Both in need of a good night’s sleep, both constantly drunk and verging on insane, but who is more of an antagonist? They are both essentially their own worst enemies, but who is more unhinged? It’s a difficult question that needs exploring, even though we’d all rush into picking Tony Montana. But such a reflex reaction would be hasty, for Montana’s fury may indeed make him an easier target, not to mention his greed and desperate need to lead which function as a bit of a soft spot, but Camonte, also, has his fair share of loose screws, and his killing style can attest to this.
Camonte‘s killing is quiet, accompanied by whistling and often resembling a stroll. Montana’s is angry and passionate, more of a revenge and less of a hobby. Camonte is a pure psychopath, subtle and unbothered, when Montana is constantly on the brink of snapping; careful, but also leaving space for errors; fiery and with emotions getting the better of him, even when not much is really happening. Camonte stays cool, detached, incapable of feeling. His sister is his weakness, and in fact, it is not until she’s hurt that he loses focus. Montana, on the other hand, is often out of focus, with several weaknesses and complexes and an ego that ultimately costs him his life even more than his softness for his sister.
Camonte is dumb – he’s not putting it on. Montana, conversely, is faking dimness to get where he needs to be. Both thugs, but the former seemingly unaware of the possible repercussions of his actions, when the latter very much conscious of them, even though utterly indifferent. Camonte could have seen his friend cut into pieces right in front of him without even flinching; Montana finds it hard to watch, for he fully understands what it is that he is seeing. Camonte is not human – there are no vital organs within that body, nor a functioning brain. He lacks emotional intelligence, which means he is stripped of fear. Montana is fearless also, but not out of stupidity; more out of anger, callousness and a working class complex that ultimately defines him.
Paul Muni is sly and deranged, when Al Pacino is the hot stuff of his village. Muni is a quiet, dark force, and Pacino is the petty criminal who got big ideas. Pacino has balls, Muni doesn’t really need them. Pacino’s suit is too big for him, instead Muni’s fits just right. Pacino can and will please Elvira in bed, whereas Muni will never get that far with Poppy. No viewer could ever picture him in bed, whereas most viewers do little but fantasize about Pacino and Pfeiffer getting it on.
And so Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson, Ben Hecht, Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone read Armitage Trail’s character each in their very own, distinct way. Hawks sees him in Mafioso suits, when De Palma will drape him in palm-tree-oversized shirts. Hawks and Rosson see him as a smooth criminal, when De Palma and Stone will have him splashing in blood for most of his on-screen life. The 1930s will need him discreet but ruthless, when the 1980s will want him loud and sexed-up. The noir Hawks Scarface will be cool, calm and collected, mysterious and chilling, while the De Palma Scarface will resemble a rockstar, an action hero or a video game. But it has to be this way, for when Camonte is only just discovering the automatic weapon, Montana has a whole collection of rifles just sitting in his office.
Besides, Camonte is given the words, Montana the images. Camonte displays as much wit as he can summon and as Ben Hecht will grant him, and relies on his plastic, two-dimensional disposition and admitted lack of soul in order to do the job. Montana, on the other hand, bathes in summer colours and money, exotic flowers and bullets. But Camonte is camp, when Montana is definitely not. They are both insecure as well as narcissistic and their context helps them showcase it in very different, but just as effective ways – Camonte is camp in a macho environment, when Montana is macho in a camp environment. In the end, they stand out equally, as they are both too crazy for their already mad worlds.
Now, as a woman, I find absolutely no room for negotiation in Camonte, whereas there is some compromise potential and I’d even go as far as to say, principle, in Montana. He won’t kill a woman and will take his own mother offending him without ever talking back. He will lie on top of his dead sister and will even apologize to Elvira after he’s offended her. “Did Elvie call?”, he keeps asking; Camonte would just not care. But if a male viewer was to decide the crazier villain of the two, I think Montana would indeed win. For when a fellow male is hanging from a helicopter, he looks up as though to check which way the wind blows. When his closest friend touches his sister, he’s dead meat. And when Montana is on his way to Miami, there is no male human life that is worth not crossing that sea.
Watch here a trailer for Scarface (1983):
Paul Muni: Tony Camonte at IMDb
Al Pacino: Tony Montana at IMDb
Scarface (1932), Scarface (1983) at IMDb
Scarface (1932), Scarface (1983) at Wikipedia
Scarface (1983) (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb