Movies That Everyone Should See: “Scarface”

Scarface

Tony Montana: Me, I want what’s coming to me.

Manny Ribera: Oh, well what’s coming to you?

Tony Montana: The world, chico, and everything in it.

Scarface 1932

Producer Martin Bregman was watching TV late one night when 1932’s “Scarface” came on. 

scarface_1932Directed by Howard Hawk and Richard Rosson, and starring Paul Muni, “Scarface” is the story of a prohibition era gangster named Tony Camonte whose quick trigger finger leads him to the top of the mob. Disregarding his boss’ orders, Camonte strikes out at rival mobsters, staking claim to new territories on his own. Camonte even makes moves on the his boss’ girl. When his boss puts out a hit on him, Camonte survives, and exacts his revenge. His hot-headed temper gets him in trouble though when he finds that his sister and his right hand man are romantically involved. He guns his sister’s lover down in anger and retreats to his fortified apartment to await a showdown with the cops.

Bregman knew he wanted to make an updated version of it, and from the start, the person he saw in the lead was Al Pacino. Pacino had recently seen the movie himself (he claims HE was the one who called Bregman to propose the project), and was in. Universal had just purchased the rights to the film from the estate of Howard Hughes (who produced the original), so things were lining up.

brian-de-palmaBregman approached Brian De Palma to direct. De Palma was finishing editing on 1981’s “Blowout” (starring John Travolta) at the time, and was intrigued by the notion of shooting a gangster film. However, after unsuccessfully attempting to put a period piece script together with playwright David Rabe (think Chicago and Tommy guns), De Palma dropped out.

sidney_lumetSo Bregman turned to friend and previous collaborator Sidney Lumet (the two had made “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon” together with Al Pacino). Lumet wasn’t all that interested in making a period piece gangster film, but he did have an excellent, game changing idea for the film.  

Why not update the setting to (then) modern-day Miami, and focus on the Cocaine Wars?

Bregman was sold. And he had the perfect man to write the script. Oliver Stone.

Oliver_StoneStone, who would later become a renown, Oscar-winning director, began his career in movies as a screenwriter. In 1979, he won an Academy Award for his adaptation of “Midnight Express”. He scored another big hit by scripting 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian”. However, his directorial debut, the 1981 Michael Caine vehicle, “The Hand”, had been an umitigated flop.

So when Bregman offered him the job writing “Scarface”, Stone was in a position where he needed the money. He was also in a unique position to write it due to the fact that he was using cocaine himself at that time. He had begun heavy abuse while writing “Conan”, and all through directing “The Hand”. Now, his habit would be an inroad to Miami and South America’s cocaine underground.

scarface_2

Stone flew to Miami and began doing investigative reporting on both sides of the law. He interviewed drug dealers and cops. Smugglers and DEA agents. He would score coke from dealers, get wired with them, and ask questions. Occasionally, he wound up in danger – mortal danger – from dealers who thought he was a narc. From Miami, he went to the Caribean, and into South America countries, including Ecuador, Columbia, and Bolivia.

When it was over, his coke habit was out of control. To actually write the screenplay, he had to leave America (he went to Paris) in order to quit cocaine cold turkey. He literally wrote the script for “Scarface” while recovering from cocaine addiction.

When he was finished, he had a screenplay that Bregman and Pacino liked very much, but Sidney Lumet found vulgar. Lumet had also been hoping that some political commentary would have worked its way into the screenplay, he felt that Reagan era policies contributed to the situation in Miami at the time. But Bregman and Stone felt politics was the kiss of death in a film, and refused to work it in. Lumet dropped out.

scarface_8

scarface_11So Bregman went back to De Palma, this time with a completed Scarface script, and once again De Palma was brought on board to helm.

The project was no safe bet, however. De Palma was known for small thrillers, not big budget movies. And Pacino, at that particular moment in his career, was in a lull. After “Dog Day Afternoon”, Pacino had seen modest success with “…And Justice for All”, but “Bobby Deerfield”, “Cruisin'”,  and “Author! Author!” had been disappointments, to say the least. scarface_16Stone, of course, was still looking for the big hit that would give him enough clout to transition to directing full-time.

The stakes were high for all involved.

scarface_17

In order to get the accent he would use for the film, Al Pacino worked with a dialect coach, then spent time grilling the Cuban members of the cast (Ángel Salazar, as Chi Chi, and Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera, a part that John Travolta was considered for) on pronunciation.

