Paul Muni

Pre-Code Essentials: Scarface (1932)

Scarface 1932


With the death of gang leader Big Louie Costillo, the doors are open for major gang activity as various gangs fight to take control over the south side of Chicago’s bootlegging racket. Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is the ruthlessly ambitious right hand man for gangster Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins). Johnny gains control of the south side with Tony’s help, but Tony isn’t content to settle for just the south side; he wants to control the north side, too, even though doing so would mean starting a war with some gangsters Johnny specifically told him to leave alone. Rival gang leader Tom Gaffney (Boris Karloff) tries to have Tony killed, but only ends up introducing Tony to tommy guns in the process.

Not only is Tony trying to oust Johnny for the title of Chicago’s top gang leader, he also has his sights on Jonny’s girlfriend Poppy (Karen Morley). Johnny realizes how dangerously out of control Tony is and tries to have him killed, but Tony once again survives and kills Johnny. Johnny finally has everything that he wants — complete control over Chicago and Poppy. But his antics haven’t gone unnoticed by the police, who are moving in on him. Tony also has to worry about his younger sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak), who has taken an interest in his lifestyle.

My Thoughts

Paul Muni doesn’t seem to get enough credit for playing one of the all-time greatest movie gangsters. Cagney, Bogart, and Robinson were all great movie tough guys, but none of their characters had the unrestrained glee that Tony took in killing people. Cold blooded? Absolutely. But giddy about killing? Not quite. When faced with a hail of gunfire, Tony lights up like a kid on Christmas morning. I’m certainly no stranger to gangster movies, but this version of Scarface is really jaw dropping compared to many others (including ones made in the late 1960s and beyond, although I’ve actually never seen the Al Pacino version of Scarface) because of that fact.

And I certainly can’t neglect to mention Ann Dvorak, who is truly electrifying as Cesca.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

The pure joy Tony takes in killing people.

The incestuous tones to Tony’s relationship with Cesca.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Scarface was a nightmare for censors before it even started filming. The original screenplay included Tony’s mother being supportive of her son’s (for lack of a better word) career and featured a hypocritical politician who rallies against criminals like Tony by day, but goes to parties with him by night. The Hays Office insisted on so many script revisions, Howard Hughes eventually got so fed up with it, he told director Howard Hawks to just go ahead and make the movie as violent and as realistic as possible. There was a lot of concern that even though Tony dies at the end, the movie still glorified criminal lifestyles. An alternate ending was filmed where Tony turns himself in, but censors still objected to that version.

To make some effort to appease the censors, some of the violence was toned down, the subtitle “The Shame of a Nation” was added, and a text introduction condemning Tony’s behavior were added to the movie.

Pre-Code Essentials: I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang


After coming home from World War I, James Allen (Paul Muni) has a hard time readjusting to civilian life. His old job bores him and he has a hard time finding work in a new field. He drifts from city to city, looking for any work he can get. Completely broke, he unwittingly ends up being an accomplice in a restaurant hold-up and police assume he really was responsible for the robbery. He’s sentenced to serve ten years on a chain gang.

Life on the chain gang is excessively brutal and James feels he has no other choice but to make an escape attempt. After successfully escaping, he makes his way to Chicago and becomes a great success in the construction business. But when he rents a room in a boarding house from Marie Woods (Glenda Farrell), she falls in love with him and uses his past to blackmail him into marrying her. Marie later sends James up the river again when he asks her for a divorce so he can marry Helen (Helen Vinson) instead.

Authorities offer James the chance to be pardoned if he comes back and serves 90 days. Wanting to move on with his life, James agrees, but later realizes he was never going to be pardoned and it was all a sham to get him to finish his sentence. His only hope for freedom is to make yet another escape.

