Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Scarface was a classic gangster film directed by Howard Hawks in 1932 (not the 1983 remake). The story follows the rise and fall of Tony Camonte, aka “Scarface”. It’s a classic example of power struggle story. It is easily categorized as a gangster film because of its heavy use of gangster conventions. I’ll list out and analyze a few in this post.

In Scarface, obtain power and losing power is the central theme. Tony started as someone in Lovo’s gang and later becomes the king of the gangsters, while at the end he loses all the power and gets arrested by the police. Power struggle is a conventional theme for gangster films. Scarface is no exception. The character arc of Tony Camonte is a good demonstration of how the lust of struggle is able to corrupt such a person’s life. It’s a criticism of American materialism. The longing for the American dream is a convention of the gangster films, and Scarface does so in a traditional way.

The use of guns might be the most significant genre trait for gangster genre. Scarface was known for its violence. It was banned in several states and its release was delayed in many other areas. The guns played a major part in Scarface. The introduction of the machine gun plays a big part in the development of the plot. It is the machine gun that adds more violent aspect to the visual aspect and the sound aspect. The sequence when the gangsters shooting at the store windows and people on the street is just horrifying. Plus the role of sound made everything even more intense. The sound of machine gun really gave me goose bumps when I saw it. I think, its violence is very effective for production code to a certain degree. The way the opening title card is questioning people is fairly questioned by the violence in the film. Though the filmmaker did not intend to make them function the way the production code makes it to do, it works somehow in an ironic way.

The aspect of family plays a major role in Scarface as well. The family is consisted by the mother, the sister, and Tony Camonte. They stay much close to each other through the story though it is not depicted as a “normal” family. The relationship between the brother and sister is worth mentioning. The aspect of incest in gangster films was later toned down due to the production code. It is still a way of showing the union of a family, which kind of reminiscent the family aspect in western films. This implicitly draws a connection to the conventions in western films.

It is these conventions that make Scarface such a gangster classic. Without such a gangster film landmark, the films come afterward would not have the same plot structure as they do nowadays.

"this is what we do nowadays, we smile like pigs" :D

1 comment:

  1. CLARIFY: It's clear that your post is going to be exploring the genre conventions and themes of the film Scarface.

    Do you really think that incest is a genre convention of the gangster film?

    I don't understand what the difference is between what the production code was trying to make the opening title card do and what the filmmaker's intended, and therefore what your point is about the whole thing. It doesn't help that you don't actually include what the title card says (though this is going more towards a concern).

    VALUE: You have a lot of great points in this post. I think your most successful point with great examples is when you talk about the machine gun and the use of sound, and how not only is this a genre convention but that it really heightened the violence in general in the film (and world of the story). You also clearly explain that obtaining and losing power is an important theme in the genre, which I definitely agree with.

    CONCERNS: While I'm glad you point out that the film also focuses on family - I don't think that incest is a genre convention of the gangster film. Even if we see it in more than one film that does't mean it's a convention - it would have to be present in the majority of films. Most gangster films focus more on the idea of loyalty with a family, and family might be used as a term for the actual gang themselves. So when someone is disloyal (like how Guino starts to see Tony's sister, even when he has been told not too) this is a serious offense that often ends in death. That would be the convention that ties to the genre. I think the fact that Tony has a somewhat unhealthy feelings and a creepy hold on his sister, that he doesn't seem to want her to have any other man (even though he has his own girl), is another trait that makes him more of a bad guy, someone who "deserves" his downfall at the end.

    You do not explain the production code or what your point about the code has to do with the film. Someone who is not familiar with the code would not be able to follow your post, and even I, who does know about it, don't understand what you mean in that part. I would suggest you include the actual wording of the card to help illustrate your point and go in to much more detail on what point you are trying to make. That is the least successful part of your post.