Michelle PfeifferThe cast was being put through a rigorous audition process. Multiple reads were required for every actor/actress. Especially for Michelle Pfeiffer for the part of Elvira Hancock. Pfeiffer was a relative unknown at the time, but the studio was pushing her. Bregman wanted a bigger name… he wouldn’t even pay Pfeiffer’s flight to New York to read for the part. But Pfeiffer paid her own way out and auditioned. De Palma and Bregman were sold, but Pacino wasn’t. He wanted Glenn Close for the role. Eventually, however, De Palma was able to win him over, and Pfeiffer got the part.

shot0011

Shooting was initially intended to be done exclusively in Miami. However, word of the film got out and the Cuban community began to protest. A Miami City Commissioner named Demetrio Perez was particularly vocal and began taking his feelings about the film to the local press. Filming permits were denied (only one scene was actually filmed in Miami: the exterior shots at the Sun Ray Motel). The production began receiving death threats, including Pacino.

The decision was made to shift the production back to California.

Which was one of many factors that was swelling the budget and the shooting schedule. Pacino was a perfectionist who was demanded rehearsal time up front (two weeks were set up), and was trying multiple takes of practically every line in order to get his accent perfect. De Palma was taking his first big budget film seriously, and setting up several difficult, involved camera shots that wound up costly and time-consuming to execute. All the while, he had to contend with a complaining, kibitzing Oliver Stone, who was on set (by Bregman’s request). Pacino burned his hand on the muzzle of the M16 with grenade launcher (his “Lil friend”) and was out of shooting for two weeks.  What was scheduled to be a two month shoot lasted seven months.

scarface_34

But the going over budget and over schedule were only the beginning of the trouble for Scarface. Editors were faced with an extraordinary amount of footage to cut, after all of the various takes and camera angles. And when they did get it cut? The MPAA wouldn’t give it an R rating.

De Palma’s first three submissions to the MPAA were given X ratings for “Excessive and cumulative violence”, plus all the profanity (there are over 200 F-bombs in the film). Eventually, Bregman had to intercede. He treated the MPAA hearing as a day in court and brought in experts, including DEA agents and journalists, to testify to the film’s authenticity and to the importance of its “message”. His tactics were successful, and the film’s third cut was given an R.

De Palma, however, was embittered by the process. Realizing that the studio had no idea what cut was which, he gave them the original cut – which had actually been given an X rating by the MPAA – to actually release into theatres.

scarface_37

large_scarface_blue_blu-ray_4xWhen it was released, critics savaged the movie. They vilified the film for its shocking levels of violence, drug abuse and profanity. They also disparaged its bleak tone and irredeemable characters. The central character is a cold-hearted killer who rises to power through the sale of cocaine, prior to losing control of himself on drugs and ruining the lives of everyone who ever cared for him. Critics felt there wasn’t much to root for.

Audiences didn’t exactly embrace the film upon release, either. Released December 9th, 1983, “Scarface” was a Holiday Season release. It wasn’t the type of film that audiences are seeking at that time of year. It grossed a mere $45 million domestically, barely entering the top 20 for shot0025the year (16th).

It was not the success that any involved had hoped for. In fact, the critical panning made the film feel like a backfire. Brian De Palma was even nominated for a Razzie for worst director.

shot0007

With the advent of cable television and VCRs, “Scarface” was given a new life on home video. Teens and kids at the time (who were too young to see it in theatres) latched on to it. The controversy surrounding the film had built up expectations, and “Scarface” rapidly became a cult hit. Kids began rewatching it and learning the lines, quoting it. It became especially influential in the hip-hop community, where today it’s hailed as a classic.

It was the perfect film for the early 80s. Everything was done to excess. The blood, the drugs and the F-bombs all created an intoxicating cocktail of destiny, decadence and death. There was tons of violence, over the top characters, and a plot revolving around greed and the gangster life.

And it was all capped off by one of the most memorable onscreen performances ever, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana.

scarface_42

Tony Montana is a hot-headed Cuban immigrant who enters the country with nothing, but due to his willingness to kill and his brash attitude, he quickly winds up involved in a high level cocaine distribution operation. After muscling his boss out of the way, he takes the girl and anything else that he wants. Of course, his greed gets the best of him, and his empire begins to topple once his reach exceeds his grasp. Worse still is the fact that his cocaine abuse causes him to strike out at his own friends and family just when he’s the most vulnerable.

