Couch Potato: DVD Review: Scarface: The Shame of a Nation


Scarface: The Shame of a Nation

1932, Not Rated

Comparisons are inevitable between Howard Hawks' 1932 gangster classic, Scarface: The Shame of a Nation, and Brian De Palma's 1983 remake, Scarface. As there should be. The stories are virtually identical but the means by which each tells the tale of a ruthlessly ambitious criminal's rise through the underworld are worlds apart. Based loosely on the life of Al Capone, Hawks' version was shocking for its time. With a master's roving eye, Hawks follows the unflinching violence that ruled the dirty Chicago streets where lowlife gangster Tony plows through anyone standing in his way to the top. The stark realism with which Hawks captures the action, coupled with the immediacy of Capone's reign, no doubt impacted his audience's psyche. The effect is a far cry from De Palma's near unbelievable but no less entertaining, stylized orgy of violence. Actor Paul Muni's Scarface is an entirely different beast than that played by Al Pacino in the remake. Muni plays Tony as a near sociopath, running a fine line between blockhead and criminal genius, while Pacino reduces the character to a grunting, coked-up caricature. Muni adds a delirium to Tony's incestuous feelings toward his sister that is miles above Pacino. Previously available only as a supplemental extra in the Scarface: Deluxe Gift Set Edition of De Palma's film, this DVD is a must-have. Also included are both alternate endings, one shot to please the censors the other much more tragic. (Phil Morehart) Grade: A

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