Based on a 1929 novel and inspired by real events, 1932’s Scarface was one of a series of pre-code gangster pictures which shocked and enthralled its viewers. Opening with a written disclaimer, damming the government for their lack of action regarding the threat that modern gangsters pose, the film nonetheless glamorises the life of crime while shaking a stick in its vague direction. It follows the ascent of young arrogant Italian immigrant Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) as he rises through the Chicago underworld by bumping off bosses and rivals who stand in his way and intimidating speakeasy proprietors into taking his booze. Aided by his right hand man, the quiet coin flicking Guino Rinaldo (George Raft), Tony reaches the heights of underworld overlord but finds that being at the top is even more dangerous than the climb to the summit.
Arriving two years before the Hays Office began imposing much stricter censorship on Hollywood; Scarface was able to get away with a lot more than many films which followed it. Inside its ninety minutes you’ll find brutal murders, gunplay and revealing costumes worn by the female characters, things which just wouldn’t be permissible from 1934 onwards. Even still, the film troubled the censors and the ending was changed to suit their tastes. Overall the movie contains a ‘crime doesn’t pay’ theme, something which you expect from the opening credits disclaimer but it’s slow in coming. For the most part, the theme appears to be ‘crime gets you everything you want’ and it’s this which the censors must have taken issue with. The glorification of the central character is also something which the Hays Office was unhappy with. This is something which film makers and censors would lock horns over for the next forty years.