My Thoughts

Do I ever love this movie. It’s a little bit slow in the beginning, but if you stick with it for just a little while, it takes off like a shot and brings you along for a wild ride. At its best,  I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang has moments that really ought to be considered some of the most thrilling and most suspenseful moments in film history. Everybody should see this movie at least once in their lives.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang doesn’t really have one definitive pre-code moment. It’s major pre-code factor is its message.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Film makers in the pre-code era had the freedom to produce movies that had a hard-hitting social commentary message and I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is the ultimate example of that type of movie. Wild Boys of the Road was a social commentary type of movie and Gold Diggers of 1933 had its political moments, but Fugitive is a rare breed of movie that actually brought about societal change. Fugitive is widely credited with putting an end to the chain gang system in the south.

Far from being a work of Hollywood fiction, Fugitive is based on the true story of Robert Elliot Burns who, unlike Paul Muni’s character, actually did work with two other men to rob a grocery store for a little over $5.00. Although the movie never specifically mentions the chain gang being in Georgia, that is where Burns was sentenced and Warner Brothers was sued by a chain gang warden and by the Georgia Prison Commission. Warner Brothers won those court battles.

The movie is a largely accurate depiction of his experiences so between the success of the movie and the publication of Burns’ autobiography, he was able to find protection in New Jersey thanks to a sympathetic governor. He was officially pardoned in 1945 and was able to live the last ten years of his life as a free man.

Angel on My Shoulder (1946)

Angel on my Shoulder

When gangster Eddie Kagle (Paul Muni) is released from prison, his old friend Smiley Williams (Hardie Albright) is waiting to meet him. But Smiley isn’t giving him a ride out of the kindness of his heart, he’s planning to kill Eddie and take over his crime syndicate. Eddie suddenly finds himself in Hell, where he meets Nick (Claude Rains). Nick has been hard at work in Hell trying to make nefarious deeds happen on Earth, but Judge Frederick Parker (also Paul Muni) keeps getting in his way. Nick would love nothing more than to get Judge Parker out of the picture by ruining his campaign for Governor. As luck would have it, Eddie bears a striking resemblance to the Judge and wants to get revenge on Smiley. So Nick makes a deal with Eddie that Eddie take over the Judge’s body and destroy his reputation and in return, Eddie will be allowed to avenge his own death.

Eddie does his best to tarnish the Judge’s reputation, but his efforts completely backfire. Eddie also has the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the Judge’s fiancée Barbara Foster (Anne Baxter) and quickly falls in love with her, which makes him realize the things he’d been missing out on due to his life of crime. Eddie wants to change his ways and when Nick gives him the opportunity to shoot Smiley, Nick doesn’t take it. Instead, he startles Smiley and Smiley accidentally kills himself. No longer willing to cooperate with Nick, Eddie has to go back to Hell. Nick would love to make Eddie’s stay in Hell even more miserable than he originally meant it to be, but is powerless to do so since Eddie knows how incompetent Nick was about this whole incident and could ruin his reputation.

With a cast of Paul Muni, Anne Baxter, and Claude Rains, I had fairly high expectations for Angel on my Shoulder, but it just wasn’t one of my favorites. There were some things I really liked about it, though. The scenes in Hell were awesome; very well produced. And for some reason, I couldn’t help but love the scene where Eddie/the Judge gets into a brawl. The kid saying, “He’s doing jiu-jitsu!” is just one of those little movie moments that I am now inexplicably obsessed with. As for the rest of it, though, I just couldn’t get into it, even though I really wanted to.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Like many men returning from World War I, James Allen (Paul Muni) finds himself a changed man. He has a factory job to come home to, but he can’t deal with the environment anymore and decides to leave home and get into the construction business.  He travels from city to city in search of work and eventually finds himself in Georgia.  One night, he meets a fellow drifter and the two of them stop to get a hamburger.  James unwittingly finds himself being part of a robbery when the other drifter robs the restaurant.  Police shoot down the robber, but capture James and pin the whole thing on him and sentence him to ten years on a chain gang.  Life on the chain gang is horrifically brutal and finds himself surrounded by hardened criminals.  The risk involved with making a break for it seems worth it to James and successfully escapes.

