(1932) dir. Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson
As I often like to do little movie theme nights, tonight was director Howard Hawks. Scarface is one of those Hollywood legends, the great films of its time and template for so many films to follow. I’d seen the Brian De Palma remake of Scarface (1983) last year, another notorious film that I had never gotten around to seeing. Unsurprisingly, it would have been more interesting to see the latter film after seeing the original, seeing how they re-interpreted things, carried aspects over, and overall handled the process of the “re-make”.
Hawks is one of the true auteurs. And by that, I mean that he was one of the directors singled out by Cahiers du cinema in their analysis and appreciation for American film-making that had somehow gone unappreciated in the United States. Auteur is a word I use with some frequency here, though authorship in films is something of both accepted and yet debatable perspectives. I stick with it because it’s handy. Directors get a lot of the credit. Hawks, of all, is certainly worth looking at in this light. He worked in almost every genre, made notable dramas and sharp and brilliant comedies. He is in some ways the consummate auteur.
Scarface is brilliant. From the opening tracking shot, starting with a street sign, traveling across the street, into a restaurant, following through to the shadows of an assassin and the gunning down of the mob boss, even following through to discovery of the body. It’s an impressive start to a fast-paced and lucid film. Paul Muni is brilliant as the titular gangster, loosely based on the real “Scarface”, Al Capone. The usage of the “X” symbol through the killings is really quite funny and clever, showing the “X” marking the bowling strike rolled by Boris Karloff as he’s shot down, the rafters lined up as “X’s” above the silhouettes of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre crowd, and the “X” on the door and on the shadow behind George Raft as he gets his.
Like Hawks’ best films, it’s all meat, no fat. A tight, quick-paced, quick-witted film. Top of the line of Hollywood in the early days of sound. This films is totally brilliant. Top-notch all the way.