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Scarface, The Shame of a Nation
9 Apr 1932
World premiere in New Orleans: 31 Mar 1932
late Jun--Oct 1931 at Metropolitan Sound Studios
Duration (in mins):
90, 95 or 99
Duration (in reels):
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C. Henry Gordon
Harry J. Vejar
(Big Louie Costillo)
Gus Arnheim and his Cocoanut Grove orchestra
Italian mob leader Big Louie Costillo is killed by Tony Camonte, setting off gang wars over the control of Chicago's bootlegging business. Under orders from their boss Johnny Lovo, Tony and Guino Rinaldo terrorize South side bars to maintain it as Lovo's territory. Afterward, they go on a several month long shooting spree, killing innocent bystanders as well as intended victims. When Tony kills O'Hara, the North side boss, Lovo becomes scared. Poppy, Lovo's mistress, visits Tony, and he shows her the neon Cook's Tours sign outside his window that has become his slogan: "The World Is Yours." Tony takes over the North side, and goes on another shooting spree. On St. Valentine's Day, seven gangsters are lined up in a garage and shot execution style. After Tony kills the last of the big gang leaders, he goes to the Paradise Club, where he sees his sister Cesca dancing with a man. In a jealous rage, Tony takes her home and beats her. Then, when he leaves, he is chased by unknown gangsters. Both cars go over the side of the road, but Tony survives. When he finds out that Lovo set him up, Tony and Guino kill him, then Tony and Poppy hide out in Florida for a month. While they are gone, Guino and Cesca fall in love and marry. Tony returns to find Guino in Cesca's apartment and kills him before she can explain that they were married. A short time later, the police surround Tony's apartment, and he and Cesca fight them off until she dies of a gunshot wound. Finally, Tony surrenders after his room is inundated with tear gas and he cannot stand to be alone. At the last minute, he makes a dash for freedom, but is gunned down by the police and dies under the Cook's Tours sign.
The Caddo Co., Inc.
United Artists Corp.
E. B. Derr
Seton I. Miller
(Cont and dial)
John Lee Mahin
(Cont and dial)
W. R. Burnett
(Cont and dial)
L. W. O'Connell
(Ed for alternate versions)
(Gen press representative)
Based on the novel
by Armitage Trail (New York, 1930).
The Caddo Co., Inc.
The Caddo Co., Inc.
Western Electric Sound System
Barbers and barbershops
Brothers and sisters
Mothers and daughters
Mothers and sons
St. Valentine's Day Massacre, 1929
[The plot summary was based on a viewed print, which contains material from the various versions of
as described below.]
was produced in 1931 at a time when the question of censoring films was receiving great focus by local organizations.
reports on various bills being introduced to specifically prohibit the release of gangster pictures in areas such as New York City, Salem, Oregon and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although most of the bills introduced were defeated, the issue remained controversial. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the MPPDA first heard of Howard Hughes's proposed production of a film based on the life of gangster Al Capone in Jan 1931 and expressed their doubts about the feasibility of bringing a film of this nature to the screen. Caddo Co. (Hughes's production corporation) correspondence in the Howard Hawks Collection at Brigham Young University reveals that the creators of the film drew their characters and situations from real life criminals, and additional sources reveal that they were working with Fred Pasley, Al Capone's biographer. Among the incidents from criminal history that influenced the screenplay were the 1920 murder of gang leader James "Big Jim" Colosimo in his Chicago restaurant by Johnny Torrio, under orders of Al Capone; the 1924 Torrio-ordered murder of crime boss Dion O'Bannion in his flower shop; a murder by Jack "Legs" Diamond; the 1929 "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" in Chicago, reportedly ordered by Capone; and the 1931 "Siege of West 90th Street," a gun battle in which hoodlum Francis "Two Gun" Crowley fought off scores of police from his apartment in New York, while a crowd of spectators looked on. In an oral history, Howard Hawks stated that he and Ben Hecht interviewed many gangsters and also compiled information on them from Chicago reporters. Hawks and Hecht based their main characters on Al Capone and the powerful Renaissance Italian family, the Borgias. News items in
confirm that Hawks himself met with Capone, who took a personal interest in the film.
