Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer
Chicago, Summer 1929
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Several years ago, I published a high-level overview of the various black tie ensembles across the male cast of the original 1932 version of Scarface, adapted from Armitage Trail’s pulp novel of the same name, which had been inspired by the then-contemporary exploits of the infamous Al Capone.
Now, after eight more years of learning, I want to focus specifically on the evening-wear worn by the eponymous Tony Camonte, portrayed by Paul Muni—who was born on this day in 1895—as Tony’s tuxedo had long been one of the driving sartorial influences in my choice to have a double-breasted dinner jacket made for my wedding, which will be one month from today.
If you’re familiar with the 1983 remake with Al Pacino but haven’t yet seen the pre-Code original, you may be surprised by just how similarly the plots align: an impulsive gangster named Tony violently rises through the ranks of the era’s prevailing crime organization, lusting after both his boss’ blonde girlfriend… as well as his own sister, who generally spurns his incestuous advances in favor of Tony’s slick young protégé. The resulting tension and violence results in a high-caliber showdown at Tony’s fortified home, where the violent gangster dies, mocked by his own repeated affirmation that “the world is yours.”
At the time, Hollywood’s cinematic output was in a time of transition as filmmakers still sought to tell mature stories despite the growing oversight of the Production Code passed by Will H. Hays’ Motion Picture Association that sought to censor elements considered unacceptable for general audiences. Howard Hughes, the aviation pioneer who was producing Scarface and was never one to follow the rules, reportedly sent director Howard Hawks a memo regarding Scarface: “Screw the Hays Office. Start the picture and make it as realistic, as exciting, as grisly as possible.” Luckily for audiences at the time, Hawks complied, but it was controversial movies like Scarface that resulted in a three-decade enforcement of the Production Code beginning in 1934.
One of my favorite sequences in the 1932 version depicts Tony’s consolidation of power over the course of one night. Tony and “the boys”—including his loyal right-hand man Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) and his dimwitted “seck-a-tary” Angelo (Vince Barnett)—are enjoying a production of the melodramatic 1922 play “Rain” when they receive a tip that rival gang leader Gaffney (Boris Karloff) has emerged from hiding. Still in their tuxedoes, Tony’s crew loads up with their newfound Thompson submachine guns and head to a bowling alley on the North Side, where Tony rains down enough .45-caliber firepower to put his enemy out of business for good.
In celebration, Tony’s crew continues the party at the Paradise No. 2 nightclub, entering triumphantly to the strains of Gus Arnheim’s orchestra playing “St. Louis Blues”. Confidently riding on his own success, Tony spies his spineless boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) dining with the platinum blond Poppy (Karen Morley) and decides it’s time to make a few moves for his personal life as well, seating himself at their table and demoting Johnny to a third wheel within his own relationship. Poppy’s shifting allegiance is signaled when she prepares a cigarette and chooses Tony’s match over Johnny’s lighter… indicating who truly lights her fire and sealing Johnny’s choice to rid himself of both a pesky employee and a romantic rival.
Tony and Poppy grow close on the dance floor to the tune of “Some of These Days”, but their flirtation is interrupted when Tony spies his younger sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak) dancing with an anonymous man, igniting Tony’s jealousy as the man goes home with a dented jaw… and Cesca gets dragged back to the Camonte family home with Tony, where she deflates his ego by calling out and condemning his incestuous desire.
“I don’t know what it was with Hughes and incest,” screenwriter W.R. Burnett later recalled of producer Howard Hughes’ icy reception to his initial script, which resulted in a rewrite by the prolific Ben Hecht who “turned the Capone family into the Borgias of Chicago, incest and all,” according to Mark A. Vieira in Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934).
The dejected Tony nearly gets assassinated by a carful of gunmen as he leaves the house, though the action snaps him back into action and gives Tony enough adrenaline to pull together the two men he can trust most—his pal Guino and his barber Pietro (Henry Armetta)—to entrap the boss he rightly suspects of having double-crossed him.
What’d He Wear?
About a half-century after the tuxedo sprung to popularity following a meeting between Tuxedo Park member James Brown Potter and the Prince of Wales, black tie attire had evolved from a “semi-formal” dress code reserved for intimate dining at home or private clubs into the designated men’s evening-wear of the roaring ’20s, an era that balanced its decreasing sense of decorum with an emphasis on style. The lessened uniformity from full evening dress meant a more widely acceptable variance in dinner jacket styles, with wearers choosing between shawl collars or peak lapels (notch lapels were swiftly vanquished), silk lapel facings in grosgrain or satin, and—as the code grew more accepted—even single- and double-breasted models, the latter ushered into fashion by Edward, then Prince of Wales (and later, after his abdication, Duke of Windsor.)
Tony stands apart among his crew as the only reveler to sport a double-breasted dinner jacket, with the sweeping 4×1-button front collaborating with its wide shoulders and roped sleeveheads to craft an imposing silhouette apropos a rising gangster celebrating his violent success. The arrangement of four buttons in a “keystone” formation with only the bottom row fastening was popularized at the time as the “Kent” configuration due to its contemporary adoption by Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Tony’s four front buttons and each trio of cuff buttons are left uncovered.
Another change with the onset of the 1930s was the amelioration of dinner suits crafted from a midnight blue cloth rather than true black. Alan Flusser explains in Dressing the Man that this shift was the result of dark blue retaining its richness under artificial light, as opposed to black appearing somewhere on the rust-to-green spectrum. The color of Muni’s screen-worn tuxedo in Scarface may be lost to history, though Tony already embracing a fashion-forward double-breasted dinner jacket suggests that he may be equally inclined to adopt the newly fashionable midnight blue suiting.
