17 Things You Might Not Know About Scarface
Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, Scarface.
1. This isn’t the first Scarface.
The film is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized.
2. It pays its respects to the original.
The 1983 version is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.
3. De Palma didn’t want the directing gig.
De Palma signed on to direct but eventually dropped out because he didn’t like the initial drafts of the script. Sidney Lumet, the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon (also starring Al Pacino) and 12 Angry Men, was brought on to direct instead.
4. Lumet changed the script.
Lumet was the person who suggested the story should address the contemporary cocaine wars of south Florida.
5. A budding screenwriting star brought De Palma back.
Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, and Stone agreed to do the movie for two reasons. First, his 1981 film The Hand had bombed at the box office, so he needed the work. He also wanted to work with Lumet, who eventually dropped out of the project because he felt Stone’s screenplay became too over the top and too violent. De Palma, who had moved on to potentially direct Flashdance, then read Stone’s script and loved how exaggerated it was, so he dropped Flashdance and rejoined Scarface.
6. Stone had firsthand experience with the subject matter.
Stone was dealing with a cocaine habit as he was penning the screenplay, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by moving to Paris to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.
7. It was easy for Pacino to get the lead role.
Bregman sought out Pacino for the role of Tony Montana because he had managed Pacino early in the actor’s career, getting Pacino his first major role in the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park. Bregman eventually moved into producing, and produced some of Pacino’s biggest hits, including Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon (both of which were directed by Lumet).
8. The filmmakers almost overlooked Michelle Pfeiffer.
De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.
9. Tony Montana was named for a football star.
Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.
10. Tony is only referred to as “Scarface” once, and it’s in Spanish.
Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to him as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.
11. The chainsaw scene was based on a real incident.
To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.
12. Backlash forced the production out of Miami.
The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.
13. That’s not real cocaine Pacino is snorting.
Legend has it that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera, and though De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in, the cocaine used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk.
14. Steven Spielberg directed a single shot.
De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid ‘70s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.
15. Some nifty technology went into the gun muzzle flashes.
In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gun fire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.
16. Saddam Hussein was a big fan.
The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.