I’ve been a fan of Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic page for some time. While I don’t pretend to agree with him all the time, his analysis is always good and his points are sound. One of my favorite series he did was something called “Old vs New” where he compared a well-known film and it’s equally well-known remake and decides which was the better. Of course, the only problem with this format, as I saw it, was new had to mean recent which left out a whole lot of good examples. Since I don’t have that problem, I thought I’d give the format a try without that restriction, starting with one of the great classics of the mobster genre, Scarface.

Wednesday Double Feature - Old vs New - ScarfaceI was drawn to the original Scarface as a way to continue my way down my list of Howard Hawks films (though I was surprised by some of the details since I’m pretty sure I was getting it mixed up with Little Caesar)

Scarface, based on a novel of the same name by Armitage Trail, is very loosely based on the life of Al Capone and tells the story of Antonio “Tony” Camonte, (played by Paul Muni,) a soldier in the the Southside mob run by mafioso John “Johnny” Lovo, (played by Osgood Perkins) He quickly climbs in the ranks killing Lovo after a failed assassination attempt and takes his place.

Everything begins to fall apart when Tony kills his chief lieutenant, Guino Rinaldo, (George Raftafter he married Tony’s sister Cesca, (Ann Dvorak). After this it’s all downhill with him being hunted down by the police, killing him in a climactic firefight.

I won’t call this my favorite Hawks film, but it is still incredibly good. It’s a fine cast led Muni who plays Tony as a ruthless animal who needs to be put down. My only problem with it is it’s done as a blatant morality play about how one should not take up a life of crime and the sermon frequently weighs down the plot.

Wednesday Double Feature - Old vs New - ScarfaceBrian De Palma’s 1983 remake, with Al Pacino as Antonio “Tony” Montana, updates the plot to the 1980s with the Mariel boatlift with Tony as one of the many criminals Castro threw into the mix.

Thrown into a Miami refugee camp he is released by drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) in exchange for assassinating a former Cuban government official. He quickly rises through the ranks until he’s trusted enough to go on business trips to make deals with a Bolivian drug lord Alejandro Sosa (played by Paul Shenar )

This leads growing mistrust from Lopez until he finally has him killed. When this fails Tony kills him and takes over the operation.

His rise to power is swift until he gets arrested on RICO charges. In an attempt to get out of it he makes a deal with Sosa in exchange for assassinating a political activist. When Tony balks on the plan at the last minute, and after he kills his best friend for marrying the sister, Sosa has his mansion attacked with a small army, killing Tony in a climactic firefight.

I’m not sure what I feel about this version of Scarface. It certainly isn’t bad, but for various reasons, I always found a lot of the scenes, that are supposed to shock us over the sheer brutality, to be over the top and almost silly.

So how do the two Scarfaces hold up? At first, I was expecting the whole morality play quality of Hawks’ Scarface to drag it down and make it the lesser of the two. Instead, the stylized and theatrical qualities of it’s condensed story make it make it much more vivid (you can forgive the cartoonish way everybody throws punches) But at the same time, it’s still a little too condensed, as if Hawks can’t wait to have justice finally prevail.

De Palma’s Scarface has a lot more time to work on the details. Showing just how Tony rises to power, and more importantly, giving us more time to see Tony in his position of power.

Finally, the biggest thing to pay attention to is who’s the better Tony. For this, I have to give it to Muni in the first film. Pacino performance is at first glance tough and ruthless, but since we get more time to see him, he’s ultimately childish in his violent temper. Muni comes off as a force of nature who can’t be bargained with and takes what he wants.