Once he makes it to Chicago, he finally has some luck getting a construction job.  He starts out as a laborer, but he proves to have some good ideas and quickly works his way up in the company, even becoming a respected member of the community.  He starts seeing his landlord Marie (Glenda Farrell), but Marie has stronger feelings for him that he does for her.  When he’s about to move into a bigger place, she reveals that she knows he’s a fugitive and blackmails him into marrying her.  Their marriage certainly isn’t a happy one.  While he’s out working, she spends money left and right and cheats on James.  He does find some happiness when he meets and falls in love with Helen (Helen Vinson).  But Marie isn’t willing to divorce him so he can marry Helen and tells the police who he is.

The authorities in Georgia make a deal with James where he will be pardoned if he comes back and serves 90 more days.  James just wants to clear his name and put that stage of his life behind him so he gladly agrees.  But it turns out that this plan was all a big lie to get him to come back to Georgia and completely finish his sentence and his pardon is repeatedly denied.  James can’t bear the thought of spending nearly a decade more of his life paying for something he didn’t do and makes a break for it again.  This time, he steals a truck with a fellow convict and once they cross a bridge, they blow it up so the guards can’t chase them.  Once again, James is back on the lam.  A year later, he makes his way to see Helen one more time to say goodbye before resuming his life on the run.

Yesterday I said that Heroes for Sale was one of the greatest social commentary type of pre-codes, but I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is the ultimate social commentary pre-code. It was based on the memoirs of Robert Elliott Burns, whose story is largely kept in tact in the movie version.  The biggest difference between the movie version and the true story is that Burns was initially arrested for being one of three men who held up a grocery store for $5.81 when they were desperate for money to eat.  Warner Brothers was hit by a slew of libel lawsuits by the state of Georgia over this film and the movie was even completely banned in Georgia.  Burns was able to sneak his way over to Hollywood to be on set for some of the production, but had to leave after a few weeks because the risk of being re-arrested was too great.  He was arrested again in Newark, New Jersey not long after the movie was released, but the movie was such a success and so many people were questioning the validity of the criminal justice system because of it that extraditing Burns would have only resulted in even more outrage.  Burns was eventually pardoned in 1945 and chain gangs being phased out is a direct result of Burns’ memoirs and this film.

Not only is Fugitive one of my favorite pre-codes, it’s one of my favorite movies in general.  Very taut and gripping.  It starts out a little slow in the beginning, but once the action starts, it takes off like a shot and doesn’t slow down again.  There are some moments in here that rival Hitchcock movies in terms of suspense.  The scene where James first escapes from the chain gang and hides from the cops by hiding underwater is one of the most tense moments I have ever seen in a movie.  Paul Muni does a brilliant job playing James Allen.  This movie would be amazing enough if it were a fictional story, but the most astonishing thing about it is that it was a true story.  Everybody should see I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at least once in their lives.

Live Post: The Debbie Reynolds Auction

Even though I’m broke and can’t afford to actually bid on anything in today’s auction, there’s so much amazing stuff up for sale today that I can’t resist trying to follow the auction as best I can.  So I figured I’d try my hand at live blogging and cover the auction the best I can as it happens.  I’m not going to cover every single item up for sale, but I’ll try to keep you updated about some of the more noteworthy items.  So stay tuned, sit back, relax, and live vicariously through other people who can afford to spend insane amounts of money on movie memorabilia.  And I’m just putting it out there right now: I would not be even remotely surprised if Hugh Hefner buys Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch.  A million dollar absentee bid has already been placed on it, so it will definitely be sold for at least that much today.

If you want to follow along with the auction live, just go here, click on “Live Bidding”, then click the option to just watch the auction. There is a live video stream, but no audio.


Note – The selling prices I list here don’t include the buyer’s premium.  If you see articles about Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz test costume selling for more than a million, that source factored in the buyer’s premium.

3:12 PM – The first lot, a 1915 35mm Bell and Howell camera just sold for $32,500!

