The Al Pacino Classic That Terrified Hollywood

By Joshua Jones | Published

The Al Pacino classic Scarface introduced movie audiences to Tony Montana. The 1993 gangster film is considered one of the outstanding achievements in cinematic history. But what’s interesting about this classic movie is that many filmmakers believed it should never have been made.

The Brain De Palma-directed crime drama was loosely based on the 1929 novel of the same name and served as a loose remake of the 1932 film. Along with Al Pacino, Scarface stars Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, and Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Pacino became interested in the project after watching the 1932 version.

Oliver Stone’s screenplay of the eighties movie depicted Al Pacino’s Tony Montana as an allegory for President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, according to Den of Geek. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese even warned the producers that many in Hollywood would hate the film when it premiered in New York. Of course, Al Pacino’s inclusion in Scarface was thought of at the time to be a huge get.

That said, many in the industry thought of it to be judging the system. In fact, some wondered why someone would try to remake the 1932 film. Interestingly, Al Pacino wanted to retain the period piece aspect of the original movie but later realized that its melodramatic nature would be a hindrance.

According to Den of Geek, Oliver Stone’s screenplay “repulsed” those familiar with the 1932 version and were proponents of how Hollywood produced its projects. The remake apparently even scared of the project’s first director, Sidney Lumet, who ended up passing it over to De Palma. Meanwhile, Al Pacino insisted on playing the leading role in Scarface, although Robert De Niro had previously been offered it and turned it down.

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Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)

Lumet had the idea to change the lead character from an Italian immigrant to a Cuban deportee. While the decision was initially controversial, it ultimately was considered a terrific decision by fans of Al Pacino’s work in Scarface. Stone spent two months in South Florida to soak in research on the drug empire.

The vast majority of the film was shot in Southern California, which interestingly wasn’t the original location chosen. The project was supposedly planned to be shot in the Miami area. Al Pacino worked with experts in knife combat to prepare for his role in Scarface.

In terms of its X-rating, DePalma cut the film three times to avoid receiving what many back then considered to be the kiss of death for movies. Ultimately, DePalma earned an R-rating, though rumors circled regarding an uncut version of the film. The use of the R-rating is probably most evident in Al Pacino’s Tony Montana and his use of the f-bomb in Scarface.

As mentioned, the original release of Scarface was met with an unfavorable response from critics. Many criticized it for its excessive violence and explicit language. Regarding Al Pacino’s role in Scarface, Jay Scott from The Globe and Mail wrote that while Pacino’s performance is “hypnotic,” the attempts to flesh out his character ultimately become “hopeless.”

The initial response from audiences confirmed suspicions from within the industry about the film’s graphic use of violence and its exploration of the drug empire. Not to mention Al Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana in Scarface probably was a lot for audiences to take in at the time. When discussing the initial reaction to the film, DePalma recalled “people running up the aisle” during opening night.

Some Cubans objected to the depiction of Cuban characters. The film itself includes a disclaimer, reaffirming that the film is indeed fiction and “does not represent the Cuban/American community.” Despite all the controversy, Al Pacino’s work and direction are what many cinephiles probably remember most about Scarface.

The 80s crime drama inspired many other crime-related projects, including the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Al Pacino’s famous line in Scarface, “say hello to my little friend,” is often referenced in media and was ranked #61 in AFI’s 100 Years….100 Movie Quotes list. The WWF wrestler, Scott Hall, was a character modeled after Tony Montana.

Despite all that happened before, during, and after production, Al Pacino’s Scarface managed to rise to the occasion by the end. The film is currently available on Netflix.