Saturday, January 21, 2012

Al Pacino or Al Capone?

While its common knowledge that Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface was 'influenced' by the 1932 Howard Hawks directed Scarface (which was based on the real Al Capone), I believe Al Pacino's performance in the De Palma film was more akin to Rod Steiger's in Richard Wilson's 1959 Al Capone than to Paul Muni's performance in the Hawks movie.

Steiger chews up the scenery - and his lines - in Al Capone, swaggering, spitting nails, sputtering a Chicago accent that almost verges on Pacino's over-the-top Cuban accent in the 1983 Scarface. Steiger's macho gait is also emulated by Pacino throughout Scarface and you almost find yourself picturing Tony Montana while watching Steiger in Al Capone.

Wilson's Al Capone is loaded with incredible black and white imagery captured by cinematographer Lucien Ballard, who worked on other visually stunning films such as The Killing, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, What's the Matter with Helen?, Mikey and Nicky, among others. Chicagoans will appreciate how Ballard captured the look of the city (and suburban Cicero), in all of its bleak, prohibition-era glory (though its likely Al Capone was shot on a soundstage).

Al Capone has been playing on TCM lately and its worth seeking out. Its violent (though no blood is shed), funny and brutal - despite its do-nothing voiceover (by the great timbre of James Gregory, who plays a Chicago detective obsessed with taking Capone down), and a safe, socially-conscious ending - an ending that states Capone died broken-down of an "incurable disease," that pretty much ate away the gangster's brain.

Even at that point in time when the film was released, everyone knew Capone had suffered from syphilis and ended up dying of cardiac arrest.

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