"Scarface" co-star Steven Bauer recalled a decade ago that, during the 1983 premiere for the over-the-top epic of the rise and fall of a violent, foul-mouthed, cocaine kingpin, Martin Scorsese turned to him and said, "You guys are great -- but be prepared, because they're going to hate it in Hollywood" Bauer said he asked why, and that Scorsese replied, "Because it's about them."
AP Photo/HO/Courtesy Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Thirty years after the release of "Scarface" (on December 9, 1983), Brian De Palma's glitzy, coke-fueled tale of Cuban immigrant druglord Tony Montana now seems like a landmark of '80s cinema. It provided major early career breaks for a number of stars, from Michelle Pfeiffer to Bauer to F. Murray Abraham, as well as for screenwriter Oliver Stone. Along with fellow gangster Michael Corleone of the "Godfather" trilogy, Tony Montana is the role Al Pacino is most likely to be remembered for. And of course, the movie had an enormous impact on pop culture, from gangsta rap to video games to countless parodies involving someone quoting Tony's "Say hello to my leetle friend."
Still, as many times as you've probably seen "Scarface," there's probably plenty you don't know about the movie, from how De Palma gamed the ratings board to keep the film from being rated X, to which of the principals was actually addicted to coke or was a gang member in real life. Here are 25 things you probably didn't know about "Scarface."
1. The idea to remake the 1932 "Scarface" was Pacino's. He saw the classic crime drama at a revival screening in Los Angeles and told producer Martin Bregman that he thought he should star in an updated version.
2. Both the original and the remake are loosely based on a 1929 novel, "Scarface," by Maurice Coons, writing under the pen name Armitage Trail. The novel, in turn, is based loosely on the rise to power of Al Capone.
3. The original movie, which was as controversial for its extreme content in its day as the remake was 51 years later, starred Paul Muni as fictional Italian-American gangster Tony Camonte, who rises to the top of a bootlegging racket in Chicago during Prohibition. The 1983 movie doesn't acknowledge either the novel or the 1932 screenplay, but there's a brief "special thanks" shout-out during the end credits to Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, who wrote the 1932 script.
4. De Palma and Pacino resisted auditioning Michelle Pfeiffer for Elvira, Tony's bitter trophy wife, since she was best known at the time for having starred in the flop "Grease 2." But Bregman insisted she get a tryout. The role proved her big breakthrough.
5. The "Scarface" role of Manny, Tony's right-hand man and best friend, marked Bauer's film debut. The Havana-born actor was the only actual Cuban in the principal cast.
6. "Scarface" was also the first major screen role for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, cast as Tony's sister, Gina. (It wasn't quite her film debut; she'd appeared earlier the same year as an extra in Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy.") The role proved her big break, leading to her Oscar-nominated performance opposite Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in Scorsese's "The Color of Money."
7. Miriam Colon, who plays Tony's mother, is only four years older than Pacino.
8. Oliver Stone, who wrote the screenplay, had yet to become known as a director (he'd made horror flop "The Hand," but his successes with "Platoon" and "Wall Street" were still several years in the future), but he was well known as a screenwriter for his Oscar-winning work on "Midnight Express" (another drug-smuggling tale) and for "Conan the Barbarian." He also knew cocaine well. "I had been hooked for a year or two and I decided to kick it and I moved to France, which was the best thing I ever did," he told Total Film in 2003. "I cut all my connections to LA, had a new life and wrote 'Scarface' in an apartment in Paris. I wrote it straight which was good because I don't think cocaine helps writing. It's very destructive to the brain cells. I think my writing was getting shallower."
9. F. Murray Abraham, who played gangster Omar, had worked with Pacino before, as an undercover cop in "Serpico." In a way, Omar wasn't that much of a stretch for Abraham, who had been a gang member and car thief as a teen in El Paso, Texas, until one of his high school teachers got him hooked on acting.
10. During the filming of "Scarface," Abraham learned that he'd landed the coveted lead role of Salieri in "Amadeus," and he claimed that the "Scarface" cast suddenly treated him with greater respect. "Robert Loggia suddenly was giving me rides," he told Backstage magazine in a 2007 interview. "I mean, he's the nicest guy, but suddenly it was, 'I'll give you a ride.'"' Abraham's performance in "Amadeus" would win him a Best Actor Oscar the following year.
