Scarface (1983) – Brian De Palma (Friday’s Finest)

Scarface is one of those crime- drama films I was reluctant to rewatch because it contains scenes which I find so disturbing, especially the one above. I watched The Godfather (Part 1) with the family about a month ago and soon after Scarface. Al Pacino appears in both films, but his Michael Corleone and Tony Montana portrayals couldn’t be more distinct apart from both movies being steeped in the crime genre. As Tony Montana; he is this angry young man who takes hasty decisions and throws a tantrum every other minute! He is not the calm Michael Corleone here. I can’t imagine the preparation Pacino did to pull off playing so convincingly a hyper-aggressive, tacky and uneducated Cuban refugee.

IMDB Storyline:

Tony Montana manages to leave Cuba during the Mariel exodus of 1980. He finds himself in a Florida refugee camp but his friend Manny has a way out for them: undertake a contract killing and arrangements will be made to get a green card. He’s soon working for drug dealer Frank Lopez and shows his mettle when a deal with Colombian drug dealers goes bad. He also brings a new level of violence to Miami. Tony is protective of his younger sister but his mother knows what he does for a living and disowns him. Tony is impatient and wants it all however, including Frank’s empire and his mistress Elvira Hancock. Once at the top however, Tony’s outrageous actions make him a target and everything comes crumbling down.

The following is mainly lifted from the Wikipedia and IMDB page references below:

Scarface is a 1983 American film directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone. Loosely based on the 1929 novel of the same name and serving as a loose remake of the 1932 film. Pacino became interested in a remake of the 1932 version after seeing it, and he and producer Martin Bregman began to develop it. Sidney Lumet was initially hired to direct the film but was replaced by De Palma, who hired Stone to write the script. Oliver Stone named Tony Montana after his favourite American football player, Joe Montana. De Palma liked the script so much that he dropped out of directing Flashdance (1983) to direct this film. Oliver Stone was paid $300,000 to write the screenplay which made him the highest paid screenwriter ever up to that point.

Initial critical reception was negative due to its excessive violence, profanity, and graphic drug usage. According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. At the time of the film’s release, this was the most of any movie in history.
Some Cuban expatriates in Miami objected to the film’s portrayal of Cubans as criminals and drug traffickers.
Less than two months before the film’s release, Scarface was given an X rating by the MPAA for “excessive and cumulative violence and for language“. De Palma had already re-cut the film three times by that point; and he stated: “I said I’ve had it with these people, I’m not taking any more out“In the years that followed, critics have reappraised it, and it is now considered one of the greatest gangster films ever made.

Stone researched the script while battling his own cocaine addiction. He and Bregman performed their own research, traveling to Miami, Florida, where they were given access to records from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Organized Crime Bureau. Stone moved to Paris to write the script, believing he could not break his addiction while in the United States, stating in a 2003 interview that he was completely off drugs at the time “because I don’t think cocaine helps writing. It’s very destructive to the brain cells“…

Pacino insisted on taking the lead role as Tony Montana, although Robert De Niro had been offered it and had turned it down…. Pacino worked with experts in knife combat, trainers, and boxer Roberto Durán to attain the body type that he wanted for the role. Durán also helped inspire the character, who had “a certain lion in him“, according to Pacino. Meryl Streep’s immigrant character in Sophie’s Choice (1982) also influenced Pacino’s portrayal of Tony Montana. Bauer and a dialect coach helped him learn aspects of the Cuban Spanish language and pronunciation. Also, to help stay in character, Al Pacino asked director of photography John A. Alonzo to speak to him only in Spanish.
Pfeiffer was an unknown actress at the time, known primarily for her role in Grease 2; both Pacino and De Palma had argued against her casting, but Bregman fought for her inclusion. Al Pacino wanted Glenn Close to play Elvira, but the producers didn’t think she was sexy enough.

