The True Story Of Scarface

The 1983 film Scarface was loosely based on and inspired by the real-life gangster Al Capone. Both the film’s protagonist Tony Montana and the iconic mobster have a lot in common. They both lived fast and hard, and although Capone didn’t quite go out in a blaze of glory like his big-screen counterpart, he experienced a lot of pain and suffering during the final years of his life. Let’s see how the two compare…

The Film Is Now A Classic

The Film Is Now A Classic

The 1983 film Scarface was written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma. The movie centers on Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee who moves to Miami, Fla., in the 1980s and becomes a powerful drug lord. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Steven Bauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer also starred in the film, which made $44 million at the box office. The film, which received mixed reviews upon release, was a remake of a 1932 movie with the same name and similar premise. Today, Scarface is one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, just as Al Capone is one of history’s most iconic gangsters.

How The Real Scarface Got His Nickname

How The Real Scarface Got His Nickname

Al Capone received his famous nickname after getting into a fight in 1917. Capone insulted a woman at the Harvard Inn in Brooklyn, NY, and her brother slashed Capone’s face as retribution, giving him several scars. Capone was embarrassed by the deformity and often tried to hide the scars when he was being photographed. He also claimed he received them during the war even though he never served in the military. When Capone became a famous mobster, the press started calling him Scarface, which he hated. His criminal colleagues called him “Big Fellow,” while friends called him “Snorky,” another word for “spiffy.”

How Tony Montana Got His Name

How Tony Montana Got His Name

Tony Montana’s name came from the screenwriter’s love of professional sports. Oliver Stone was a huge San Francisco 49ers fan, so he decided to name the titular character in his movie after his favorite football star, Joe Montana. Joe Montana won four Super Bowls and was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player three times (the first one to ever do so). In the film, Tony is called “Scarface” only one time — and not in English. When Tony is threatened with a chainsaw by Colombian gangster Hector, the rival calls him “cara cicatriz” in Spanish, which means Scarface.

Big-Screen Deaths Vs. Capone’s Death

Big-Screen Deaths Vs. Capone’s Death

In both Scarface films, the main character was based on Al Capone — one of history’s most notorious mobsters. Both Tony Camonte (from the 1932 film) and Tony Montana (from the 1983 film) were depicted as big-time mafia bosses. Each had hits put out on them, and both had giant scars on their faces, thus earning them the nickname “Scarface.” Montana was killed in dramatic fashion — he was gunned down by a sea of bullets. Capone died much more quietly. He spent the last few years of his life living at a mansion in Florida before he died of a heart attack.

Both Capone & Montana Provided Goods That People Wanted

Both Capone & Montana Provided Goods That People Wanted

When the government cracks down on an illegal substance, certain segments of the population will do anything to get it, regardless of whether it’s legal or not. Both Al Capone and Tony Montana took advantage of federal laws that banned certain substances from the general public. For Tony Montana, the war on drugs and crackdown on cocaine helped him rise to power. For Capone, Prohibition helped him create a black market for alcohol, prostitution, and drugs. Both mobsters provided people with what they wanted even though their actions were illegal. Users and addicts will do whatever they must to get a fix.

The Chainsaw Scene Was Based On A Real-Life Event

The Chainsaw Scene Was Based On A Real-Life Event

One of the most memorable scenes in the 1983 film is when a Colombian gangster named Hector the Toad threatens Tony Montana with a chainsaw and dismembers his associate, Angel, in a gruesome manner. The scene is actually based on something that occurred in real life. Screenwriter Oliver Stone came across a similar incident while doing research for the film. He uncovered some FBI and DEA files and discovered that a chainsaw incident happened during the war on drugs. Even though the chainsaw was invented in 1830, Al Capone was never credited with using the device to intimidate his rivals.

Capone & His Gang Were Filthy Rich

Capone & His Gang Were Filthy Rich

Capone became head of what he dubbed “the outfit” in 1925, taking over for Johnny Torrio, a former Brooklyn mobster. He was just 26 years old. Capone’s crime syndicate earned an estimated $100 million a year. The majority of his money came from bootlegging. He also cashed in through gambling, prostitution, racketeering and other illegal activities. Capone enjoyed wearing fancy clothes and schmoozing with the media. He never made excuses for what he did to earn money. He once stated: “Ninety percent of the people of Cook County (Chicago) drink and gamble and my offense has been to furnish them with those amusements.”

Capone Was Italian, Montana Was Cuban

Capone Was Italian, Montana Was Cuban

While the film was set in Miami, Florida, most of it was filmed in Los Angeles, California. The Miami tourist board feared the movie would make the city appear as if it was a magnet for drugs and gangs. The mansion where Tony lived was based in Santa Barbara, California. Cuban-Americans didn’t like that many of the characters in the film were portrayed by non-Cuban-American stars. Al Pacino, for example, is the child of Sicilian-American parents (he is Italian, just like Capone!) During the film’s credits, the producers added a disclaimer stating that the characters did not represent the Cuban-American community.

Both Montana & Capone Were Ruthless Killers

Both Montana & Capone Were Ruthless Killers

In order to accurately portray a Cuban-American, Al Pacino had to convince audiences that Tony Montana’s first language was Spanish. Montana only spoke one line of Spanish in the film; however, Pacino worked with a dialect coach to make his accent more convincing. He also trained for the film by learning how to box and how to use knives in combat. Pacino modeled his body and character after boxer Roberto Duran. Capone killed numerous adversaries over the years, and he would often blow up establishments in the 1920s that refused to buy liquor from him. Some of these places had as many as 100 people in them.

Both Capone & Montana Drove Cadillacs

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Al Capone’s number-one car was a 1928 Cadillac V-8 Town Sedan. He customized the vehicle with the help of his auto dealer Joe Bergl. The Cadillac had bulletproof windows and was covered in 3,000 lbs. of steel armor to make it strong against a possible attack. Tony Montana and his buddy Manolo also drove around in a Cadillac, only it was a yellow 1963 series 62 convertible. Montana also owned a Porsche 928. In the film, he visits Lopez Motors, buys it, and is spotted leaving the Babylon Club in the car. The sports car had pop-up headlights and was silver.

They Both Lived In Mansions

They Both Lived In Mansions

Capone bought his mansion in Palm Springs, Florida, in 1928 for $40,000. It was designed in the Art Deco style and was located 1,300 miles from his business hub in Chicago. In 2015, the California estate where scenes from Scarface were filmed, sold for $12.26 million. The 10,000-square-foot home has four bedrooms. Architect Bertram Goodhue designed it in the early 1900s. It was inspired by Italy and the Middle East. The dining room has a domed ceiling covered in 24-karat gold leaf. The property is covered in gardens and fountains, and the backyard (where the wedding scene took place), has several patios and reflecting pools.

Capone, Montana & Their Connection To Cocaine

Capone, Montana & Their Connection To Cocaine

By the time Capone was transferred to Alcatraz to serve the final years of his prison sentence, he had been abusing cocaine for so long it had damaged his nose. The narcotic hurt his sinuses so badly that it perforated his nasal septum. In the 1983 film, Pacino is depicted snorting cocaine. Although some say the actual drug was used on set, most agree the substance was in fact powdered milk. Meanwhile, screenwriter Oliver Stone was addicted to cocaine while writing the script. He moved to Paris as a way to get sober so he could finish the script.

Capone Dropped Out Of Elementary School & Joined A Gang

Capone Dropped Out Of Elementary School & Joined A Gang

Capone was born in Brooklyn, NY, on Jan. 17, 1899. He had eight siblings, and his parents were Italian immigrants. Capone dropped out of school before completing sixth grade and later joined the Five Points Gang in Manhattan. He worked as a bouncer at a bar in Coney Island called the Harvard Inn, which was owned by mobster Frankie Yale. Capone married Mae Coughlin in 1918, and they remained together until his death. They had one son, Sonny. Capone moved to Chicago in 1920, but historians aren’t sure whether he did so because he was invited by crime boss Johnny Torrio or because he injured a rival gangster.

Capone Had Bodyguards & Traveled Mostly At Night

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After Capone moved to Chicago to work under gangster Johnny Torrio, he started earning a reputation in the criminal underworld. He refused to carry any weapons because he wanted everyone to know his status as a man in charge. Instead, he made sure he was accompanied by two bodyguards everywhere he went. These men also sat on either side of Capone when he traveled by car. Capone preferred to travel at night and only went out during the day when it was necessary. Before long, he became the manager of Torrio’s headquarters, the Four Deuces, a speakeasy, whorehouse and gambling establishment.

Capone Was Never Charged With The St. Valentine’s Day Massacres

Capone Was Never Charged With The St. Valentine’s Day Massacres

Seven men affiliated with the George “Bugs” Moran gang were shot to death in a garage in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago on Feb. 14, 1929, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Five of the dead men worked for Moran, while the other two were an optometrist and a mechanic. The men were attacked by at least four men, two of whom were dressed as police officers. Capone was one of Moran’s rivals, and even though he was in Florida when the murders took place, there was much speculation that he was responsible for the hits, but he was never charged.

Capone Avoided Jail Time Through Bribes & Threats

Capone Avoided Jail Time Through Bribes & Threats

Capone committed numerous crimes and was responsible for the deaths of multiple people; however, authorities had a difficult time prosecuting him. Capone avoided jail because he bribed public officials, paid off police, and threatened those who were witnesses against him. He was convicted of a crime for the first time in 1929 after police found him carrying a concealed firearm in Philadelphia. Capone was traveling to Chicago after meeting with fellow crime lords in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He served less than one year in jail. One month later the Chicago Crime Commission named him Public Enemy No. 1.

Capone’s Downfall

Capone’s Downfall

Eliot Ness has widely been credited with taking down Capone, but the truth is slightly less interesting. Ness was a Prohibition agent who raided establishments that were connected to the mobster’s bootlegging business in Chicago. The press called Ness and his fellow agents the “Untouchables” because they refused to take bribes from those involved in the underworld. Ness was partially responsible for helping to indict Capone for violating Prohibition, however, the government decided to prosecute the gangster on tax evasion. Capone was convicted in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He was fined $50,000 and held liable for $215,000 plus interest on back taxes.

Capone Was One Of Alcatraz’s Notorious Prisoners

Capone Was One Of Alcatraz’s Notorious Prisoners

Capone started his 11-year sentence for tax invasion in May 1932 at a penitentiary in Atlanta, Ga. Two years later, he and a few other inmates were put on a train and escorted to California where they became one of the first few prisoners at a new prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The prison was maximum security and built for violent inmates and those who had behavioral problems. Capone was neither violent nor troublesome while stationed in Atlanta, so the government likely chose to send him to Alcatraz as a publicity stunt for its brand new prison.

Capone’s Physical & Mental Health Deteriorated Rapidly In Prison

Capone’s Physical & Mental Health Deteriorated Rapidly In Prison

When Capone was sentenced to prison in 1932, he was 33 years old and 250 pounds. He was also diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea. Additionally, Capone was indicted while addicted to cocaine, so he had serious withdrawal symptoms once he started serving time. He also developed dementia as a side effect to syphilis. This became a problem for Capone, and doctors gave him malaria injections, hoping fevers from the disease would aid in curing syphilis. Instead, the treatment nearly killed him. He spent his final year at Alcatraz in the hospital. He was often disoriented and confused.

Capone Disappeared From Public Life

Capone Disappeared From Public Life

After Capone was released from prison in 1939, he was transported to a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to be treated for syphilis. He spent several months there in recovery. From that point on, Capone avoided the spotlight. He spent the majority of time at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, where he played cards and went fishing. Penicillin became available for syphilis in the 1940s, but by that time the disease had progressed too far and it didn’t help Capone. He suffered numerous health problems before dying. He had a stroke at the age of 48 and contracted pneumonia before dying in 1947 from a heart attack.