Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer
Chicago, Summer 1929
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
The 1983 Scarface film starring Al Pacino is one of the most popular crime flicks out there, popular enough to warrant the first of many entries on this blog last week. Many people know that it is a remake (although I prefer to think of it as an “update”) of a 1932 film. This earlier movie, also entitled Scarface but given the morality-enforced subtitle The Shame of a Nation, is one of my favorite films of all time.
Ben Hecht’s script for Scarface is adapted from the 1929 novel Scarface by Armitage Trail, which was loosely based on the life of Al Capone. By 1929, the time that the novel was written and around the time the film was set, Capone was at the top of the Chicago mob game. He wasn’t yet under scrutiny for income tax evasion, and he had just risen to kingpin level after neutralizing his enemies with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Prohibition was still the law of the land with no known end in sight. Thus, the film is a great (and rare) depiction of Prohibition during the era’s heyday, when no one was sure when – or if – it was ever going to end.
Scarface was filmed around 1930 and lingered in post-production throughout 1931, suffering delays from censors who found the portrayal of Tony Camonte to be too sympathetic. Howard Hughes, who produced this film years before becoming the world’s richest recluse, reportedly told director Howard Hawks: “Screw the Hays Office, make it as realistic and grisly as possible.”
The original script had Tony the subject of his mother’s unconditional love. He stayed tough to the end, not surrendering immediately when cornered (spoiler alert). This pissed off the folks at the Hays Office, which developed its code for films partially in response to Scarface. This code “cleaned up” movies for about thirty years until people decided they needed to see sex and violence on screen at any and all costs.
Despite Hughes’ insistence on realism, the Hays Office indeed had their way with Scarface, turning his mother against him and insisting that he goes down like a coward. An additional ending was even shot later with Tony going to the hangman’s noose, but it completely changed the tone of the film and – with additional moralizing scenes and text added – the film was released with the ending of a cowardly Tony getting shot in the streets by police.
Despite the laughable and dated moralizing scenes which tell the audience repeatedly that “We think gangsters are bad and so should you!”, the film is a classic piece of cinematic history. Paul Muni’s animalistic portrayal of Scarface during his rise and fall is legendary.
For more proof that the film is worth checking out, Capone reportedly was a fan of it, despite hating the media-given moniker “Scarface” and giving him such a cowardly finish.
One of my favorite blogs about classic cinema, Girls Do Film, has an excellent synopsis and analysis of the film and its characters. The photos are also worth seeing, perfectly chosen to convey the violence and grandiosity of Scarface.
What’d He Wear?
Old pictures and documents are fine, but the best way to really see what clothing was trendy back in the day is to consult the movies of the era. The costumers of Scarface tell us a little something more about each character based on their clothing.
Just by looking at their dinner suits, the contrast between the more modern and innovative Tony and the older “mustache Pete” gangster Johnny Lovo is very obvious. We can also contrast Tony’s lackeys, from his sharp-dressed right hand man Rinaldo to the slow-witted and clumsy Angelo.
Since the movie predates color film, we’ll assume it’s all black and white, although you should be aware that midnight blue was just beginning to emerge at this time as a stylish alternative for a “darker than black” tuxedo. I would also be very surprised if Tony’s tuxedo was actually maroon or something like that, so I think we can say that black is a safe choice.
A pivotal sequence in the film occurs about 3/4 of the way through, with Tony and his gang taking in a production of Rain, a play written by John Colton and Clemence Randolph in 1923. The play was eventually turned into the short story “Miss Thompson” by W. Somerset Maugham and the 1932 film Rain starring Gloria Swanson. For this outing, all of the men are in black tie and it is, opening scene excluded, the first instance in the film of men in tuxedos.
During the intermission of the play, Tony is given the location of rival mobster Gaffney (played by Boris fucking Karloff!) and immediately heads to the bowling alley where Gaffney was found. What follows is Gaffney’s execution at the hands of Tony, an artistically-shot sequence that strangely echoes the murder of Capone’s top hitman “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, who was actually killed in a Chicago bowling alley four years after the film’s release.
From the bowling alley, Tony takes his gang to the Paradise No. 2 nightclub to celebrate, where he runs into his boss Johnny Lovo (based on Capone’s boss Johnny Torrio and played by decidedly non-Italian Osgood Perkins) and Lovo’s hot main squeeze Poppy. What follows is a perfect sequence of comedy, drama, romance, action, and suspense, Prohibition-style.
Tony’s black tie ensemble is the most modern. He is the only major character to wear a double-breasted dinner jacket, which was just gaining popularity around this time. His double-breasted jacket, complete with its padded shoulders, makes Tony look even more imposing. Indeed, Muni, despite his relatively average 5’9″ height, looks unstoppable as he looms over the other characters.
Tony embellishes his jacket with a deco-patterned silk handkerchief, hanging lazily from his breast pocket. The wide satin-faced peak lapels are further embellished with a white flower pinned to the left lapel for the show. His jacket also has jetted, rather than flapped, hip pockets. Flapped hip pockets had been the norm in the early years of dinner jackets before non-flapped pockets became more popular as the formal option.
Until a car accident renders his formality unnecessary, he fastens the top of his 4-on-2 satin-covered buttons, totally covering his waistline. After the aforementioned car accident, he wears the jacket open and we see Tony’s white waistcoat, which is single-breasted and closes in the front with four small white closely-spaced buttons. The notched bottom is widely cut away.
The tuxedo is completed by a pair of black formal trousers with a satin stripe down each leg to the plain-hemmed bottoms, breaking over black patent leather shoes.
Tony wears a white formal shirt with a turndown collar and single cuffs fastened with dark squared metal cuff links. Like the other formal shirts in the film, it has a stiff, plain front with no pleats and studs down the front. The two studs are different, with the top appearing to be mother-of-pearl and the second a standard metal stud.
He wears a black satin bow tie with pointed ends, which stays loosely fastened under his collar even after his car wreck.
According to the Black Tie Guide, the best online resource for men’s formalwear, Tony’s tuxedo would have been the cutting edge in fashion at the time:
Previously considered too informal for evening wear due to its lack of accompanying waistcoat, the double-breasted dinner jacket’s popularity skyrocketed in the early thirties thanks once again to Britain’s royal paragon of menswear. The future Duke of Windsor invariably paired the swank coat with a soft-front pleated evening shirt featuring attached turndown collar and French cuffs rather than the traditional starched front shirt with detachable wing collar and single cuffs. The overall result, explains renowned haberdasher Alan Flusser, was a look that “brought a new level of informality to the traditional dinner jacket – but with no lowering of the standards that separated those who dressed correctly from those who simply dressed up.”
The platinum blonde moll Poppy notices earlier in the film that Tony is “going in for jewelry”, although the single pinky ring on his right hand pales in comparison to the abundance of gold worn by Al Pacino’s updated-for-the-’80s character fifty years later. This is certainly for the best.
When he heads outside, Tony wears a black fedora with a black ribbon and wide brim. The black hat is certainly no accident, as he is the most villainous of his cohorts and the romance-driven Guino and pure-hearted Angelo have lighter-colored hats. It’s an old trope, but one that drives the message home; Tony may be the protagonist, but there is no doubt that he is the villain as well.
The Other Guys
Tony’s right hand man is the laconic lothario Guino Rinaldo, played by George Raft in the role that catapulted him to stardom… somehow. Guino wears a more traditional black tie ensemble but doesn’t look old-fashioned. In fact, he looks more like a matinee idol of the late 1920s. His black tuxedo is very sleekly fitted and makes George Raft’s lean silhouette look taller than his natural 5’7″.
The dinner jacket is single-breasted with satin-faced peak lapels, also pinning a white flower on for the show. The jacket tapers to the waist and the ventless rear clings to Raft’s torso. The shoulders are gently padded, keeping Guino’s figure sleek rather than formidable. In his breast pocket, a small white handkerchief puffs out above the rim.
The formal trousers naturally have a satin side stripe down each slightly flared leg to the plain-hemmed bottoms, which fall with a medium break over his black patent leather shoes with toe caps and raised heels. The trousers have side pockets and rear pockets; Guino uses his right rear pocket to carry his nickel Colt Police Positive revolver.
Guino’s white waistcoat is very similar to Tony’s with large lapels that taper up to the neck, a 3-button single-breasted front, and shallow hip pockets.
Guino is one of the few guys to wear a shirt with wingtip collars, which was the most popular option at the time. It is white with metal studs down the plain front and single cuffs, held together by matching links. He wears a large black bow tie that appropriately echoes the width of the lapels, which are fashionably broad.
Guino’s informal hat for exterior scenes is a light-colored, possibly pearl gray, fedora with a narrow brim. The fedora has a wide black ribbon that has a rear bow, rather than the more commonly seen left side bow.
When Tony and Guino prepare for their final confrontation against Lovo, we get a good close-up of Guino’s watch that he wears on the inside of his left wrist. It has an octagonal-shaped case, a light-colored face with Arabic numerals, and a black leather strap.
