'Johnny' Lovo: Hey, stop him somebody!
Tony Camonte: Get out of my way Johnny, I'm gonna spit!
Violence is a ever-present element in this Hawks masterpiece. The film, made in the early thirties, is a gangster movie with some noir elements: Though most critics agree that “true” noir starts in the early forties the treatment of light and shadow is very special in some of the scenes. Scarface would provide the tone for many movies made later.
This portrait of the gangster Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) had some problems with the censorship – it was accused of glorifying gangsters; a long disclaimer had to be added at the beginning of the movie: …the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: 'What are you going to do about it?' The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?. Besides the subtitle “Shame of a Nation” was also added to the original title.
Camonte is portrayed as a ruthless gangster who stops at nothing to reach his goals: bootlegging, murders (“x” marks the spot in some memorable cuts – as in the bowling scene). As Tony says: “Listen, l'il Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble. (He pats his gun in his coat pocket and cocks his thumb and finger - and fires.) Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doin' it.”
Therefore the film has a grim, raw mood with only some funny moments with Camonte’s secretary Angelo (Vince Barnett).
Camonte’s story is one of a rise and fall; Tony’s insane jealousy of his sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak) – there is a Borgia quality in the treatment of these two characters - will lead him to his own destruction. After killing his sister’s husband, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft), he is surrounded by the police and finally killed under the sign: The World is Yours – something which reminds of Cody Jarrett’s (James Cagney) final words: “top of the world” in White Heat.