It’s the classic “rise and fall” tale, delivered with a cocaine frosting. And Pacino gleefully takes it over the top with his snarling, sneering, thick accented Tony Montanna. It’s easily one of his best performances, even though it’s far from his most subtle. There’s an electricity to it. At certain points, Tony turns on the charm, and you really want to root for him… he’s likeable, funny, smart. At other times, he lashes out with his temper and you can see that he’s a volcano waiting to explode.

And explode he does. In one of the most explosive finales in movie history, Tony Montana stands alone against a Columbian death squad. Coked up, out of control, refusing to go out without a fight… “SAY HELLO TO MY LIL FRIEND!”

.

It’s an unforgettable, quotable, incredible film. Multiple rewatches may render it more of a dark comedy than the cautionary tale it was intended to be, but that doesn’t make the film any less delicious. Every cast member is perfect. Robert Loggia, F Murray Abraham, Steven Bauer, Harris Yulin, Michelle Pfeiffer, they all perfectly support Pacino’s overpowering central character. Cartoonish and overexaggerated? Perhaps. But intoxicating to watch, and completely unforgettable without a doubt.

“Scarface” has become a pop culture touchstone, the likes of which few movies can compare to. It’s given rise to immeasurable amounts of merchandise and countless bad impressions. It’s insanely quotable and endlessly rewatchable.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

scarface_25

ScFHUU

MTESS Lammy

Daniel Fogarty

51 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Scarface”

  1. There is nothing funnier than trying to watch “Scarface” on cable TV.

    If I remember, I think it still holds a record for the most F-bombs dropped in a single film.

  2. Finally! I was wondering when this beauty would raise it’s head on MTESS. This is violent, vile, and very entertaining. Love the re-imagined story & cast. Additionally, there are many lessons here for business of the good (the drive) and the bad (reap what you sow). No one applauds a drug dealer, but as a person with drive and unapologetic desire to get what he wants “the world…” and “everything in it”, Pacino’s Montana gets admiration from me. Stone here he is at the nexus of writing and directing only to bring this, AHnuld, and “greed is good” to the big screen in the 80s. Rock solid MTESS!

    “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”
    – Tony Montana (Pacino), Scarface (1983)

    • Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Scarface actually contains a number of words to live by. LOL “Dont get high on your own supply,” “The only thing that gives orders in this world is balls,” there’s a ton of bon mots to apply to everyday life.

      Say good night to the bad guy, S. You’re never gonna see a bad guy like this again!

  3. Yeah, I think this is highly over rated. I have seen it a couple of times and actually borderline hate it. If not for Pacino, I feel there would be no redeeming quality to it. That’s my opinion, though. lol

    • Ju %$&#ing crazy, mang. I right here. Ju wanna make a move, ju make a move.

      I’m gonna go ahead and guess you never saw it around its release. Regardless, its sad that it numerous charms never availed themselves to you Chris.

  4. I feel ashamed to not have seen this one (or Howard Hawks’s 1931 Scarface, with Al Capone as an alcohol warlord or something to that extent, right?). I’m sort of dying to, though. I have a lot of respect toward Brian de Palma. I mean, of course I love Carrie, and The Untouchables is a memorable movie (even if, as mentioned in my review, not quite unforgettable), but I think my A-minus grade on Mission: Impossible kinda shows some partiality to him.

    Of course, Pacino, too. :)

    • Yeah, the original “Scarface” was inspired by Capone and gangsters like him and was set during prohibition. I cant recommend it all that highly though. As much as I love this version, I didnt think that the orginal was all that great, even with the “classic film” nature of it taken into account…

      You should check this one out for De Palma, for Pacino, for the pop culture import of it… who knows, maybe you’ll wind up a huge fan of it like I am! :D

  5. Substitute Mexicans for Cubans and this film would be timely. Stone did, in Savages. Hard not to see “Scarface”‘s influence on so many movies. No movie in the “drug” genre can be separated from it. Speaking of which, “Pusher” starts Friday. Did it “push” you to MTESS this now?

