Reviewed on 2008 September 20
One of the earliest gangster movies, if not the first, and easily one of the best. The only thing that makes it seem dated are the ladies’ vintage dresses and those old cars. The dialogue isn’t even that clunky, despite the fact this was made in 1932.
Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is an up-and-coming gangster whose viciousness is only rivaled by his ambition. He surrounds himself with goons like the almost-emotionless Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) and has no problem cutting any rivals off at the knees. He’s a thorn in the side of the Chicago cops, who resolve to bring him to justice. Camonte refuses to consider for even a moment that he's less than invincible, stockpiling lots of “Chicago typewriters” and turning his mansion into a steel-reinforced bunker. This is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Inspector Ben Guarino (C. Henry Gordon) makes it his personal mission to take Camonte down.
I liked the look and feel of this thing — vintage films that age gracefully are always a treat. With that flat, greased hair and scar, Muni even looked like a Little Rascal that grew up and went bad. Director Howard Hawks battled the censors over his vision of this, with the censors arguing that it glamorized the gangsters. I didn’t see that, I saw a bunch of well-dressed (if not gaudy) murderers. Muni’s depiction of Camonte is as entertaining as it is repulsive. The fact that it’s based on several events from the Chicago gang wars of the ’20s make it even more interesting.
Four chocolate morsels. Watching this with Brian DePalma’s 1983 re-imagining of Scarface would be an afternoon well-spent.