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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
7:00 p.m. Scarface
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1932)

It was the worst of times, it was the best of films: Scarface was to be the gangster film to end all gangsters, but instead it produced a genre, and perhaps a few mobsters, inspired by Hawks’s fun-lovin’ criminals riding the crest of a nation’s misery. Of course, they all meet their Maker, but killing them is like Buñuel’s “one less fly”—it only makes room for more. That’s the real energy behind Hawks’s rat-a-tat-taut direction that weaves visual tics (like the ubiquitous image of the X) and humor into the tragic trajectory of Tony Camonte, the original Italian Stallion doomed by his charged love for his own sister (Ann Dvorak). This film gave Paul Muni his first big role, introduced George “Little Boy” Raft, and brought us Karen Morley’s wisecracking, electrifying Poppy, unequaled until Lauren Bacall’s similarly smoky smarty in To Have and Have Not. Obviously, Hawks followed the gangster’s credo: “Do it first . . . and keep on doin’ it.”

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Ben Hecht, Seton I. Miller, W. R. Burnett, John Lee Mahin, Fred Pasley, from the novel by Armitage Trail. Photographed by Lee Garmes. With Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, George Raft. (93 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Universal)