Jan 3, 2009

Scarface

The blonde is Karen Morley in the original Scarface. This is a gangster film that ran into trouble with the censors. There’s a scene, which can be fast forwarded, in which some characters directly address the audience, and urge them to take political action against gangsters. What they urge we would probably consider fascistic today. But I think the film makers wanted to play down the charge that they were glamorizing crime, and to insert some “redeeming content” into a tale of violence.

Most of the action is based on the life of Capone, though it omits some things, his marriage, his VD, and his conviction for tax evasion. Poppy, Karen Morley’s character, looks a bit like Capone’s wife, Mae, but is primarily there for sex appeal.

The DVD has an alternate ending. Neither ending is good for Toni, Paul Muni’s character. One major difference is that in the original ending Toni’s incestuous yearnings for his sister are made clear, while they are muted and more appropriate in the alternate version. This theme is, if I recall correctly, absent from the 1983 version of the film.

Paul Muni gives a convincing performance as a gangster, and plays Tony as a primitive, almost Cro-Magnon type. Tony can only imitate the upper class people he sees; he can never be one of them. I don’t know if Capone was quite as slovenly and ignorant as Tony.

One approach, and it would be best if someone who actually likes Rene Girard were to do it, would be to look at the movie through Girard’s concept of mimetic desire.