I believe that Brian De Palma’s film of the same name from the beginning of the eighties is well known to everyone, but before Al Pacino, who so brilliantly embodied the Cuban gangster in Miami Tony Montana, was born, the first “Scarface” was Paul Muni. It is not difficult to assume that the film made by Howard Hawks based on Armitage Trail’s pulp novel of the same name was designed after the character and work of the most famous real face with a scar – Al Capone. In the late twenties and early thirties, films about gangsters and the mafia were widely filmed in Hollywood, which is not surprising, because then these criminal organizations were at the peak of their power. These urban bandits did what they wanted, spreading fear in the streets, and just when this film was being made, a famous court case was being held against Capone in which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for not paying taxes.
That in America at that time the government was really in consternation because of the mafia, which apparently no one can do anything about, is confirmed by the appeal in the prologue of the film, which, even before the opening credits, asks the American government to do something urgently. Then begins the story of the rise and fall of Scarface, the Italian gangster and cold-blooded killer Tony Camonte (Muni) and the wars of gangster organizations in Chicago. In the beginning, we meet Tony as the bodyguard of the head of one of the criminal organizations of Johnny Love (Osgood Perkins) in the early twenties. But, as it already goes in similar gangster films, an episodic role in a criminal syndicate will not satisfy Tony too much, and he will climb the ladder little by little to eventually try to oust his boss.
Along with “Little Caesar” with Edward G. Robinson and “Enemy of the State” with James Cagney, “Scarface” is considered one of the three most important gangster films of old Hollywood. However, “Scarface” had big problems with the censors who claimed that the film glorifies violence (which is why they asked for a prologue to be inserted at the opening), and in some cities the showing of the film was even banned. Of course, from today’s perspective, Hawks’ “Scarface” seems archaic and even quite chaste, but it is nevertheless one of the most influential films of all time and a crime film that served as an inspiration not only to De Palma, but also to many others who later made films of this genre. .
The role of the cold-blooded and bloodthirsty gangster Tony was perhaps the most famous role for an almost forgotten actor whom Marlon Brando said was the best he had ever seen. Paul Muni’s performance was also an inspiration for Al Pacino, who once said that for the role of his Tony Montana, he simply decided to copy Muni’s acting style in this film. Although he won only one award out of five nominations for the Oscar, in the 1940s he almost completely withdrew from film and devoted himself to the theater, Munija is considered probably the best actor of his time and an actor who was a sort of forerunner of the methodical style of acting.
He was born in 1895 in a Jewish family in Lemberg, or today’s Lviv in Ukraine, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. As a seven-year-old, he moved to America and settled in Chicago with his parents, who were actors in the Yiddish Theater, where he also started acting. It wasn’t until 1926 that he reached Broadway and his first English-language role, and at the end of the twenties he switched to film. During the thirties, he was even nominated for an Oscar five times, and he prepared thoroughly for the roles he played, studying absolutely all the literature he could get his hands on and trying to get into the psyche of the character himself, which is a technique more characteristic of a more modern era, not exactly his own. time.