Top of the World, Sis!
I don’t know. Maybe because you’re me and I’m you. It’s always been that way.
--Ann Dvorak, Scarface
Mother of Mercy, could this line be the best of 1932’s Scarface
? Okay, maybe not. After all, it does not exactly rank up there with “we’ll always have Paris
” or “I am Heathcliff
.” But it is still memorable in its own way if for no other way than the fact that that line is not delivered by the male protagonist’s wife or girlfriend -- it is delivered by his sister
. And it says something about the spiritedness of Ann Dvorak’s performance as said sister that that scene does not come across as ridiculous as I would have thought.
To be fair, the entire movie hints at a rather odd connection between the title character Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni) and his sister Francesca -- aka Cesca -- that goes beyond mere familial protectiveness. Whenever Tony sees Cesca kiss a boy, he gets jealous. He does not mind “rewarding” her for being a good girl by giving her part of his ill-gotten gains but he insists on “protecting” her honor despite her own wishes to the contrary. A gesture that seems even more hypocritical when he chooses to pursue Poppy, his boss’s blonde Anglo-American mistress. Apparently, Tony doesn’t mind pursuing his own version of forbidden fruit -- but he will be damned if he will allow Cesca the same freedom.
Although Tony’s mother is wise enough to suspect Tony’s true motive for being so zealous about his little sister’s honor, she is not strong enough to do anything about it. Neither Tony nor Cesca are inclined to listen to her, and since Tony is an up-and-coming gangster, forcing him to do her maternal bidding is hardly a realistic option.
Even Tony’s own boss cannot keep Tony in his place. Tony is bound and determined to gain as much power in the bootlegging business as he can get, even if it means trouble with rival gangsters and the cops. Toward the end, he manages to finally win Poppy away from his competition by literally disposing of his rival. But he is still not satisfied and keeps on pushing until finally his feelings for his sister prove to be his undoing.
The end shows a distracted Tony facing near-death from his own sibling until the arrival of the cops outside Tony’s residence prompts Cesca to have a change of heart regarding her brother. The two of them prepare to make a final stand against the cops but such a stand proves futile. In the end, Tony gets his long-overdue just desserts and justice is finally served. Sort of.
It’s tempting to negatively compare this version of Scarface with the more famous 1983 remake
by director Brian De Palma, but I must confess that I like this version better. Granted, Muni’s accent seems silly at times and his character appears to be way too much an Italian-American stereotype -- but it never provoked the same giggles in me as Al Pacino’s laughable attempt at a Cuban accent in the 1983 movie. Nor is Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in that movie quite as compelling as Karen Morley’s performance as Poppy.
Ann Dvorak, of course, is in a class by herself, regardless of whether her character is leaning out a window to look at an organ grinder or trying her best to seduce a gangster. Even the potentially silly ending of her character seems more compelling than the fate of a similar character in the 1983 film -- perhaps because Hawks does not quite end her character’s story arc on a safe, reassuring note but manages to hint at an even more subversive relationship between the two siblings than even the most liberal of movie-goers would have guessed. A relationship so daring that even a provocative director like De Palma did not dare to depict anything similar on screen -- though George Lucas undoubtedly came close
But perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into the movie. After all, most Latins -- Italian and otherwise -- that I have met in real life are at best indifferent to their little sisters or at least are no more affectionate to their female siblings than their Anglo counterparts. While I must admit to being somewhat fond of my own little sister, I am not that fond
of my little sister. And I assure you all that my feelings for her are strictly platonic. Seriously.
Although I guess I should find it somewhat disturbing that I seem to be developing a taste in my love life for blondes -- and my little sister, of course, is blonde.
Then again she doesn’t resemble Ann Dvorak so I should rest easy. Right?
Labels: Amor Prohibido, Ann Dvorak, Cara Cortada, Paul Muni, Películas Clásicas II, Valores Familiares