The only other character who wears a wing collar is Tony’s boss, Johnny Lovo, played by Osgood Perkins. Although Rinaldo looks like a sharp sheik, Lovo looks tired and outdated – as he is. His white formal shirt has studs down the stiff, plain front and round metal links on the single cuffs. Lovo wears a black single-breasted dinner jacket with satin-faced peak lapels, a single-button closure, 3-button cuffs (uncovered, mind you), and a breast pocket with a small bit of white handkerchief poking out.
Although it sounds similar to Guino’s, it fits very differently and makes Lovo look weak rather than strong or sophisticated. Credit is also due to Perkins for playing Lovo as a man weakened by the imbalance of his lofty ambitions and lack of criminal savvy. Like the rest of the film’s old-fashioned or outdated characters, he wears a black waistcoat rather than a white one. Lovo’s waistcoat fastens low on his torso with a v-shaped opening above the single-breasted closure. Naturally, he also wears black formal trousers.
Tony’s other main lackey is poor Angelo, known best to the gang as “Dope” and played by Pittsburgh-born Vince Barnett. Barnett, although he was only 30 when Scarface was released, looks like he’s already middle-aged and acts like he’s already senile. As the film’s comic relief (providing some very comic moments that I quote everyday), Angelo isn’t the sharpest dresser and looks like a little kid at his first wedding. He wears a black single-breasted dinner jacket with natural shoulders, a link-button front closure, and 3-button cuffs. The link-button indeed became popular in the mid-to-late 1920s, but Angelo doesn’t look too popular in his dinner suit. The jacket has a breast pocket (where Angelo tries to match the other guys with a white display handkerchief) and flapped side pockets, but we can’t hold that against him; flapped pockets were very common on dinner jackets in the first few decades of their use.
Angelo’s jacket is poorly matched with an off-white button-down shirt with large soft turndown collars. This is likely a light gray or blue everyday shirt rather than an actual formal shirt. He also wears a black bow tie and a black brocade “fancy” waistcoat with a low-fastening single-breasted 4-button front with a v-shaped opening. When he ventures outside, he wears his usual light gray homburg with a wide black ribbon.
The jacket has a short and tight fit, but the trousers are oversized with a large, roomy fit and a full break over his black leather shoes. The costumers knew what they were doing and poor Angelo looks very laughable in his attempt at a tuxedo.
For a different look at black tie in the film, we shift to the stag party that opens the film, where “Big Louie” Castillo – the film’s version of “Big Jim” Colosimo – is celebrating his control of the Chicago rackets. Louie wears a black dinner jacket with satin-faced peak lapels, a single-button front, flapped hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket, where he too wears a white display handkerchief. A colored flower wilts away on his left lapel.
“Big” Louie has certainly earned his moniker; his girth stretches the poor undersized black waistcoat across his vast midsection. The waistcoat has satin lapels, a large notched bottom, and a single-breasted front, where three buttons cling desperately together despite the best efforts of Louie’s stomach to push them away. A pocketwatch chain also stretches across his expansive torso, looped through the waistcoat buttonholes with a fob in the center and the watch stuck into one of the vest pockets.
Louie also wears a rumpled white button-down shirt with double cuffs and a soft turndown collar, both very informal factors at the time this scene is set, which would be around 1920 if it truly is echoing the Capone story. Although he is a mob boss, Louie clearly doesn’t know how to dress the part. He looks more like a beleaguered underling, perpetually sweating in his ill-fitting and disheveled clothing.
Perhaps due to the nature of the evening, Louie’s lackeys also look disheveled in their dinner suits, but at least they’re in better shape and can actually fit into their tuxes. Both men’s suits are similar to Louie’s with the peak-lapel dinner jackets, black waistcoats, and black formal trousers. The fellow on Louie’s right (who kinda looks like Harry Dean Stanton) has a 4-button waistcoat, however. He also has a more colorful handkerchief which dangles from his pocket, begging to either fall on the ground or be used for some booger-catching.
Go Big or Go Home
In trying to date this sequence, I eventually pegged it down to summer of 1929, since it follows the film’s version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (which was February 14, 1929) and it is evidently warm enough that none of the men are wearing overcoats. Since this is Chicago and not Miami, I figure summer is a safe bet.