    • No, nothing “pushed” me to it. In the random randomness that inspires these, I actually needed to clean out my DVR and so, I chose to do this one in order to clear out “Inside Story: Scarface” LOL

      Savages is like a distant, distant cousin to this one. You can cite the bloodline, but the resemblances are slight ;)

  6. I have mixed feelings on this. I loved it when it came out, despite the horrible reviews. That scene in the bathroom with the chainsaw was traumatic. I was a Brian DePalma fanatic in the 80s and 90s. There was something about the way he shot movies that just was hypnotic. Pacino was way over the top but that made sense given the subject. I was hearing speeches in my class about all the crime that was resulting from the Mariel Boatlift. The opening to making this a contemporary film was pretty obvious with that event.. It’s odd that Lumet wanted to point to Reagan policies, it was Carter’s naivete that got the prisons and asylums of Cuba dumped into Miami. Filming would have started in 1982, the preproduction would be barely a year into the Reagan Administration. The whole discussion process with Lumet must have occurred before that, so what the hell could he have been thinking? That must have been the last time that Stone left out some political angles in a movie he worked on.

    While I admired the story elements that seize the American Dream with a Vengeance, I think too many in the hip hop culture took the movie as a road map rather than a cautionary tale. The echos of thug life that have diminished the world since are what makes it hard for me to be as enthusiastic as I once was. I know that this is not the fault of the film and instead of the viewers. That’s why instead of calling it a MTESS, there should be a caveat. A Movie That Everyone with a Functioning Brain and Not Doped Up Should See. (MTEWAFBANDUSS).

    • LOL That acronym needs an acronym. :D

      That can basically be said of any film featuring violence, drugs or inappropriate behaviour, Richard. The viewer’s personal responsibility is always a given… otherwise we’d never watch anything but bland, safe, documentaries! 8O

      I can’t vouch to what Lumet was thinking. Maybe he was so far left that he began decrying Reagan from the moment he stepped into office, I dont know. I barely keep up with current politics, let alone 1980s politics. ;) I can vouch for the fact though, I saw it on TV it’s got to be right, right? LOL

      • WAFBANDU (an attempt to shorten further) – it sounds like an indigenous tribe; we just don’t to where; nice 1 70sRichard ;-)

  7. HEY, FUCK YOU MANG… WHO PUT DIS DING TOGETHER! ME, DAT WHO! WHO DO I TRUST… ME!!!!

    God, I love that movie. I just wrote a review of the film earlier this month just put something out. It’s truly a classic. I can never tired of watching it. I end up quoting that film whenever I watch it.

    BITCH, LESBIAN!!!

    WHERE YOU GET THAT BEAUTY SCAR? EATIN’ PUSSY?

    I KEEL A COMMUNIST FOR FUN BUT FOR A GREEN CARD, IMMA GONNA CARVE HEEM UP REAL NICE!!!

    I think it still holds the record for most f-bombs in a film which 182 f-bombs. Puta-madre.

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm for the movie, so I hate to burst your enthusiasm NV99, but according to the list I found here on Wikipedia, it no longer holds the F-Bomb title. :(

      Doesnt make it any less fun, or quotable, obviously though. :D I cant help but quote along as I watch, too.

      Ju shoulda kept your mouth chut. They’da thought you was a horse an’ let you in… LOL

  8. Nice write-up. I do love Scarface, even though it’s a pretty campy movie. Like you said, it’s cartoonish but iconic and pretty unforgettable. I recently purchased a blu-ray copy and have wanted to watch it again.

  9. Hey Fogs, I have to confess I haven’t seen this one for obvious reasons, though I have actually used the phrase “SAY HELLO TO MY LIL FRIEND!” a few times in my life, ahah.

    I actually went to its IMDb and Wikipedia page a while back to read more about this and even just by reading the scene descriptions and quotes, I know I can’t handle the extreme violence (same w/ Reservoir Dogs). Funny that they got Pacino who’s Italian play a Cuban character here, and Andy Garcia who’s Cuban often plays Italian :D

    • LOL… I had a feeling that this movie wouldnt be your cup of tea, Ruth, although just for discussion purposes, the violence in this movie doesnt feel THAT bad nowadays. Just sayin’.

      Pacino nails it, too. He’s hysterical… it’s so unlike anything else he ever did. If you’ve never caught a glimpse of it, here’s a violence free (and profanity free!) clip. :D

  10. Fogs, I was really hoping you were writing about the original from Hawks, which is a classic. I do agree that people should see De Palma’s Scarface, but I also think it’s not very good. It has several great scenes (the chainsaw attack, the finale), but it’s also bloated and overdone. It’s not a bad film, but I still don’t get the acclaim. A problem might be my love for the original, which I saw in a film class in high school. It was hard to watch the remake without preconceived notions, so I’ll admit that may play a role in how I feel about it. Regardless, great job with this post!

