Brian De Palma’s 1983 version of Scarface seems to get more popular and iconic every year. I personally think it’s a bit shit. It’s by far Al Pacino’s worst performance back in a time before bad Al Pacino performances were something to be expected. And it’s just way too concerned with style over substance in general. All of my reasons for disliking the 80s Scarface are the reasons I wanted to see the original 1932 version. Because I like the story of Scarface, I just hate the 80s excess of the remake. So, I was hoping the 30s approach would tell the same story in a better way.
In 1930s Chicago, gangsters are out of control and gang wars flood the city. In the latest skirmish, Italian mob boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) has ordered his right hand man, Tony Amonte (Paul Muni) to kill Big Louis Costello (Harry J Vejar). With Big Loui out of the way, Johnny takes control of running illegal liquor on the South Side. Tony is right there, as Johnny’s muscle, but it doesn’t take long before being second banana loses its appeal. Against Johnny’s wishes, Tony fights with the Italian mob which controls Chicago’s North Side. Soon enough, Tony has his eye on Johnny’s power, Johnny’s money and Johnny’s woman, Poppy (Karen Morley).
The biggest surprise with the original Scarface is how faithful its 80s remake is. Replace Chicago with Miami, liquor with cocaine and Italian versus Irish with various gangs of Cubans against each other, and you pretty much have the exact story, beat by beat. These two movies make a great example of just how different the finished product can be, even if they both start in basically the exact the same place.
Being made in the 30s, I never expected Scarface to be subtle. Any movie of that vintage is going to come with a certain amount of pantomime over acting and in your face moralising. So when those things were delivered in spades, I was ready. And it’s that vintage of the 30s that makes the more over the top performances and dialogue more charming than aggravating. The 80s Scarface doesn’t have that excuse. Everyone involved should have known better.