Tony’s ventless dinner jacket has straight jetted hip pockets, which had by now eclipsed flapped pockets as the more formal standard for black tie. He dresses the welted breast pocket with his usual colorfully Deco-checked silk kerchief, rakishly dangling from his pocket with more panache than the usual folded or puffed pocket square. Tony had attended Rain with a white carnation pinned to his left lapel, which he removed at some point before his arrival at Paradise No. 2.
Though shirts with soft pleated fronts were being normalized particularly with double-breasted dinner jackets at the time, Tony still wears a more formal evening shirt with a stiff front bib detailed with two spherical pearl studs closely spaced above the jacket’s buttoning point. Additionally, the shirt maintains the link-fastened single cuffs, rather than double (French) cuffs, that remain de rigueur with full evening dress. The most “modern” aspect of Tony’s evening shirt is the long, sharp point collar that foretells the more dramatic spearpoint collars that would be popularized over the following decade during the “Golden Age” of menswear.
Per the dress code’s nomenclature, Tony wears a black silk bow tie in the traditional “butterfly” (thistle) shape, albeit with a pointed end that typically signifies a self-tying tie. That Tony would wear a self-tying bow tie is almost beyond question, though it’s made especially clear after his car accident when he wears the tie loosely knotted.
The full wrap of a double-breasted dinner jacket doesn’t require waist coverings like the evening waistcoat or cummerbunds prescribed for single-breasted models, but this guidance doesn’t stop Tony Camonte from layering a white cotton marcella waistcoat neath his jacket. The waistcoat smartly fastens low enough that it wouldn’t be seen under his buttoned jacket and has a short vent on each side. Though the Prince of Wales had also helped usher in acceptance of the backless waistcoat in warmer climates by this point, Tony’s vest appears to be of the more traditional full-backed variety.
A narrow shawl collar follows the outline of the horseshoe-shaped opening, meeting at the waist where four cloth-covered buttons are closely spaced above the sharply notched bottom. The waistcoat has two narrowly welted pockets at hip level, with a chain hanging from the left pocket suggesting where Tony either keeps his watch or keys.
Even when Tony has his jacket removed in Pietro’s shop, we barely see enough of the trousers to discern their pleats, but we can be almost certain that he wears them held up with suspenders (braces) that remain covered by his waistcoat.
Tony’s formal trousers would be made from the same black or midnight blue wool as his dinner jacket, detailed with the requisite satin braid striped over each leg’s side seam down to the plain-hemmed bottoms, which break over the tops of his black patent leather cap-toe oxfords. Oxfords were and remain the most acceptable—and arguably practical—black tie alternative to the exquisitely formal slip-on opera pumps, particularly when crafted with high-quality black patent leather uppers.
Now that he is “going in for jewelry,” as Poppy observes, Tony regularly wears a pinky ring that gleams from his right hand in every scene despite Tony’s proud insistence that it was a “bargain”.
Rather than swapping for a more formal homburg—the chosen headgear of his slow-witted lackey Angelo—Tony continues wearing his everyday fedora, made of black felt with a black grosgrain ribbon.
Working with the team at Surmesur Pittsburgh, I selected a dark navy cloth, a shade lighter than midnight blue. Surmesur has made many several single- and double-breasted suits for me before, so—in addition to my measurements—they know my preferences for a 1930s-style cut with wide shoulders, roped sleeveheads, and wide peak lapels. I had the lapels faced in a black silk to match the cloth covering the buttons, the gauntlet cuffs, and the dress stripe down the sides of the trousers. Our wedding color is burgundy—as will be presented by the bridesmaids' dresses, the groomsmen's ties, and my pocket square—so I also had the suit lined in a rich dark red paisley, which also presents on the reverse-side of the gauntlet cuffs.
The shirt is a lightweight white cotton with a miniature nailhead weave, detailed simply with a plain front and shaped double (French) cuffs, which I'll fasten with monogrammed cuff links. The black silk twill bow tie will be of the self-tying variety (of course), though I'll have a pre-tied backup at the ready in case of any snafus. I selected a few instances where I'm willingly "breaking the rules" of black tie with a pair of plain-toe single-monk shoes in black calf.
Finally, the watch I've chosen to wear for the day is a vintage gold Omega Constellation on a black leather strap, an heirloom purchased in the early 1960s in my fiancée's family and which I was honored to be given last year.
How to Get the Look
Styled during a transitional period for black tie, Tony Camonte blends burgeoning fashionable elements like a double-breasted dinner jacket, long-pointed shirt collar, and printed pocket square with old-fashioned pieces like the shirt’s stiff front bib and single cuffs and the redundant white waistcoat, finding an individuality within the dress code more sophisticated than its wearer.
- Black wool tuxedo:
- Double-breasted 4×2-button dinner jacket with wide silk-faced peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Pleated formal trousers with side pocket, silk side stripes, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton marcella single-breasted evening waistcoat with low-fastening 4-button front, cutaway notched bottom, and shallow hip pockets
- White cotton evening shirt with point collar, plain front with two pearl studs, and single cuffs
- Black satin silk bowtie with pointed ends
- Black patent leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black silk dress socks
- Black wide-brimmed fedora with black grosgrain band
- Pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
In my earlier post about Scarface‘s black tie kits, I also waxed poetic on my pre-Code crush Ann Dvorak, though it wasn’t until recently that I read in depth about her fascinating life and unique personality in Christina Rice’s richly researched biography, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’ Forgotten Rebel.
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?