11. During rehearsals, Pacino burned his hand on the barrel of a prop machine gun that had just fired 30 rounds. He was out of commission for two weeks.
12. According to Bauer, the mountains of cocaine shown in the movie are just powdered baby laxative.
13. There are a number of plot similarities between the 1932 film and the 1983 film. In both films, Tony adopts the slogan "The World Is Yours," which he spots in an advertisement, as his personal motto. And in both versions, he has a near-incestuous relationship with his sister.
14. The notorious chainsaw execution sequence was supposedly based on a similar real-life event Stone learned about from a Miami police report.
15. The f-word is used at least 207 times in the 170-minute movie. Even Elvira complains that Tony uses the word too often. So did Abraham's Italian-American mother. At a 2011 screening of the film, the actor recalled his mother telling him, "'Murray, I saw the movie. Can you tell Al not to use that language? It's not good for the Italian people.' I said, 'Mom, it's the script. He said what he had to say.' She said, 'He's a big star! He doesn't have to talk that way.'"
16. Language was just one element at issue in the movie's protracted battle with the ratings board. De Palma trimmed the film's most violent scenes three times in order to avoid an X rating (the NC-17 didn't exist yet). Finally, he brought in a group of law enforcement agents to testify to the ratings board that the film was accurate in its depiction of the extreme violence of the Miami drug world and therefore had some educational value. The board relented and granted the film an R. But by that logic, De Palma argued, the original cut of the film should also have received an R. Universal disagreed and asked him to release the board-approved cut, but De Palma claims that, because the studio itself didn't couldn't distinguish among the nearly identical cuts, he went ahead and released his original cut anyway.
17. During filming, Cuban-Americans complained both that the Cuban-American characters were mostly criminals and that they were mostly played by non-Cuban actors. The movie addressed the first point with a disclaimer during the end credits, saying that the characters in the film weren't representative of the Cuban-American community at large, which is made up of honest, industrious, patriotic people.
18. The film cost an estimated $25 million to make. It was a modest hit, earning $44.7 million. On the list of top-grossing 1983 movies, it ranks 17th, between "Jaws 3D" and "Blue Thunder."
19. Pacino recalled (at a "Scarface" screening two years ago) that, after the movie's New York premiere, most of showbiz was appalled. The entertainment industry figures present were " like statues, like wax figures," Pacino said. "So I came in and there was Liza Minnelli, who hadn't seen ["Scarface"], and she came up to me and she said, 'Al, what did you do to these people?'" Pacino added, "But I remember Eddie Murphy was there and he came up to me and said 'I loved it, Al!'"
20. Pacino and Pfeiffer reunited as an on-screen couple eight years after "Scarface" in 1991's "Frankie and Johnny," playing a New York diner's short-order cook and waitress who embark on a tentative romance.
21. De Palma went on to direct a movie about "Scarface" inspiration Al Capone, the 1987 hit "The Untouchables." A decade after "Scarface," De Palma, Pacino, and Bregman teamed up for 1993's "Carlito's Way," another gangster drama.
22. "Scarface" became a touchstone for rappers, who considered Tony Montana more of a role model than a cautionary tale. On the 20th anniversary DVD, Sean "Diddy" Combs claimed he'd seen the movie 63 times.
23. The movie has inspired at least three video games: "Scarface: The World Is Yours," "Scarface: Money, Power, Respect," and "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," which, while not explicitly based on "Scarface," has a lot of plot and visual design elements taken from the film.
24. Bauer and Mark Margolis (who played car-bomber Alberto) both appeared in the recent TV series "Breaking Bad" as high-ranking members of a Mexican drug cartel.
25. Over the past couple of years, Bregman and Universal have been developing yet another remake of the film, this one purportedly featuring a Mexican immigrant in the drug cartel. So far the film is just in the script stage, with David Ayer ("Training Day") and Paul Attanasio ("Donnie Brasco") having written drafts. To direct, Universal is supposedly eying David Yates (who made the last four "Harry Potter" films), who was also supposedly considering directing "Cicero," a biopic of Al Capone, the inspiration for the original "Scarface."