    • I agree. The original rocks. The DePalma one… not so much. I didn’t know he’d gotten a Razzie nomination for it but it makes me so happy to know that because I’d always wondered why people accept it as a classic.

      • Cause it is a classic! Not the way they intended… its more of a dark comedy. You’ve got to learn to love the Montana! He’s the bomb, man. Every word he says is hysterical! :D

    • Wasn’t all that impressed with the original. Obviously, time doesnt do any favors to movies, so there really has to be a stand out story/characters/acting to vault a movie into a classic status and make it watchable almost 100 years later…

      I just didnt latch on to that stuff here. :(

    • LOL. Please… If you hang around here long enough Ian, one of these days some good taste is gonna rub off on you. ;) Then you’ll realize all the awesomeness you’ve been missing out on. Including this.

  11. Hi, Fogs:

    DePalma’s ‘Scarface’ has countless great scenes and memorable lines. I enjoy the film for watching Pacino’s evolution from greasy street punk to even greasier cocaine crime lord.

    Though the real focus of my attention is Robert Loggia’s Frank. Boss. Mentor, who revels in wallowing in his oily, greedy, double dealing sleaziness.Without Frank, the film just would not work.

    Also cannot fault Montana’s choice of the M-16/M-203 over-under Home Defense Weapons System!

    • No, I know, right! I want one! LOL. You could hold off a SWAT team with that puppy! :D

      Loggia is great. He cracks me up. Do you know what a hassa is Jack? I love how he calls his little league team the Little Lopezers. LOL. I’d be lying if I didnt admit to naming a couple of fantasy baseball teams that over the years. :D

      • Hi, Fogs:

        Great catches of the Little League Teams!

        There’s also a reason why M-16/M-203 combination became the weapon of choice for rifle squads in Vietnam, Post 1968 and Tet. Replacing the single shot M-79 Grenade Launcher while adding longer reach, more mobility, less weight and greater range. Truly, the best of both worlds!

        I wonder how long a team of “Little Lopezers” would last in today’s PC world of Miami or L.A. Little League? Even with Owen Wilson, Billy Bob Thornton or Kevin Spacey replacing Walter Matthau’s Coach
        Buttermaker in a re-make of ‘The Bad News Bears’?

  12. I played the video game (with Ricky Gervais as a small part no less!!) and loved the Vice City hidden chainsaw easter egg. I own the cigar boxed blu ray special edition. Its fair to say I enjoy me some Scarface :)

    • I have that Blu as well. :D I never played the video game though, it never sat well with me that they made him survive the shoot out. I suppose they had to in order to have something to play, but still…

      I love this movie too, though. I’ve watched it a zillion times, and its still as awesome as ever. :D

  13. To my mind the whole movie can be summed up in this quote: “What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”

    Great fucking film, bato!

    • Amen. ;)

      Love that whole scene. I love his existential “Is this what its about?” moment, I love Elvira’s “moment of clarity”, the quaaludes line, all of it.

      This movie is insanely quotable from beginning to end. That scene is a good example. :D

  14. Great post, Fogs’. I too am a big fan of Scarface (and not so much the original). Yes, maybe it’s overlong, a little rough round the edges, but that just seems to add to its appeal for me. The TV versions are indeed a hoot, up there with Robocop for inventive dubbing.

    “This town like a great big chicken, jus’ waitin’ to get plucked!”

    • That IS a great line in dubbing history. Right up there with “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps.” LOL :D

      Its one of the only dubbed movies I’ll watch on tv, just for the humor of it. Typically, I’ll bail. If I really want to watch the movie I’ll put in the DVD or something.

      Thanks for having my back on this one Monkeyboy, “Lookit the pelicans fly!!” :D

      • Oh God, that “stranger in the alps” line. Always gets a belly laugh out of me. I think these crazy dubs are so much better when you know the original line.

  15. Fascinating read, Fogs. Very informative. This was one of my favorite movies through high school and college but I haven’t seen it since. Curious to find out if I would love it as much as I did then (chances are I would). Had no idea Lumet was set to direct this either, or that Stone wrote this while going cold turkey. Crazy stuff.

    • You should revisit it Eric, you’ll find it every bit as fun as you remember. Thats what happened to me too, I had a long dormancy period with it… then when I broke it back out it was every bit as awesome as I remembered. Now I watch it (relatively) frequently again. :D Great movie!

      Thanks for the props, man! :D

Join in the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s