as Garston
  • Tully Marshall as Managing Editor
  • Inez Palange as Mrs. Camonte
  • Edwin Maxwell as Chief of Detectives
  • Harry J. Vejar as Big Louis Costillo
  • Douglas Walton as Cesca's Boyfriend

Production notes


The film was adapted by Ben Hecht in only 11 days from Armitage Trail's 1929 novel Scarface and then Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, and W. R. Burnett did additional writing related to continuity and dialogue. Trail, whose real name was Maurice Coons, wrote for a number of detective-story magazines during the early 20s. At the age of 28, however, Trail, who struggled with morbid obesity throughout his life, died of a heart attack shortly before the release of the 1932 film.

The film is loosely based upon the life of Al Capone whose nickname was "Scarface". Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he owned a print of it. Ben Hecht also said that Capone's men came to visit him to make sure that the film was not based on Capone's life. When he said the film was fictitious, the two men working for Capone left Hecht alone. The introduction for the film's screening on Turner Classic Movies even stated that Hecht convinced the men to work as consultants for him.

The most obvious references to Capone and actual events from the Chicago gang wars - especially to audiences at the time of the film's release - are:

  • Tony's killing of his boss, "Big Louie" Costillo, in the lobby of his club (Capone was involved in the murder of his first boss, Big Jim Colosimo|"Big Jim" Colosimo, in 1920).
  • Rival boss O'Hara is murdered in his flower shop (Capone's men murdered Charles O'Bannion|Charles Dion O'Bannion in his flower shop in 1924).
  • Gaffney leads a caravan of cars in a drive-by shooting at Tony in a restaurant (Capone's rival, Hymie Weiss, did the same thing to him in 1927).
  • Johnny Lovo's attempt to get Tony killed in a car chase (Capone's ally, Angelo Genna was murdered following a car chase in 1925).
  • The shooting murder of several men in a garage, with two of the gunmen costumed as police officers (the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929).

Issues with censors

The original script had Tony's mother loving her son unconditionally, accepting his lifestyle, and even accepting money and gifts from him. In addition, there was a politician who despite campaigning against gangsters on the podium, is shown partying with them after hours. The script ending had Tony staying in the building, unaffected by tear gas and a multitude of bullets fired at him. It is not until the building is on fire that Tony is forced to exit the building, guns blazing. He is sprayed with police gun fire but appears unfazed. Upon noticing the police officer who's been arresting him throughout the film, he fires at him, only to hear a single "click" noise implying that his gun is empty. He is then killed after being shot several times by said police officer. A repeated clicking noise is heard on the soundtrack implying that he was still attempting to fire while he was dying.

After repeated demands for a script rewrite from the Hays Office, Howard Hughes ordered Hawks to shoot the film, "Screw the Hays Office, make it as realistic, and grisly as possible".

Two other prominent gangster films produced about the same time but released over a year earlier to huge success were Little Caesar (January 1931) and The Public Enemy (April 1931). As is the case with Scarface, both of these films were also based on earlier novels.


Hawks shot the film at three different locations: Metropolitan Studios, Harold Lloyd Studios and the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles. Shooting took three months with the cast and crew working seven days a week. Several accidents happened on the set. Comedian Harold Lloyd's brother Gaylord Lloyd lost an eye when he visited the set and was accidentally shot with live ammunition. George Raft also received a head injury during the death scene of his character when he accidentally hit the door frame while he was slumping to the floor.

Alternate ending

The first version of the film (Version A) was completed on September 8, 1931, but censors would not allow its release because of concerns that it glorified the gangster lifestyle and showed too much violence. Several scenes had to be edited, the subtitle "The Shame of the Nation" as well as a text introduction had to be added, and the ending had to be modified.

The alternate ending (Version B) differs from the original ending in the manner that Tony is caught and in which he dies. Unlike the original ending in which Tony escapes the police and dies after getting shot several times, the alternate ending starts with Tony reluctantly handing himself over to the police. After the encounter, Tony's face is not shown again. A scene follows in which a judge is addressing Tony during sentencing. The next scene is the finale, in which Tony (seen from a bird's eye view) is brought to the gallows, where he is finally put to an end by being hanged.

However, Version B still did not pass the New York censors, so Howard Hughes disowned it and finally in 1932 released Version A - with the added text introduction - in states that lacked strict censors (Hughes also attempted to take the New York censors to court). This 1932 release version led to bona-fide box office status and positive critical reviews. Hughes also made an attempt to release the film under the title "The Scar" when the original title was disallowed by the Hays office.

"X" motif

Hawks used an "X" motif throughout the film (seen first in the opening credits) that was chiefly associated with death - appearing many times (but not all) whenever a death is portrayed; the motif shows up in numerous places, most prominently as Tony's "X" scar on his right cheek.

Cultural references

The "serious" play that Tony and his friends go to see, leaving at the end of Act 2, is John Colton and Clemence Randolph's Rain, based on W. Somerset Maugham's story "Miss Sadie Thompson". The play opened on Broadway in 1922 and ran throughout the 1920s (A film version of the play, also titled Rain and starring Joan Crawford, was released by United Artists the same year as Scarface).

Source music

The tune that Tony whistles twice in the film is the sextet from Gaetano Donizetti’s popular opera Lucia di Lammermoor. The song Cesca sings while playing the piano is "Wreck of the Old 97".


Brian De Palma directed a 1983 remake starring Al Pacino. The 2003 DVD "Anniversary Edition" limited edition box set of the 1983 film included a copy of its 1932 counterpart. At the end of the 1983 film, a title reading "This film is dedicated to Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks" appears over the final shot.

In 1994, Scarface was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The character of Tony Camonte ranked at number 47 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list. The movie launched George Raft's lengthy career as a leading man. Raft, in the film's second lead, had learned to flip a coin without looking at it, a trait of his character, and he made a strong impression in the comparatively sympathetic but colorful role. (It was Howard Hawks' idea to get Raft to use this in the film to camouflage his lack of acting experience.) A reference is made in Raft's later role as gangster Spats Columbo in Some Like it Hot (1959), wherein he asks a fellow gangster (who is flipping a coin) "Where did you pick up THAT cheap trick?"

The film was named the best American sound film by critic and director Jean-Luc Godard in Cahiers du Cinéma.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" — The best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Scarface was acknowledged as the sixth best in the gangster film genre.

On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Scarface holds a 100% "Fresh" rating with all 27 reviews being positive.

Universal announced in 2011 that the studio is developing a new version of Scarface. The studio claims that the new film is neither a sequel nor a remake, but will take elements from both this and the 1983 version, including the basic premise of a man who becomes a kingpin in his quest for the American Dream. Martin Bregman, who produced the remake, will produce this version as well.

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