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SCARFACE (1983)

Scarface - Cover'Universal' have recently released the 35th Anniversary Edition of ‘Scarface’. It was directed by Brian De Palma; it starred Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio; and it lasts for 170-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray variant comes with a reunion special, an account of the video game adaptation, interviews with the cast and crew, a TV version, deleted scenes, and a number of featurettes. Please enjoy.


Scarface (1983) - 35th Anniversary Edition


THE STORY: 
Since leaving Cuba, Manny (Steven Bauer), I‘ve started to think of you as a brother because of all the shit we’ve had to go through so we could begin a new life over here in the United States. Well, not only did we kill a Communist pig so we could escape from our internment, but on top of that, we also had to steal a shipment of yayo so we could join-up with a drug dealer. Or to be more specific about it, Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), the biggest drug dealer in Miami.

But then, one day, all of that changed, didn’t it, Manny, my friend? I’m not sure which day, though. But at a guess, I think it was when you first met my sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)! Or when I first met Frank’s wife, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer)! Either way, things changed for us and everyone we knew. Sometimes for the good, Ka-Ching! Sometimes for the bad, Bang! And sometimes for the damn right ugly, Sniff-Sniff! 

Still, what could we do? Nothing. Nothing at all! Which is most probably why what next transpires goes loco-loco-loco, when you turn to me and say, ‘Tony (Al Pacino)? What the f#ck are you talking about?’. As a drug dealer is made to feel small - a Cuban gangster starts shopping at a mall - a business deal develops into a major brawl - and at the end of the day, please remember, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.




THE REVIEW: 
Before we begin, please allow me to make one thing perfectly clear. I adore this film, I really do, because it’s a fun, action-packed, crime drama that managed to blend the original 1932 Paul Muni classic with a real-life event. Namely, the Cuban drug crisis that swept across America during the early eighties. 

Scarface - Al Pacino
You see, way back in 1977, the then President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, tried to ease political tensions between Cuba and America by lifting a number of travel restrictions between the two countries. Eventually, his plan worked, up to a point, and for a few years relations were relatively fine for both parties involved. But then, in 1980, Cuba faced a financial crisis that led some of their citizens to flee their homes and go to the US. Once there, some of them went on to become honest, hard-working patriots, while others, went on to become criminals and thieves. The same types of criminals and thieves featured in the 1983 version of ’Scarface’. 

To be fair, though, this wasn’t always the case, because at the time, no major studio wanted to remake the 1932 original on account of its legendary status. In fact, the only real reason the 1983 version currently exists, is partly due to Al Pacino falling in love with Paul Muni’s performance in the first film and then asking his producer, Martin Bregman, to buy the rights and adapt it. Which he did, over the next year or so, with some additional help from four key players: David Rabe (who wrote the first draft based on the original source material), Oliver Stone (who wrote the final draft partly based on a suggestion given to him by Sidney Lumet), Brian De Palma (who expertly directed Oliver’s script), and Sidney Lumet (who left the project because he wanted to make it more political than it was). But before Sidney parted ways, he added a special ingredient that made ‘Scarface: Cuban Boogaloo’ stand out from the crowd. He set the film in modern-day America and made the title character Cuban, not Italian, which to some extent explains the main tonal difference between the two movies.

Scarface - Al Pacino & Paul MuniAlthough, come to think of it, I can think of a couple of other differences that separate the two, visually, at least, such as the overall style of each production. While the 1932 version is fairly glamorous and features people wearing pinstripe shirts, double-breasted suits, and a variety of stylistic hats and garments, the 1983 version, on the other hand, is very ’Miami Vice’, hint-hint, with the screen constantly ablaze with characters sporting brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, scantily clad dresses and bikinis, plus other garish outfits made popular in the eighties. Along similar lines, I could also say the same thing about the decor featured in each film as well, with the original set during the Art Deco period and conforming to a two-tone hue, whereas the remake was influenced by the neo-noir movement, which generally conforms to a high contrasting color palette, complemented by neon signs, shabby chic furnishings, and metallic and hard surfaces.


