Tony Carmonte (Paul Muni) is a ruthless mobster intent on building his empire in prohibition-era Chicago. Fighting off all opposition, he manages to climb to the top of the heap, but thanks to an obsession with his own kid sister, his success will prove shortlived. Produced by the legendary recluse Howard Hughes and directed by Hollywood great Howard Hawks, this is often regarded to be the best of the classic gangster films, setting the standard for all subsequent efforts. It was remade by Brian de Palma in 1983.
Howard Hawks's Scarface was one of the first "talkies" to reclaim the fluidity of the late-silent masterpieces, while also tapping into a feral new energy that came with talking smart and moving smarter on the motion picture screen. Outgunning such contemporaries as Little Caesar and The Public Enemy--in terms of both its ferocious death-dealing and dynamic style--the movie was interfered with by censors and kept out of circulation for decades thanks to its eccentric producer, Howard Hughes. It remains the gold standard among classic gangster pictures. Paul Muni's portrayal of Al Capone surrogate Tony Camonte etched a screen original: a merciless assassin who's not only reflexively criminal but pre-civilised, almost pre-evolutionary, a simian shadow ready to rub out the world if he can't have it for his own. This is still one of the greatest, darkest, most deeply exciting films American cinema has produced. Those demonically ubiquitous X's--starting with that titular scar gouged into Tony's cheek--rival "Rosebud" for resonance. --Richard T. Jameson