Some interesting IMDB Trivia:

  • During the scene where Tony and Elvira are sitting in the Cadillac at the car dealership, Al Pacino surreptitiously slips on the hat that Michelle Pfeiffer was wearing while she was looking away, which was not scripted. When she turns back and sees him wearing it, her amused reaction was genuine and to her credit, she stayed in character and ad-libbed a line. Brian De Palma decided to keep that unscripted exchange in the movie to show Elvira’s gradual warming up to Montana.
  • When Scarface (1983) was re-released in cinemas in 2003, the studio wanted Brian De Palma to change the soundtrack so that rap songs inspired by the film could be used. De Palma refused.
  • Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera, the “cocaine” used in the film was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But whatever it was, it created problems for Pacino’s nasal passages. “For years after, I have had things up in there,” Pacino said in 2015. “I don’t know what happened to my nose, but it’s changed.”
  • Steven Spielberg and De Palma had been friends since the two began making studio films in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the film, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house. Spielberg ultimately chose to be uncredited as he wanted Scarface to be solely De Palma’s vision.
  • A majority of the film was shot in Los Angeles, California, standing in for Miami, Florida. This was done because production would have been endangered by protests from angry Cuban-Americans over the film’s reported subject matter. Streets and buildings used for shooting were redressed by the art directors to have the “feel” of Miami.
  • Scarface was actually a nickname of Al Capone, who was an Italian-American gangster.
  • The entertainment industry initially hated the film, with Liza Minnelli asking Al Pacino what he had done to leave the insiders subdued at a post-screening meal. (Minnelli had not seen the film at the time.) However, during the meal, Eddie Murphy told Pacino that he loved the film.

1. Scarface – Wikipedia
2. Scarface – IMDB

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Movies and TV
14 comments on “Scarface (1983) – Brian De Palma (Friday’s Finest)
  1. I never did see this movie Matt, I heard it was really gritty and violent! Sounds like something I may watch as I admire all the actors in it. Plus, The Godfather well, what can I add…incredible!! Hope you have something nice planned for the weekend. Sharon.

    • Hi Sharon, it’s a magnificent movie. A real standout from the standard crime dramas. I couldn’t recommend it more highly, but it is very violent as you state.

      This weekend is repeat of last weekend. Tennis and football starting from this afternoon. I hope you have a good one too! Thanks for asking

  2. Hi Matt, I must see if I can catch it somewhere! Hope you are enjoying your weekend. Mine is quiet, just enjoying the sun streaming through the window at the moment! We have had so much rain! All the very best.

    • I’m chuffed to read that the sun rays have returned to London. During the wet season we get sunny mornings, but around midday the day turns ugly bringing rain and sometimes thunderstorms. Thankfully this morning the kids could enjoy their respective sports under a blue sky. I hope the same tomorrow. We are happy chappys this afternoon. Enjoy your tranquil weekend.

  3. Well that’s nice, your kids could enjoy their sport without getting wet! Hope it keeps up for tomorrow. As for London weather – who knows! Thanks for your kind words Matt. Catch you again soon.

    • That’s very kind of you. I looked up the average yearly precipitation between London and Bogota. London on average 771 mm and Bogota 1465mm. I hope that puts things into perspective. Haha. Cheers Sharon.

  4. That’s a lot of rain in your part of town! So I guess you are looking forward to a dryer summer! Happy summer!

  5. Hi Matt, excuse my delay! So, you had a three day break from the rain in Colombia! That’s nice! It has been raining with very high winds in the UK! Miserable! Hope you are keeping well through it all. About to see what else you have been posting. See you there. Kind regards.

  6. Yes, the high winds are very scary and noisy!

    • Hi Sharon. I hope your week has going well.
      We hardly get winds here because Bogota is more a less a valley at high altitude. The problem with little wind is that air pollution can play havoc and propensity for air borne viruses to move unabated. Otherwise, it’s paradise!

  7. Tell you something Matt, even given the air pollution (which most major cities have) and the virus threat, Bogota still sounds nice and happening! Once you get past the rainy season I bet that sun shines real bright! London on the other hand, has average summers and extended winter periods. Not much fun. So it is! Take care Matt and wishing you a great week. S

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: