USA 1932, 95 mins
Director: Howard Hawks

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

Michael Mann on ‘Scarface’
Howard Hawks’s Scarface has a special significance for me because [producer] Marty Bregman called me up, probably in 1982, and asked was I interested in doing a remake. I’d seen the original in film school, and I watched it again and thought, ‘This movie is so brilliant I can’t possibly think what would make me want to redo it, or how I would redo it.’ That was before he had the much better idea of setting it in Miami with Cuban immigration, and got Oliver [Stone]’s fantastic screenplay and made a brilliant movie. So I’ve loved Hawks’s movie for a long time.

The particular moment that has a lot of resonance for me is at the end of the film when the police are arriving and Tony Camonte is in his apartment. His sister Cesca shows up with a gun, because Tony has killed her husband and lover, and so she enters the scene seeking revenge. The scene is a little micro-classic within a larger classic, and what’s so stunning about it is the total dialectic of the film form and content and the way everything is choreographed with such precision that it becomes universal. It stands up today – you would light the film the same way.

Tony’s in the room and has the lights turned off. There are harsh streetlights outside, a very linear white light coming in through all of the windows, casting these very deep shadows. Streetlights used to be that way in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, before sodium vapour and diffused lights – I remember as a small child the way streetlights used to be this very linear, high light. So there are these hard shadows, and they also back-light all the curtains. Cesca comes in and walks right into one of these hard lights – it’s a very brutal light that’s hitting her. She has a gun in her hand – she’s come to kill him – and she’s caught in this direct streetlight.

Then we hear police sirens, and Tony is in jeopardy. Her emotion shifts to alarm for Tony, and she says, ‘They’re coming,’ and drops the gun and runs to him in the centre of the room, where there is no light. The two of them are in this profile, and they’re in a kind of umbra – a pool of shadow, somewhere between half-tone and dark, between shadow and total darkness; they’re framed there and it’s almost like they’re in a separate realm when they enter that zone of half-light – and that’s the realm in which they have their love for each other. There’s a suggestion that he has this savage protection of her that’s almost amorous – suggestive of incest, with those kind of complexities – and that’s the realm where the private emotions between this brother and sister exist.

All of those choices – the lighting, where they stand in a room, where they walk, how she walks out of the harsh light into the centre where there’s no light, and the mood that’s around them – are quite perfect. It’s an exquisitely choreographed dialectic of film form and emotion, and the history of these characters and the story between them. It’s one of those things that you analyse, and the act of analysis is already false, because the perfection of the organic unity of what’s going on there – and how that impacts upon you – is so consummately elevated. That’s Howard Hawks to me at his best.

Maybe Hawks had been influenced by Murnau, as many in Hollywood had been at the time, and was moving the camera and was interested in deep shadow from seeing German expressionism in cinema and its impact on Hollywood. But it doesn’t really matter to me – the historical origins of this, or why he was interested in that, or who he was building off – because we all build on work that’s come before us. It’s just a really stunning moment of artistry and storytelling.

I don’t know that I could have worked in the studio system in the way he had to, but another view is that what Hawks wanted to do coincided with what the public wanted to see and what the studios wanted to make, and that’s a fortunate convergence of intents. He’s too good in his best films for it to be somebody who is conforming and not doing exactly what he wanted to do – he’s too in love with what he’s doing. I say that because the best work comes from that authentic sense that you love doing this thing, and that’s why you’re good at it. You can’t be that good at it unless you sincerely have the impulse to be doing exactly that – and Hawks is that good. The way that system operated, I think that a lot of directors of my generation from the 1970s and 80s would have had a lot of difficulty – though I think some directors from this decade would have been very comfortable in the studio system.

As to whether anything in my own films is especially influenced by Hawks, I could answer that in a different way and say that there are a couple of things in my films that I probably wish had been influenced by Hawks but were not! The dialogue – his facility with that, inventing it to a certain extent, but also working with great writers: on Scarface there are four writers listed, including Ben Hecht and W.R. Burnett, who’s brilliant.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart’s double entendres in The Big Sleep, when she’s talking about saddling up, come to mind. She says to him, ‘What do you usually do when you’re not working?’ And he says, ‘Play the horses.’ She says, ‘Well, that figures’ – I’m paraphrasing. Then she says, ‘You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the back stretch and then come home free.’ It’s just these amazingly overt sexual doubles entendres.

I’ve certainly appreciated – either collaterally or driving from Hawks – that sense of using all of the modalities of expression in storytelling, in the sense that you write the movie many times: you start with the screenplay, then you write it with light; the final mix is the final authoring of the picture – not just the sound, but when all of everything is together at the same time. The ability of a beam of light hitting a bit of fabric to generate a mood or an ambience in a powerful scene that’s not dialogue-driven necessarily, but is driven by expression or gesture, and the music that’s playing with it – all of that.

You asked if I see a kinship between my films and Hawks’s in terms of a focus on groups of professional men. Actually I don’t, because when I’ve had those kind of thematic concerns, I don’t extol professionalism for its own sake. [For me] it’s a little bit different: I am very interested in the struggles that people make under very arduous circumstances to live authentic lives, or lives they define in an authentic way as the lives they want to lead. I’ve always been very interested in that struggle, going back to Thief in 1980, so if there is a thematic concern, that’s mine – it’s not to extol professionalism for its own sake. At the same time, when I’m attracted to a subject, I’m usually attracted to people who are quite good at it.
Interview by James Bell, Sight and Sound, February 2011

Directed by: Howard Hawks
Co-director: Richard Rosson
©: The Caddo Company
A United Artists picture
Presented by: Howard Hughes
Production Manager: Charles Stallings
Screen Story by: Ben Hecht
Continuity/Dialogue by: Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, W.R. Burnett
From the book by: Armitage Trail
Directors of Photography: Lee Garmes, L.W. O’Connell
Film Editor: Edward Curtiss
Editorial Adviser: Douglass Biggs
Settings: Harry Oliver
Music Directors: Adolph Tandler, Gus Arnheim
Sound Engineer: William Snyder

Supervisor: E.B. Derr
Direction Supervisor: Howard Hughes
Continuity/Dialogue by: Howard Hawks
Adaptation: Fred Pasley
Camera Operators: Warren Lynch, Roy Clark
Assistant Camera: Warner Cruze, Charles Bohny
Stills: Eugene Kornman
Process Photography: Howard A. Anderson
Editor for Alternative Version: Lewis Milestone
General Press Representative: Lincoln Quarberg
Studio: Metropolitan Sound Studios

Paul Muni (Tony Camonte)
Ann Dvorak (Cesca Camonte)
Karen Morley (Poppy)
Osgood Perkins (Johnny Lovo)
C. Henry Gordon (Ben Guarino)
George Raft (Guino Rinaldo)
Vince Barnett (Angelo)
Boris Karloff (Tom Gaffney)
Purnell Pratt (Garston, the publisher)
Tully Marshall (managing editor)
Inez Palange (Tony’s mother)
Edwin Maxwell (detective chief)

Henry Armetta (Pietro)
Gus Arnheim (orchestra leader)
Eugenie Besserer (Citizens Committee member)
Maurice Black (Jim Sullivan)
William Burress (judge – alternative ending)
Gino Corrado (waiter)
Virginia Dabney (Mabel)
William B. Davidson (Citizens Committee member)
Eddie Fetherstone (reporter)
Paul Fix (hood with Gaffney)
Francis Ford (prison guard – alternative ending)
Gus Arnheim and his Orchestra (Paradise Club orchestra)
Howard Hawks (man on bed)
Brandon Hurst (Citizens Committee member)
John Kelly (Costillo’s hood)
Hank Mann (stag party janitor)
Dennis O’Keefe (dance extra)
Jack Perry (Costillo’s hood)
Warner Richmond (Cesca’s dance partner)
Bert Starkey (Epstein, lawyer)
Charles Sullivan, Harry Tenbrook (Costillo’s hoods)
Helen C. Thompson (Sadie Thompson)
Harry J. Vejar (Big Louie Costillo)

USA 1932©
95 mins

Introduction by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large (Wed 17 May only)

L’Argent (Money)
Mon 1 May 13:30; Sat 6 May 15:40; Sat 27 May 20:40; Tue 30 May 18:10
The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)
Tue 2 May 20:40; Sat 6 May 12:30; Mon 22 May 20:45; Thu 25 May 14:30
The Magnificent Ambersons
Wed 3 May 18:10 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Mon 15 May 20:40
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie)
Thu 4 May 20:55; Tue 16 May 20:40; Wed 31 May 18:10 (+ intro)
The River
Fri 5 May 20:45; Mon 8 May 13:20; Sat 13 May 18:10
The Wild Bunch
Sat 6 May 20:10; Sun 14 May 18:00; Mon 29 May 18:00
Sun 7 May 12:50; Sun 14 May 15:00
Le Jour se lève (Daybreak)
Tue 9 May 20:50; Thu 11 May 18:30; Sat 13 May 20:30; Wed 24 May 18:15 (+ intro)
Wed 10 May 18:15 (+ intro); Tue 23 May 18:20; Sat 27 May 18:10
The Big City (Mahanagar)
Fri 12 May 20:30; Sat 20 May 15:00; Sun 28 May 12:50
Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo)
Mon 15 May 14:00 (+ intro); Thu 18 May 18:10; Sun 21 May 15:40; Fri 26 May 20:30
Dance, Girl, Dance
Tue 16 May 18:20; Sat 27 May 16:00
Wed 17 May 18:20 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Fri 19 May 20:30; Mon 29 May 13:40
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Sat 20 May 19:50; Mon 29 May 13:00

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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