Howard Hughes, supervisor E. B. Derr and Howard Hawks met regularly with the AMPP in Los Angeles to consult on the script. On 26 May 1931, Derr sent a copy of the script to Colonel Jason Joy, AMPP director of the Studio Relations Committee, advising him that the film was "cast and ready to shoot," and that, in the script, "where we mention specific names, we proposed to change those names if they refer to any real person; likewise we will not definitely refer to Chicago but rather will always substitute the word 'city.'" Joy responded on 3 Jun 1931 highlighting his recommendations for changes to the script. His biggest remaining concern was in the depiction of "Tony Camonte," and he noted that the film "unquestionably tends to glorify [the] gangster" and in addition to this, that the depiction of "Camonte" as a "home loving man" makes it "all...more dangerous because of [his] resemblance to [a] well-known gangster who so far has succeeded in defeating the law...." Joy urged that, among other things, "in [the] final scenes 'Camonte' should be shown as [a] cringing coward." By 19 Jun 1931, PCA files reveal that Hughes, who was at first reluctant to "weaken" the story, seemed to relent somewhat and agreed to some of the recommended changes. Nonetheless, Jul 1931 memos in the file continue to reveal the AMPP's concern over the subject matter: "inasmuch as they have everything in the story, including the inferences of incest, the picture is beginning to look worse and worse to us, from a censorship point of view." In a 23 Jul 1931 memo from Joy to Will H. Hays, president of the MPPDA, Joy notes that "there are only three things I've asked that they [Hawks and Derr] have not agreed to try to do. I think they will do these three before we are finished. One is a suitable 'foreword'--second is a strong speech by a suitable character along the lines of Carleton Simon's suggestion--and the third is the finish in which I wish 'Scarface' to turn 'yellow.'" (Dr. Carleton Simon, a psychologist consulted by the Hays Office, read the scenario in Jun 1931 and recommended the following: that the mother of "Camonte" explain to her son that he is bringing shame to the Italian race; that the character of a Jewish lawyer named "Epstein," apparently in the initial scenario, "should not be so pronouncedly Jewish...as it will react at least racially against the picture"; that "Guino" and "Cesca" should be secretly married rather than just live together so that the "moral effect" on the audience would improve; that "in the final scene, the nemesis of 'Scarface,' the detective, should not be killed, but he should 'get his man'"; and that the character of "Camonte," who in the end is "endowed with humane kindly qualities especially as applied to the welfare of his sister," should be altered, "otherwise it crowns the criminal with a halo.") A rough cut of the completed film, referred to in the correspondence files as Version A, was viewed by the AMPP on 8 Sep 1931, at which time the AMPP told Hughes that the ending must be altered in order to negate the heroism of "Camonte."
Although Hughes initially rejected the AMPP's suggestion that he "weaken the story by characterizing 'Scarface' in the final sequences as a weakling and a coward," by 21 Sep 1931, as Joy noted in a memo in the file, "we have come to a final and definite decision concerning the remaining retakes....This involves an entire new ending which will take four days to shoot and an expenditure of $25,000. Mr. Hughes has officially informed us that he will go through with this plan." Joy's memo also noted that M-G-M's powerful producer Irving G. Thalberg viewed the film on 21 Sep and called it one of the "strongest pictures" he had ever seen.
The Hays Office further urged Hawks and Hughes to add an anti-gun statement to the film. Their suggestion was inspired by the contemporary national focus on implementing legislation that would restrict the sale of firearms, with the intention of keeping the weapons out of the hands of gangsters. In New York, then Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney supported a law which would prevent a civilian from purchasing a machine gun; Pennsylvania instituted the Witkins Firearms Act; and a national summit was called to discuss uniform state laws to govern the sale of firearms. By 30 Sep 1931, Joy had viewed the virtually complete film (Version A) "twenty times," and in a letter noted, "and still it has the power to move me." He further described that "the theme [of anti-gun policy] strikes directly at the current thought of the country....What Hawks has done is to insert in about ten places in the picture scenes and dialogue pointing up the idea that "Scarface" is a killer as long as he has his guns....These new sequences, together with a strong, forceful foreword...do much to change the aspect of the picture and make it worthwhile propaganda as well." Joy noted in a later memo to Hays that the insertion of these elements met with Hughes's "personal consent and apparently his entire approval."
Although Derr and Hawks initially opposed the idea to add a foreword, they worked closely on it with Lamar Trotti, Joy's assistant at the AMPP. The lengthy and strongly-worded foreword authored by Derr and Trotti was submitted to Joy on 2 Oct 1931 and was subsequently condensed by the MPPDA. Trotti noted in his accompanying letter to Joy that "all it now needs is for the Bronxville High School to walk on singing America, or perhaps George Cohan with two flags." A portion of this first submitted foreword reads as follows: "Take from this coward the weapon with which he indiscriminately shoots down men, women and children, deprive him of the boasted protection that is found in his trigger finger, and what remains will be the sniveling coward and yellow bully so easily held in check by the police before the advent of this shooting, killing beast....This cancer can never be removed while its evil power continually increases proportionately with the weapons surreptitiously furnished the gangster to carry on his bloody work....[T]he responsibility will be borne to every man and woman that it is his or her duty to uphold every department of law enforcement, demand the enaction of statutes throughout the country which will take from this foul parasite the opportunity of machine gunning his way to power and end his civil war against righteousness and decency." The foreword was then reduced to approximately four sentences. This greatly revised version appears on the film: "This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: What are you going to do about it? The government is your government. What are you going to do about it?" Correspondence in the Lincoln Quarberg files at the AMPAS Library indicates that Caddo Co. publicist Quarberg also wrote a foreword, but that it was rejected by the Hays Office. The version with the foreword and revised ending was referred to as Version B.
Hays enlisted the assistance of New York Police Commissioner Mulrooney for an endorsement. A 28 Oct 1931 telegram from Trotti to Joy reveals that they planned to open the film with a segment of Mulrooney speaking the foreword. In a 29 Oct 1931 inter-office memo, Hays related that Mulrooney declined to endorse the film, and noted that Mulrooney stated that he "could not be mixed up with it at all" because he felt strongly that the film "glorified the gangster up to the very last minute." Alternately, according to a press release, West Coast police officials representing the California Crime Commission and various Los Angeles police commissioners praised the film. (Hays also reveals in the memo that several psychologists were consulted to find out the possible influence the film might have on audiences.)
notes that editor Edward Curtiss was scheduled to confer with the censor boards of various states in Oct 1931, and a memorandum in the MPAA/PCA Collection notes that in the same month, New York censors refused to approve the film. Because of the film's subject matter, a print (Version B) was sent to New York early in Oct 1931 for consideration by the Board of Directors of the MPPDA, which recommended further changes. In response to the Board's recommendations, a new ending was shot. A 26 Oct 1931 telegram from Trotti to Joy notes that "new ending
will arrive New York Tuesday night stop Have just seen retakes stop He is completely executed." In the new ending, "Camonte" is captured, tried and hanged for his crimes. Scenes of the hanging were completed without Paul Muni, as he had already returned to New York to appear in a play, and a double was used in his place.
In a 16 Nov 1931 memo, Hays outlined the crucial things that in his opinion would still be required to make the film acceptable to the MPPDA: "First, all sympathy for the heavy must be eliminated; Second, a very much stronger presentation of the anti-easy purchase of guns propaganda must be developed; Third, and very important, is the change of the title." Hays met with strong resistance from Hughes against the change of title from
. In a telegram to Hays, United Artists representative Al Lichtman strenuously objected that "major value [in] this picture is in its title...any change will result in great losses to its owner." Hays remained unmoved on this point, however, and a 9 Dec 1931 telegram reveals that three titles were considered by Lichtman:
The Shame of the Nation
Man Is Still Savage
. News items in
document further considerations, including
Scar on a Nation
, and correspondence in the Quarberg files note that the title
was also considered.
The Shame of the Nation
was chosen and registered by United Artists on 4 Dec 1931.
By that month, over two months since the picture had initially been completed, Hughes and Hawks had responded to drastic changes called for by the MPPDA in order to make the film acceptable under the Production Code. Joy noted in an inter-office memo to Hays that by agreeing to the changes, "Hughes made an honest effort to save [the film's] value and at the same time the reputation of the industry." Further recommendations were made on how to lessen the MPPDA's difficulties with the picture, including deleting the entire "series of lap dissolves known as the reign of terror...with the exception of the St. Valentine's day massacre"; and shortening the closing sequence when "Camonte" is captured. More revisions were also made on the foreword by the MPPDA. According to a modern source, some of the deletions included a scene in which "Camonte" embraces his sister "Cesca" after he has slapped her; a scene on "Camonte's" yacht; and a scene in which "Camonte" purchases a gift for his mother. An outline in the MPAA/PCA Collection of some of the overall changes made to the film are as follows: "...such touches as saluting the sign 'The world is yours,' were removed"; "the police speeches were built up to develop the prestige of law and order"; a scene in which "Camonte" knocks down policeman "Guarino" when he is first arrested was deleted; and "the relationship between 'Scarface' and his sister was changed to minimize the protective brother-sister situation and to imply a situation in which Scarface was planning to use her for ulterior purposes." (Although modern film criticism apparently did not comment on the incest motif in
until the late 1960s, the Hays Office was aware of the connotations of the relationship between "Camonte" and his sister in Jul 1931, as noted above. Indeed, Hawks and Hecht's use of the Borgia family as an historical basis for this story signifies their awareness of the modern belief that Lucrezia and Alexander Borgia, brother and sister, had an illegitimate son together. However, no other mention of the issue of incest was made by the Hays Office in their correspondence.) Upon the completion by 24 Dec 1931 of the revisions noted above, the film was referred to as Version C.
The MPAA/PCA file for Hughes's production of
Cock of the Air
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40
; F3.0749) includes a 22 Dec 1931 telegram from Joy to Hays in which he stated the following: "...understand Hughes has print of quote Scarface unquote with him enroute New York stop Have not seen this in final version while desiring to help this man am certain steps should be taken to keep him from breaking down the machinery." The "machinery" referred to the MPPDA and AMPP offices. However, reportedly, Joy personally brought Version C from Hollywood to New York, where it was approved by Mulrooney. This version was sent to New York censors in Feb 1932, where it was viewed and rejected by chairman Dr. James Wingate. Incensed that the film continued to be rejected despite the enactment of changes required by censors, Hughes reassembled his film in its original version (Version A) and previewed it for an audience of critics on 2 Mar 1932 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Hughes then telegrammed UA president Joseph Schenck, who had assured Hays that only Version C would be released, that the critics were "apprais[ing the film] to the skies and almost all stating they could see nothing censorable, objectionable, and nothing which should be withheld from public." Hughes further requested that the film be released in its original form, Version A, in all territories that did not have censor boards. In a 10 Mar 1932 transcription of a telephone conversation between Hays and Hughes, Hughes states, "I have had this picture on the shelf for eight months and nothing has happened....If we called it
Shame of the Nation
nobody would have gone. We were supposed to call it
and Warner Brothers had a title registered
and would not give it up....I gave up
to cooperate [a film Hughes intended to produce prior to
but which he abandoned due to Hays Office objections] and I cut up
The Cock of the Air
until it wasn't any good in order to cooperate ....What I want to do is to...use the last version...if I can use the last two hundred feet." Throughout the conversation, Hughes remained adamant that he be allowed to use the original title of the film, and Hays explained the MPPDA's position that it was crucial not to release the original version in states that did not have censor boards, but that he would review the film again. Memoranda in the MPAA/PCA Collection indicate that because the film failed to get approval from the New York censors, Schenck authorized, and the MPPDA approved, director Lewis Milestone to make cuts in
for censor-governed states. Milestone had previously cut approximately 1,800 feet of film from Hughes's
Cock of the Air
at the request of the MPPDA.