Scarface - Al Pacino


That said, however, in terms of telling an actual story with real characters and a captivating plot, surprisingly enough, both the 1932 original and the 1983 remake have quite a lot in common. This includes things like the first name of the title character (Tony Camonte / Tony Montana), a subplot where Tony is constantly being overprotective about his sister's safety (Cesca Camonte / Gina Montana), another subplot where Tony lusts over his boss's companion (Poppy / Elvira), as well as an overreaching character arc that chronicles the rise and the fall of an immigrant gangster (Italian / Cuban). Aside from that, though, these two films are aesthetically and narratively worlds apart, and to me, that’s what makes them both, very, very, special. 

Scarface - Michelle Pfeiffer
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because I think now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Universal’ first released this $37 million dollar production in New York, New York, on the 1st of December, 1983, and eventually clawed back $65.9 million dollars at the Box Office. (2) According to Oliver Stone, the character of Sosa was loosely based on the Bolivian drug lord, Roberto Suarez, who played a major role in the expansion of cocaine trafficking in his country. (3) If you pay very close attention, you might notice that 42 people get killed in this film and the f-word is said 182 times in total. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘He loved the American Dream. With a Vengeance’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside 'Universal Studios', Stage 12, located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California, as well as three key locations throughout America. In Florida, you might notice Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Davie, Fontainebleau Hilton Resort, Brickell Avenue, and Miami. In California, there’s Santa Barbara, Encino, the Los Angeles intersection, Torrance, Wilshire Boulevard, West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Montecito. And in New York, there’s the city itself as well as select parts of Tudor City. (6) During pre-production, a number of notable actors were considered for two major roles in this movie. Initially, John Travolta was considered to play the part of Manny Ribera, whereas Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sylvia Kristel, Sharon Stone, and Sigourney Weaver, were all considered for the part of Elvira. (7) At the end of the film, Al accidentally burnt the palm of his hand when he mistakenly grabbed the barrel of his gun during the final shootout. Even though blanks were used, it was still hot enough to cause him damage and take time off of work. 


Scarface - Al Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio


In closing my review of ‘Scarface’, I would now like to say something solely about this movie on its own merits. But I can’t. Not totally, anyway, as I don’t think I can add anything of substance that hasn’t been said before! I mean, what can I say? That Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio were both the Betty and Veronica of the Miami sect? With Michelle playing Elvira as if she were a glamorous shrew while Mary played Gina as if she were a cat out on the prowl! No. I can’t say that, can I? Not even if I wanted to. Similarly, I wouldn’t know where to begin when it came down to praising Steven Bauer's portrayal of Manny (rustic), Paul Shenar's portrayal of Sosa (slimy), or Robert Loggia's portrayal of Frank (git)? A portrayal that was both funny and charming and sinister in fairly even doses! And as for the star of the show? Al Pacino? Well, in his case, no matter what I say, I don’t think I could sum up his iconic depiction of Tony Montana with any justice. So I won’t, Phew!, as I don’t want to be crude! Katanga!

Scarface - Al Pacino and Steven Bauer
Having said that, though, I do think that there is something about this film that I can expand upon. The questions. Some of the questions that get asked about Tony throughout the course of its narrative. This includes things like: What compelled him to turn to a life of crime? (Fear and greed brought about by poverty and hardship) Why won’t he acknowledge his father’s existence? (Maybe he abused him as a child?) Is he in love with his own sister? (No. He’s just a certain type of individual who’s overwhelmed by a certain type of machismo) And why did he save the activist’s family from being assassinated? (Probably a moral code that only makes sense to him and him alone).

Well, let’s face it, despite his down-to-earth nature, Tony is a very complicated character that isn’t easy to understand or define. On the one hand, he's more than happy to poison half of America with illicit drugs. While on the other hand, he occasionally seems to be able to genuinely care about those around him, such as Manny, his sister, Elvira, and to some degree, his mother as well. So, with some benefit of hindsight, it’s pretty safe to say that Tony is a multifaceted Cuban with a multifaceted personality. After all, he’s not just another run-of-the-mill gangster who talks tough, hits hard, and shoots straight, because Tony is also an icon, a legend, who seems to epitomize a specific time in American culture (the eighties) as well as a particular type of individual (nouveau riche gone bad). Say no more.

THE RATING: A+

SCARFACE (1983) SCARFACE (1983) Reviewed by David Andrews on December 02, 2019 Rating: 5

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