3:16 PM – Rudolph Valentino’s matador suit from Blood and Sand just went for $210,000.

3:19 PM – Mary Pickford’s headpiece from Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall went for $3,250.

3: 21 PM- Francis X. Bushman’s charioteer helmet from 1925’s Ben Hur sold for $30,000!

3:26 PM – Harold Lloyd’s suit and hat went for $4,000!

3:34 PM – Mary Pickford’s gown from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $17,000.

3:36 PM – Lots 17 and 18, both Douglas Fairbanks costumes from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $20,000 and lot 18 didn’t sell.

3:38 PM – One of Charlie Chaplin’s infamous hats went for $110,000!

3:40 PM – A Model T used by Laurel and Hardy sold for $32,500 and a pair of their suits went for $16,000.

3:42 PM – Carole Lombard’s gown from No Man of Her Own sold for $11,000.

3:47 PM – Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra gown went for $40,000.

3:52 PM – Greta Garbo’s gown from Anna Karenina also sold for $40,000!

3:53 PM – Harpo Marx’s hat and wig went for $45,000!

4:10 PM – Lots 42, 43, and 44 are the paintings commissioned by Marion Davies and respectively went for $10,000, $11,000, and $17,000.  These really got the bidders going.

4:17  PM – W.C. Fields’ joke box sold for $35,000.

4:39 PM – Norma Shearer’s purple gown from Romeo and Juliet went for $20,000.

5:04 PM – Now we’re into stuff from The Good Earth and people went nuts for some of the furniture!  The pair of chairs went for $20,000, the opium bed for $20,000, two Paul Muni robes for $4,000 each, Luise Rainer’s shirt for $2,000, the lot of stands and other furniture for $3,500, and Luise Rainer’s jacket for $3,000.

5:13  PM – A gown worn by Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette and Lucille Ball in Du Barry was a Lady sold for $11,000.

5:44 PM – Oh, now we’re into a busy bunch of lots!  First up was Marlene Dietrich’s outfit from “The Boys in the Backroom” number in Destry Rides Again, which went for $8,000, one of Judy Garland’s test costumes from The Wizard of Oz went for $910,000, a test pair of the ruby slippers sold for $510,000, an extra’s jacket from the Emerald City scenes of the Wizard of Oz sold for $22,500, Clark Gable’s dressing robe from the production of Gone With the Wind went for $10,000, and Basil Rathbone’s famous Sherlock Holmes caped overcoat sold for $50,000!

5:54 PM – Vivien Leigh’s suit from Waterloo Bridge sold for $16,000.

6:09 PM – Gary Cooper’s military uniform from Sergeant York went for $55,000.

6:16 PM – A couple of costumes worn by James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the satin jockey shirt went for $27,500 and the clown outfit sold for $15,000.

6:19 PM – Not so fast, Louis!  A suit worn by Claude Rains in Casablanca sold for $55,000!

6:53 PM – Took a dinner break and missed another busy bunch of lots!  Elizabeth Taylor’s riding outfit from National Velvet went for $60,000, Judy Garland’s “Under the Bamboo Tree” dress from Meet Me in St. Louis sold for $16,000, Judy’s dress from the snowman building scene in Meet Me in St. Louis went for $10,000, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra’s sailor suits from Anchors Aweigh went for $27,500 and $15,000 respectively.

7:00 PM – $22,500 for Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform from Mildred Pierce and $5,000 for Ann Blyth’s Mildred Pierce suit.

7:05 PM – Edmund Gwenn’s Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street just sold for $22,500.

8:12 PM – The gold lame dress worn by Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway went for $8,000.

8:51 PM – The chiffon robe worn by Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire sold for $18,000.  Then it went into a bunch of items from An American in Paris with Leslie Caron’s peacock dress from the fantasy ballet number for $15,000, Nina Foch’s white halter gown from a party scene for $3,000, and a showgirl costume from the Stairway to Paradise number for $1,100.

9:05 PM – We have reached the Singin’ in the Rain part of the auction.  First were the green and white checked suits worn by Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, $8,000 and $14,000 respectively.  Jean Hagen’s Marie Antoinette-esque dress sold for $5,500 and Gene Kelly’s period costume went for $9,000.  Debbie’s green and white leaf print dress went for $15,000, Gene Kelly’s jacket from the Broadway Melody Ballet number went for $6,500, Jean Hagen’s black and white fur coat went for $6,000, Donald O’Connor’s “Good Morning” suit didn’t sell, Cyd Charisse’s white Broadway Melody Ballet outfit for $7,000, and Debbie’s “Good Morning” dress went for $27,500.  A pink dress worn by Gwen Carter sold for $3,750, and a bunch of costumes from the “Beautiful Girl” montage brought $5,500.

9:22 PM – Now we’re getting into some of the Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn-related items.  First up is Marilyn’s red “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which brought $1.2 million!  Then came the feathered hat worn by Jane Russell when she impersonates Loreli Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that sold for $4,250.  Lauren Bacall’s wedding dress from How to Marry a Millionaire went for $8,000 and the car used by Marilyn and Cary Grant in Monkey Business sold for $210,000.

9:48 PM – A lot of two safari outfits worn by Grace Kelly in Mogambo sold for $47,500.  A Winchester rifle used by Clark Gable in Mogambo brought in $15,000.

10:00 PM – A couple more from Marilyn Monroe.  The gold dress from River of No Return went for $510,000 and her costume from the “Heat Wave” number in There’s No Business Like Show Business brought in $500,000!

10:52 PM – After a little break, we’re back with the dress everyone’s been waiting for — the infamous Marilyn Monroe white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch.  I fully expected bidding to be out of control for this one and I wasn’t disappointed.  It brought in an astonishing $4.6 million!

11:03 PM – Now we’ve got a couple from To Catch a Thief.  A coat worn by Cary Grant brought in $15,000 and an outfit worn by Grace Kelly earned a jaw dropping $450,000!

11:41 PM – A couple of dresses worn by Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember brought in $6,000 and $11,000.

12:17 AM – One of Lana Turner’s dresses from Peyton Place sold for $4,250.

12:22 AM – Lot number 407 is rather unique because it includes things worn by both Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in Pal Joey.  It went for $6,500.

12:29 AM – Leslie Caron’s iconic plaid schoolgirl outfit from Gigi went for $65,000.

12:40 AM – Charlton Heston’s tunic and cape from Ben Hur could have been yours for the low, low price of $320,000!

1:32 AM – Marlon Brando’s naval outfit from Mutiny on the Bounty just brought in $90,000!

2:12 AM – Elizabeth Taylor’s famous headdress from Cleopatra went for $100,000 and Richard Burton’s tunic, cape, and sword brought in $85,000.

Oh, who cares what time it is anymore?  Yes, I’m still going!  Aren’t these people tired and broke yet?!  Janet Leigh’s yellow fringed dress from Bye Bye Birdie fetched $3,750 and Bette Davis’ blood stained dress from Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte sold for $11,000.

Another big item to watch tonight was Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady.  I fully expected it to exceed the $200,000-$300,000 and it sure did.  It went up to $3.7 million!

I would say that the hills are alive with the sound of music, but at this time of night, I’m pretty sure that’s a noise ordinance violation.  Julie Andrews’ guitar went for $140,000, her jumper from the “Do Re Mi” number for $550,000, her turquoise and green dress for $45,000, the peasant dress went for $42,500, and a pair of the Trapp children’s outfits sold for $35,000.

And at long last we have reached the Barbara Streisand part of the auction.  First from Funny Girl is her costume from “I’d Rather Be Blue” for $65,000, a lot of the other roller skating costumes for $2,500, the black velvet dress from “My Man” for $16,000, a bunch of stuff worn by the Ziegfeld girls in the “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” number for $7,500, Anne Francis’ silk dress for $1,800, and Kay Medford’s beaded shawl for $1,400.

A jacket worn by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brought $8,500 and a dress worn by Katharine Ross went for $16,000.

And back to Streisand.  The purple Hello, Dolly dress went for $55,000 and the gold dress for $100,000.  Surprised the gold dress went for that little, that’s how much it cost to make that dress back in the day.

You’ll be fascinated to know that a shirt worn in the cinematic masterpiece known as Grease 2 sold for $475.

We have finally made it to the final segment of posters/portraits!  The title cards for Blind Husbands fetched $2,000, the lot of three Gloria Swanson title/lobby cards sold for $1,200, the portrait of Gloria Swanson went for $8,500, the lot of two Mabel Normand lobby cards for $800, the pair of silent title/lobby cards for $1,600, the lobby card for Lon Chaney’s The Penalty for $1,700, and the lobby card for Chaplin’s The Idle Class for $1,600.  The portrait of Jean Harlow went for $11,000!

Now it’s high time I called it a night!  Good night everybody!

The Good Earth (1937)

The Good Earth follows Chinese farmer Wang Lung (Paul Muni) and his wife O-Lan (Luise Rainer) as their lives go through a series of highs and lows.  Wang Lung comes from a family of farmers and the movie opens on the day he marries O-Lan, a kitchen slave in the Great House.  O-Lan had been sold into slavery by her parents during a famine and she truly hated working there.  She is determined to overcome her past and dedicates herself to being the best wife she can be.  She cooks, she goes out and works in the fields, and she gives birth to three children.  Everything is going well for the family and Wang Lung is even able to buy up more farmland, but then they are hit by a drought.  Facing starvation, Wang Lung decides to sell off some of his land, but when O-Lan finds out how little money they would get for the land, she won’t let him sell.  Instead, she suggests the family head south to the Great City and try to find work there.

When the family arrives in the Great City, things aren’t much better for them there and they have to beg and steal to get by.  Things look up momentarily when Wang Lung finds out that the drought has ended back home, but then he realizes that he doesn’t have any money for seed or an Ox to get his farm back on track.  But when O-Lan joins a mob of people looting the Great House, she manages to grab some jewels and the family uses them to get the money to go back north.  When the family gets home, they re-build their farm and come back stronger than ever.  Not only are they so prosperous that they can afford to send their oldest son  to college, they’re able to buy the Great House where O-Lan spent so may years slaving away.

Even though the family is doing well financially, things are strained between Wang Lung and O-Lan.  Wang Lung has grown bored with O-Lan and his eyes have wandered over to Lotus, a younger, prettier woman than O-Lan.  Lotus becomes Wang Lung’s second wife, but when Lotus gets bored and seduces Wang Lung’s youngest son, Wang throws his son out of the house.  Before he can leave, a swarm of locusts threatens to destroy all the crops.  The whole family bands together to ward off the locusts and succeeds, which brings Wang Lung to re-examine his priorities and remember what is really important to him.

The Good Earth was a movie that I’d heard lots of good things about, but it was never one I was just dying to see.  I knew it was going to be pretty depressing and it generally didn’t seem like the type of movie I usually go for.  But after watching the interview with Luise Rainer that TCM played on her 101st birthday, most of which dealt with making The Good Earth, I was intrigued so I decided to stay tuned and watch it.  I liked it much more than I expected to.  I thought it was shot magnificently and Luise Rainer was brilliant in it.  Another reason I was kind of reluctant to watch it is that I knew it featured white actors playing Chinese characters.  Even though I understand that it was a totally acceptable practice back then, few things make me shake my head more than blackface, yellowface, or any other kind of “face.”  But every once in a while, someone manages to give such a strong performance that I can safely say that even though I loathe the practice, I love the performance.  Luise Rainer as O-Lan is a perfect example of that.  She played that part with so much delicacy and without resorting to stereotypes that I just can’t say anything bad about her performance.  O-Lan was such a fascinating character and Luise played her so beautifully, she made the whole movie worth watching just for her part alone.