Hughes gathered endorsements from various authorities, including Los Angeles district attorney Buron Fitts and the California Crime Commission. By the end of Mar 1932, Version C with the Version B ending, which, according to an MPPDA inter-office memo dated 23 Mar, seemed "satisfactory" to the Hays Office, was premiered in New Orleans and had been released in various states, but New York censors continued to refuse its approval for exhibition. According to publicity, Hughes prepared to wage a legal war against the New York censorship board, and, according to an Apr 1932
news item, invited attorneys Clarence Darrow, Samuel Untermeyer, Arthur Garfield Hays and Morris L. Ernst to join him. A late Apr 1932 Los Angeles advertisement released by Quarberg stated that
was "the picture that powerful interests have tried to suppress." This brought cries of protest and "misrepresentation" from the MPPDA to Schenck, who agreed that it was adverse publicity for them. Hughes instructed his Los Angeles attorneys, Roger Marchetti and Neil S. McCarthy, to prepare to file suit in New York. In an Apr 1932 press release in the Quarberg files, written by Ronald Wagoner, United Press correspondent, Hughes stated, "This court action, if successful, will relieve the entire film industry of the evils of unfair and unjust censorship. I am sure Mr. Hays will support this action with enthusiasm, because in many of his public utterances Hays has declared that 'censorship is un-American.' And certainly if censorship in general is unpatriotic, the politically-inspired censorship of
is un-Americanism of the worst type." In early May,
published the following statement by Hughes: "I intend to show
in its original, unaltered version in every state in the United States, including New York, where the opposition to the film is most persistent." The lawsuit never came to fruition. According to a 12 May 1932 telegram from Hughes to Hays, New York censors rescinded their original judgment. By 25 Jun 1932, the film was released in New York with the title
Scarface, the Shame of a Nation
. The New York and Pennsylvania releases, and possibly those of other states, included the hanging of "Camonte" at the end.
In Jun 1932,
reported that the Massachusetts Grand Council of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America was proposing that Massachusetts city mayors ban the showing of the film because "it reflects discredit on their race." In a letter in the MPAA/PCA Collection from Colonel F. L. Herron, the MPPDA foreign liaison, to Joy, Herron notes that he was having difficulty with the Italian government regarding this film; however, he also noted that Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had requested to see the film. By Jul, the only territories reluctant to pass the film were Kansas and Cook County, IL. Controversy continued, however, as reflected by an Oct
news item which noted that the
in Rome "urged the film be banned" due to the "offensive allusions to Italy" contained therein. In addition, the Italian American Women's Club, Inc. requested that all Italian names be deleted from the film, according to a Jul 1932 telegram, and in Aug 1932, as reported by the
, Colonel G. T. Woodlaw, president of the Circle Theater in Portland, Oregon, was arrested for exhibiting
after the local censor board had banned it on the basis of protests by the local Italian community.
The film was voted one of the ten best pictures of 1932 by the
Nation Wide Poll, and the National Board of Review nominated it as one of the best American films of 1932. In the film, "Camonte" and his thugs attend the play
by John Colton and Clemence Randolph (New York, 7 Nov 1932). Modern sources note that the original script took eleven days to complete in Jan 1931. According to modern sources, Harold Lloyd's brother Gaylord lost one eye from a gunshot while on the set during production. Although Hughes reportedly withdrew the film from circulation a few years after its release, MPAA/PCA files show that in 1935 Atlantic Pictures Corp. applied to the PCA for a certificate of approval in order to re-issue the film, but the request was denied by Joseph I. Breen, then director of the PCA. The file also reveals that the film was shown in various parts of the country in 1935, 1937, 1940, 1942 and 1947-49--possibly without the approval of the PCA. After the death of Howard Hughes, the Summa Corporation, which handled his estate, sold the rights to the film to Universal in 1979. Modern sources state that the prints in circulation since the 1979 sale, while containing material from various of the versions prepared in 1931 and 1932, correspond most closely to Version B, although they do include material used only in the version on which Milestone worked. In 1983, Universal released another version of
based on the 1932 film. Brian DePalma directed, Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay, and Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio starred. For information about other films inspired by Al Capone, see entry above for
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