The sequence from the Paradise No. 2 nightclub to Tony’s final conquering of the Chicago mob with the execution of Lovo is one of my favorite sequences in the history of cinematic crime. As I mentioned earlier, it blends comedy, drama, romance, action, and suspense into one seamless Prohibition-era package. Plus, the sequence involves some of my favorite stuff: tuxedoes, classic firearms, vintage cars, Tin Pan Alley standards, smoking as a sexual metaphor (more on that later), and sexy ’20s dames, most notably Ann Dvorak as Tony’s sister. Dvorak enjoyed a short but successful career, almost always as a lovely but sad sacrificial lamb who fell for the wrong guys in films like G Men, Three on a Match, and – of course – Scarface. She was considered for Donna Reed’s role in It’s a Wonderful Life, but her career slowly faded out before she completed her last film, The Secret of Convict Lake, in 1951. Anyway, enough about my ’30s crush…
The music in the Paradise No. 2 nightclub was provided by Gus Arnheim and his Orchestra, with “St. Louis Blues” and “Some of These Days” providing the backdrop for the dance floor confrontations that set the final act of the film in motion. Unfortunately, this was 1932 so soundtrack albums weren’t yet a thing, especially for non-musicals like Scarface. Thus, the nicely arranged recordings by Arnheim’s band can only be heard as background music in the film. Arnheim, whose orchestra was also an early backing band for Bing Crosby’s solo career, recorded a commercial version of “St. Louis Blues” with Loyce Whiteman providing vocals. Unfortunately, the band didn’t release a studio version of “Some of These Days” – a personal favorite of mine.
Although he’s been gradually rising throughout the film, this sequence presents how Tony is now living large. He’s surrounded by an entourage of loyal cronies who spring into action when he might be in danger. Tony himself stays cool, showing a nice contrast to Poppy when Lovo nearly trips over his chair upon hearing gunfire in the club. Most of us would probably act like Lovo in that situation; most of us would want to act like Tony.
Despite his more fashion-forward look, Tony shows a preference for old-fashioned taste. Where others smoke cigarettes, he still opts for cigars*. He still wears a pocket watch rather than a wristwatch. And, of course, Tony still uses matches rather than lighters; Poppy famously ignores Lovo’s lighter in favor of Tony’s match, which is about as sexual as 1932 censors would allow.
* Scarface was an early “victim” of product placement in films. You’d never know it actually watching the film, but White Owl cigars paid $250,000 to have Tony Camonte smoking White Owl cigars exclusively. Bonus points go to any of you who can find any in-film evidence that any of the characters are smoking White Owls.
How to Get the Look
Tony and Guino are, by far, the most fashionable characters in the film. If you have a broader frame, Muni’s Tony would offer the best black tie option, where Raft’s Guino would present a better alternative for more slender fellows.
- Black tuxedo, consisting of:
- Double-breasted dinner jacket with 4-on-2 satin-covered buttons, wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, and ventless rear
- Formal trousers with satin side stripe and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White plain-front formal shirt with turndown collar, single cuffs, and two contrasting studs
- Black pointed-end satin bowtie
- White low-fastening v-shaped 4-button waistcoat with cutaway notched bottom and shallow hip pockets
- Black patent leather shoes
- Black dress socks
- Black wide-brimmed fedora with a black ribbon
- Black tuxedo, consisting of:
- Single-breasted dinner jacket with 1-button front, wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and ventless rear
- Formal trousers with satin side stripe, side and rear pockets, slightly flared leg, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White plain-front shirt with wingtip collars, single cuffs, and metal studs
- Black large satin bowtie
- White low-fastening v-shaped waistcoat with 3-button front, wide notched bottom, and shallow hip pockets
- Black patent leather cap-toe shoes
- Black dress socks
- Pearl gray short-brimmed fedora with a black ribbon and rear bow
Do Yourself a Favor and…
The gift set was a major Christmas gift to me about ten years ago and probably cost on the better side of $50 then. At a current price of $14.99, the thing is a steal and all fanatics of gangsterdom should own it.
I haven’t read Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel yet, but I would be interested in picking it up sometime. That said, many reviewers say it’s still just as entertaining more than 80 years later, so it’d probably be worth picking up if you’ve got a few extra bucks.
After taking control of the city by his execution of Gaffney, Tony heads to the nightclub and butts in on his boss Lovo’s date with Poppy. Poppy, who once despised Tony, is now warm for his considerably richer form. Tony crashes the date, sitting in at their table and immediately begins asserting himself, to Lovo’s dismay.
Tony: I just finish up tonight. Now I play a while.
Lovo: You get your own table, Camonte.
Tony: Why is that?
Lovo: This is a table for two.
Tony: (winks at Poppy) Well, maybe you get another table, huh, Johnny?