Scarface (1932)

Scarface 1932

Tony Camonte is a young, ambitious gangster, emphasis on the word ‘ambitious.’  When we first meet him in Scarface, he’s working for gangster Johnny Lovo.  Lovo sends Tony out to bump off Big Louie Costillo, the criminal kingpin who runs the South side of town.  With Costillo out of the picture, Lovo and Tony are the new reigning kings of the South side and supply lots of speakeasies with their bootleg booze.  But soon, Tony sets his sights higher than just running the South side of town.  He also wants to run the North side, but Lovo tells him not to mess with the Irish gangs that run the North side.  Tony doesn’t listen though and starts a gang war.  He manages to take down O’Hara, the original North side gang leader, but then Gaffney (Boris Karloff) takes over and orchestrates a massive attack on a cafe where Tony and his gang are.  Instead of killing him, they just introduce Tony to the exciting world of Tommy guns instead.

Realizing that Tony was completely out of control, Lovo decides the only way to stop him was to put a hit out on Tony.  But once again, Tony manages to escape death and in return, puts a hit out on Lovo.  At last Tony has exactly what he wanted: control of the city, Lovo’s position, and even Lovo’s girlfriend, Poppy.  But now he’s also got his younger sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak) to worry about.  She’s starting to take an interest in her brother’s lifestyle and at first, he’s not happy that she shows up at a nightclub he hangs out at.  But then while he’s out-of-town avoiding the law, she marries Tony’s best friend Guino (George Raft).  When Tony finds out about it, he kills Guino.  Later, when the police track Tony down and are ready for a shoot-out with him, a heartbroken Cesca shows up at Tony’s place ready to kill him.  But once she gets there, she can’t go through with it and instead, gets caught up in the frenzy and helps her brother fight off the police.

Gangster movies in the 1930s were often met with controversy because censorship boards were afraid that they glorified gangsters.  This explains why movies like Scarface and The Public Enemy have those messages at the beginning about how the movie is meant to expose the horrors of being a gangster and condemn that lifestyle.  But in spite of the controversy, three of the greatest gangster movies of all time came out of the early 1930s: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface.  Of the three, I think Scarface is definitely the  most shockingly violent.  What sets Tony Camonte apart from Tom Powers and Rico is Paul Muni’s unrestrained glee.  If he’s being fired at, Tony lights up like a kid in a candy store and truly delights in firing right back.  And am I the only one who finds Tony’s relationship with Cesca to be a little bit weird?  I believed him as the protective older brother when he drags her out of the nightclub, but then when he rips part of her dress off of her struck me as rather creepy.  But perhaps the most shocking thing about Scarface is that it actually has some funny moments in it.  Specifically, when the cafe is being fired at and Tony’s assistant is only concerned with making his phone call instead of the chaos that is going on all around him.

I’ve actually never seen the 1983 version of Scarface, so I don’t know how exactly how it compares, but the 1932 version is most definitely essential viewing for gangster movie fans.  I watched it for the first time specifically to write this review and I’m quite surprised that I managed to go this long without seeing it.

My Top 100, 60-51

Welcome to the next installment of my top hundred movies!  This week is another rather diverse bunch of movies.  Silents, modern stuff, foreign, musicals, suspense, it’s just all over the board.  So let’s get to number 60…


What’s on TCM: July 2010

Wow, TCM in July is chock full of noteworthy days!  Gregory Peck is the star of the month, so that means lots of great movies like To Kill a Mockingbird, Roman Holiday, Designing Woman, and Spellbound.  In addition to Gregory Peck, TCM will spend some time spotlighting other great stars like Myrna Loy, Gene Kelly, William Powell, and Doris Day.  Every Thursday this month, TCM will be showcasing classic teen movies, everything from Rebel Without a Cause and Beach Blanket Bingo to Sixteen Candles and Risky Business.  It feels like this is one of those months where there’s something for everybody, whether you like John Ford westerns or Ingmar Bergman.  Now, on to my picks for the month: