Is Scarface a classic? Yes and no. The critics who trashed the film when it opened in 1983 weren't entirely wrong. There is something messy about the plot. And as a character, Cuban-gangster Tony Montana is ' on paper, anyway ' too thin to be the focus of a nearly three-hour film. Then there's the violence, which includes not just mayhem with guns and knives, but also, famously, with a chain saw. The critics called the violence 'over-the-topâ?�; really, the whole movie is.
But as soon as it opened, Scarface began to infiltrate the national consciousness. Tony Montana may be a two-dimensional conception, but he's also a great movie monster. Al Pacino's performance in the role has a comic-book boldness that's as close to his brash work on stage as anything he's ever done in film.
So if Scarface isn't a traditional classic, it certainly has become a cult classic, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even today, people wear Scarface T-shirts and hang Scarface posters. And the film's fans still like to repeat the dialogue, especially Tony's words near the end, as he blasts away with his machine gun: 'Say hello to my li'l frien'!â?�
'It hit a nerve,â?� says Oliver Stone, the film's screenwriter, in a featurette that's included with the new Platinum Edition DVD release. And even the pros love to imitate Tony.
'Every actor I ever met 'does' Tony Montana,â?� says the film's director, Brian De Palma, in another featurette. Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin, he says, are just a few of the performers who've been unable to resist the allure of this 'audacious character with such wonderful lines.â?�
This new, two-disc DVD set contains the usual array of featurettes and deleted scenes, plus newly recorded sound effects and an amusing comparison between the movie and the version of it that has played on TV. ('Lamebrainâ?� is dubbed in for 'lesbian,â?� 'stuffâ?� subs for 'shitâ?� and 'drop deadâ?� replaces, well, guess what.)
As a featurette notes, Scarface is dedicated to Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, the director and a screenwriter of the 1932 masterpiece on which this version is based. Where the original, which starred Paul Muni, looks at Italian gangsters in Prohibition-era Chicago, the remake concerns Tony's journey from Cuban refugee to criminal kingpin in the Miami of the cocaine '80s.
'We were going to shoot the movie in Florida,â?� De Palma recalls, 'but then the Cuban community became so outraged at how we were representing them, they basically ran us out of town.â?�
At the time, the film was generally seen as a departure for the director, who was coming off a string of suspense-cum-horror flicks that included Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out. (Pauline Kael's Scarface review was titled 'A De Palma Movie for People Who Don't Like De Palma Movies.â?�)
In retrospect, though, the film seems not so very different from De Palma's others. Movie-centrics will recognize his trademark slow pans and twisted sense of humor. And the atmosphere of paranoia and soul-sickness that you find in his suspense/horror oeuvre isn't far from the feeling in Scarface. While making this film, De Palma may, in fact, have discovered that he could continue to explore his favorite themes through gangster pictures. At any rate, he made more of them: The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Wise Guys and, in a sense, Femme Fatale.
The film is fortunate in its cast, which includes Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Tony's ferocious sister and Steven Bauer as his sexy sidekick, as well as Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham. In one of her earliest roles, Michelle Pfeiffer, as Tony's love interest, displays a sensational gift for insolence that she has seldom used since. (Now that she's well past ingenue age, what the hell is she waiting for?)
The director is right to call the title character 'audacious,â?� and a lot of that audacity is contained in Pacino's performance. Watching the early scenes again, I couldn't take my eyes off his wary, darting, taunting eyes.
'You needed to find those odd things, those twists, those ironies,â?� says Pacino in a featurette. 'So that there was something else going on.â?