SCARFACE dared a platoon of Colombian hitmen to “Say hello to my little friend !” back in 1983, resulting in a double-dare of every other guy you know to attack a bad Al Pacino imitation. Shot to pieces by critics when it came out, it’s shown remarkable staying power over four decades, thanks to some bravura acting, effectively profane dialogue and memorable action set-pieces.
Miami, 1980. Among the thousands of Cuban exiles arriving in Florida from the ‘Mariel boatlift’ (score one for Fidel) is ex-convict ‘Tony Montana’ (Pacino), frank and fearless, determined to move up in the opulence-offering New World. Doing what—and who—it takes, Tony and loyal pal ‘Manny Ribera’ (Steven Bauer) are smart and ruthless on their rise in the exploding cocaine trade. But sure as snorting, eventually Tony’s nose gets out of joint one too many times—not helped by its being packed with enough of his product to drop an elephant. The Montanan high-way to hell is nothing if not a helluva ride. “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” (cue for your impression, again, ‘mang‘)
Though placing 8th for the year with a $66,700,000 take, it still took a whack thanks to a cost of $37,000,000, and brickbats from reviewers didn’t help. But Mr.Montana—harder to kill than all four of The Wild Bunch—found immortal afterlife on gateway plug VHS and its addictive successors.
With inspiration from the 1932 classic Scarface, Oliver Stone, who had a few years to toil before he broke through as director, wrote the in-your-face screenplay; flashy stylist Brian De Palma directed. Security concerns saw only a little filming in Florida: most was accomplished in California. SweartoGah, mang: riddling the script are a purported 226 uses of our homeboy the f-word and its useful spinoffs. Almost the number of bullets it took to topple Tony.
Quotable lines, visual flourish and acting flair to the side (plus extra points for chainsaw and grenade launcher), the movie has some structure and continuity issues. Despite the length—just ten minutes shy of three hours—for an epic story about a drug dealer, there’s too little time given to how his organization functions; the overly-close-for-comfort subplot with Tony’s naive sister ‘Gina’ (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is poorly developed and skips too quickly into 3rd-gear; the main squeeze romance with slinky, sulky ‘Elvira’ (Michelle Pfeiffer) isn’t believable other than in scenes showing them arguing. Neither of the actresses are at fault, it’s the writing and/or editing that lets them down. *
The gauche glamour, sexy Florida backdrop and now-legendary passages of bloody mayhem cancel out postmortem script quibbles. Pacino plays it big, funny and furious, as appropriately over-the-top as the testosterone-zonked character demanded; he’s in practically every scene. The only actual Cuban in the cast—and an exile to boot—was Steven Bauer, 26, excellent in his first major part. There are a slew of colorful turns by others in the large supporting cast. The milieu-redolent art direction is a decided plus, and there’s a simmering, doom-tinged score from Giorgio Moroder. That notorious chainsaw scene is superbly handled—De Palma shrewdly leaving the horror to your imagination—and the final cataclysm shootout overcomes overkill likelihood with sheer nuttiness.
Cuss & Casualty Count includes Robert Loggia, F.Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin, Paul Shenar, Angel Salazar, Miriam Colon, Pepe Serna, Arnaldo Santana, Richard Belzer, Barbra Perez, Gregg Henry.
* Regardless of the Glockholes in the script and the snootfuls from critics, newcomers Pfeiffer and Mastrantonio, both 24, nailed a big break here. Pfeiffer had been the one decent thing in the lousy Grease 2, the year before, and Mastrantonio had only done a unbilled bit, also the year before, in The King Of Comedy.
Sad footnote— film trivia fans who mull the “curse” idea attached to The Exorcist, The Omen and Poltergeist can consider the distressing toll of this movie’s array of pretty young hopefuls, taken before their time. Lana Clarkson, one of the girls dancing at the Babylon Club, was just 40 when she was murdered by Phil Spector in 2003. Another Scarface party girl, Angela Aames, died suddenly from a virus at 32. The blonde in the blue bikini teasing with Steven Bauer, 18-year-old beauty contest winner (280 times!) Tammy Lynn Leppert, vanished without a trace shortly after filming her scene. She had told relatives she was fearful for her life, after seeing something she shouldn’t have at a party.