Ask any gangster movie fan and they’ll tell you that Scarface sits at the top of the genre. Even now, with the film’s 35-year anniversary, few flicks have been released that as memorable as this Oliver Stone directed classic.
Like many excellent movies, Scarface is made wonderful by the sum of its parts: it just so happens to have a lot of great parts. First and foremost, an amazing performance by the legendary Al Pacino himself. The memes speak for themselves.
Add in a stylized, gritty Miami world, a rags-to-riches story of a very brutal nature, and gorgeous set designs and you’ve got yourself a motion picture that not only stands the test of time, but has influenced nearly every crime boss movie that’s come out after its release.
Like any great film, there’s also a great backstory that’s as compelling as the movie’s narrative itself. Probably because it’s almost a miracle when any movie comes out great, considering all of the things that can go wrong on set.
So here are some facts about Scarface that I never knew before, despite watching the film a zillion or so times. And, because I’m genuinely afraid of what a man like Tony Montana is capable of, some memes featuring everyone’s favorite coke dealer, in an attempt to humanize him, like this wonderful King of the Hill reference.
1. Originally, Al Pacino didn’t want Michelle Pfeiffer to play Elvira Hancock, the crime lord’s embittered wife with a wicked fashion sense and penchant for drugs. The film’s producer, Martin Bregman said in a shared interview with the Obie-award winning actor that Al initially shot down the idea of Michelle being in the film. Maybe her work in Grease 2 had something to do with it.
Also, Michelle was hangry during filming. To look like a cocaine addict, she was eating very little, which made her irritable on long shooting days.
2. Oliver Stone actually had a coke addiction while writing the script for the movie. It became so bad that he flew out to Paris to live there in order to help him kick the habit he’d developed. At the time, blow was difficult to come by in France.
3. Even though the film was set in Miami, and the crew was originally set to film there, production had to be moved to Los Angeles. Understandably, the local Cuban community didn’t appreciate a big-budget film that was being created about a Cuban drug lord shilling cocaine and murdering people to be the biggest and baddest player in the Miami drug wars. Go figure.
4. No one actually knows what white powder was used to substitute out the cocaine in the film. Rumor has it that it was powdered milk, but Oliver Stone nor any members of the production crew have explicitly stated what it was. I can’t imagine powdered milk being a good substitute. Yuck.
What we do know is that whatever mystery powder was used had a bad effect on Al’s nasal passages. The actor stated that till this day his nose has never been the same since Scarface.
5. Steven Bauer, the actor who plays Tony’s closest friend in the film, Manny, was the only actual Cuban actor in the film and before he even auditioned for the role, a casting director let him know that he had it. At least he had better luck than his character.
6. If the film’s original main casting stuck, then there would have been zero main Cuban actors in the film: Robert DeNiro and John Travolta were originally selected to play Tony Montana and Manny, respectively. Now that would’ve been a very different film.
7. As it turns out, it wasn’t the first time the character terrified and entertained audiences on the silver screen. Scarface originally came out in 1932. Martin Bregman dedicated the 1983 version to the old-school version’s director, Howard Hanks,
8. Speaking of directors, Brian De Palma almost didn’t get the job for Scarface, Sidney Lumet was originally brought on as director. Sidney’s known for the brilliant Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men and was interested in creating another socially-conscious work.
9. Oliver Stone wasn’t interested in writing the screenplay at first. Still upset over the disappointing reception to his film, The Hand, coupled with the fact that he wasn’t a fan of the original film and didn’t want to create another Italian gangster story, Oliver was out.
Once Sidney was on board, however, and wanted to modernize the story and replace alcohol prohibition with drugs, then it became a more enticing idea for Oliver to work with. Unfortunately, Sidney wasn’t a fan of what Oliver wrote.
10. The only movie with more f-bombs than Scarface is The Wolf of Wall Street. De Palma’s classic has 207 (or 1.21 per minute), whereas the Scorsese picture packs a whopping 506. That’s a whole lot of cussing!
11. How did Tony Montana get his name? Was it a clever play on words? Did Oliver Stone hear about some crazy drug story during his days in Miami researching the seedy underbelly of the cocaine trade? No, he just named him after his favorite football player at the time, Joe Montana.
12. The only time Al’s character is ever referred to as “Scarface” in the movie is during the horrifying chainsaw scene, and it’s in Spanish (cara cicatriz). It also turns out that that scene was based on a real-life story Oliver heard from the Miami-Dade Police Department.
13. Steven Spielberg actually directed a shot of the film. The ET director’s been friends with Brian since the ’70s, and while he was visiting the Scarface set one day, he directed a single shot where the goons at the end of the movie storm Montana’s mansion right before the climactic final gun battle.
14. New technology was created for the film’s final shoot-out to really make the gunshots pop. Brian worked with the movie’s special effects coordinator that synchronized the shutter of the film’s camera with the gun blasts to show the large muzzle flashes from the firearms. Just one of the many reasons why that final gun fight was so good.
15. Al Pacino’s hand, during rehearsal, got stuck to the overheating muzzle of his firearm when he grabbed it after firing off a few rounds. The burns that Al sustained were so severe, that he couldn’t perform for two weeks, which pushed back key shots.
There’s probably a lot more crazy trivia about this film that didn’t make it to this list. You don’t make culturally significant, classic films like Scarface without getting into some craziness behind-the-scenes, that’s for sure.
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