in , , , ,



‘…packs the punch of a grenade-launcher…’

Back in 1983, Brian De Palma’s reboot/reimagining of the 1932 Howard Hawks/ Ben Hecht classic was seen by some critics as an affront to the talent involved, despite being dedicated to them. Others found 80’s Scarface to be a blast, namely 14 year old me, dogging school to watch this three hour epic about getting high AF on your own supply. The media was full of grim warnings about the dangerous effects that such immoral texts might have on impressionable youths, making this Al Pacino vehicle, written by Oliver Stone, absolutely essential viewing.

Forty years later, Scarface is one old movie that doesn’t need much introduction for today’s youth; while the original is a pre-code classic, the 1983 Scarface is arguably one of the most culturally influential movies of all time. With dramatic action set pieces and a complex web of betrayals and deceptions, Scarface is the closest single influence on the Grand Theft Auto video game, and spawned dozens of imitations, including a game based directly on the movie. Scarface established a familiar narrative template; ‘Hey, get down to Cousin Rico’s house down at the docks, watch out for any interference, and try not to get killed this time!” would be the cut-scene instruction, and before you know if, you’re coasting around Miami’s roads in an open topped convertible with a blazing soundtrack of 80’s classic rock and one bad-to-the-bone attitude

Universal’s Scarface contains all this in embryonic form, but it’s also a cautionary tale with a corruptive political edge beyond demonising immigrants. We know from his seasoned attitude and hand tattoo that Tony Montana is already a hardened criminal by the time he arrives in Freedomtown with little more than his balls and his word, ready to start his repatriation; he’s no ‘civilian’ like war-hero Michael Corleone, but a one-man war about to happen. Montana’s first big job ends in something of a bloody mess of flying chainsaws and an enthusiastic, vigorous street execution, but De Palma is already setting up a chain of tense, anxiety-inducing set pieces; a series of events in a glitzy nightclub taking Montana’s attention away while two goons prepare to shoot the place up, or a tense assassination attempt on a UN spokesperson who has a bomb placed under his car.The latter scene is key to Montana’s moral redemption in that he refuses to continue with the job when the target unexpectedly picks up his own wife and kids, and Tony’s failure to complete the reprehensible act (‘No f___king kids’) leads directly to him going down hard in a dynamic confrontation with encroaching forces at his tiger-enhanced mansion.

‘Can you stop saying f__k all the time?’ asks white-gold moll Michelle Pfeiffer; the fluency of the language was a big deal at the time. Stone’s script isn’t short on sharp ideas either. ‘This country was built on Russian money…’ muses Tony pertinently, channeling Harlan Crow. ‘With that kinda money you could buy the Supreme Court.’ Under the chemical cosh once again, Tony rails against his fellow diners in an upscale restaurant. ‘You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say that’s the f__king bad guy, but does that make you good?’ The gang tattoo on Montana’s hand immediately brands him as the public enemy, but his violent justifications of the notion that business is just business is the timeless embodiment of the American dream. While another reboot has been mooted for a while now, Warner Bros have a wonderful back-catalogue of gangster films that are equally ripe for a reworking. Scarface totally blew my mind then I was a kid, and still packs the punch of a grenade-launcher once Tony Montana’s vertiginous fall begins.


Leave a Reply
  1. Great choice for today!

    It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this one, but like you, I saw it first as a teenager and thought it was an absolute blast to see all that excess and taboo up there on the screen – so many F words, so many guns, so much coke.

    And though I do like the pre-code version, the Pacino version is superior, if only because the film is meant to shock. They both shocked for their respective eras, but come on! “Say hello to my little friend” is timeless.

    • So that’s party why I think Warners could and should remake films like this every decade. There’s real shock value in this, even as nostalgia. And in a way it ties right into pre-code morality or immorality on screen. The old version is similarly driven by bad behavior, but the explicitness here is something to behold. I’d cheerfully remake G Men, The Roaring Twenties, the lot of them; so many great properties that would be so much fun to update to today’s very different world. Push it to the limit!

      • I think so too. People love gangster films, and they are ripe for remakes. They’re films about the perils of excess, as you said in your review, and therefore need to be updated to our current standards of what constitutes excess.

        • I think Tony Montana did us all a favor by setting a high bar for excess. I don’t know about you, but in general I’ve managed to avoid the scrapes he ended up in. Don’t get high on your own supply is a helpful mantra. And surely this is the time for a movie called The Roaring Twenties…

          • Yes, the fact that I’ve never found myself face down in a mountain of cocaine makes me feel better about the times I ate the entire bag of chips and jar of salsa …..

            The Roaring Twenties are back baby!

            • Exactly. Our indiscressions are minor compared to Tony Montana. Sure, eating an entire tub of Haagen Daz while watching videos of people falling over their doorsteps on YouTube is nothing to be proud of, but compared to what happens in Scarface, it’s no biggie.

              Let the twenties roar!

  2. Think this was the second (or maybe the third) film I saw with an 18s cert? I watched it again recently and it still stands up – Pacino has no qualms about making his character unapologetically loathsome (and I’m talking about his physical tics and mannerisms rather than his lack of moral compass) and the film is never less than compelling. It’s also the first film in which I saw Pfeiffer, whose icy beauty made her seem like just the sort of woman a gangster might try to acquire.

    • Same here; this and Sudden Impact were my introductions to beating the certificate. Like you, I was wowed by Pacino’s energy and immersing himself in a disreputable character with few grace notes. And yes, Pfeiffer is great casting as a trophy wife with a several coke problem. Watch this every few years and never lets me down.

  3. Holds up well, even with the Giorgio Moroder score and the disco stuff. Gotta love a story about excess that’s so full of excess. Last time I rewatched it was the weird sister-love angle that stuck out the most. The DVD version has an option where you can see a counter for the number of bullets fired and f-bombs dropped.

Leave a Reply