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    Scarface (United Artists, 1932). One Sheet (27" X 41"). Legendary Producer Irving Thalberg called it, "one of the strongest pictures" he had ever seen. Producer Howard Hughes united with director Howard Hawks to create one of the most bullet-riddled, violent and impressive gangster films ever made. The genre had been around since the early days of the cinema; with Josef von Sternberg's "Underworld" in 1927 and Warner Brothers' sensational entries "Little Caesar" and "The Public Enemy." In June 1931, Hughes went into production on his pseudo-biopic of Chicago gangster Al Capone, under the working title "Scarface," a nickname that was associated with Capone. Both the director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht would use real-life events in the shaping of the film's script and spend hours interviewing actual gangsters for accuracy. The scene where Paul Muni as Tony Camonte guns down his boss, "Big Louie" Costillo, was based on the actual event where Al Capone gunned down his own boss, "Big Jim" Colosimo. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was depicted in the film, as were assassination attempts on Camonte, that mirrored real attempts on Al Capone's life. And in a scene where real life mirrored the cinema, Boris Karloff is gunned down in a bowling alley and would become a reality four years later with the murder of "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn on the anniversary of his orchestrating the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The title "Scarface" caused an immediate sensation and got the attention of Will Hays, the president of the MPPDA, the cinema's self-censorship bureau. Hays wanted the film's title changed and recommended "The Shame of the Nation." United Artists, the film's distributor, didn't want any problems getting the film released and registered this title on December 4, 1931. The film was completed in October 1931, but due to its strong images of violence, sexual innuendo and semi-glorification of gangsters, it had trouble passing the various censors and getting an official release. The film met with strong objection and went through three official versions. Hughes, who had given in to many of the suggested changes, drew the line on the title change. After forcing the issue, by Howard Hughes threatening a lawsuit, a compromise was made and the film was finally and officially released with the title, "Scarface, the Shame of a Nation."
    There are two versions of the title appearing on surviving posters and lobby cards. One shows just the title "Scarface" while other examples show the title "Scarface" with "The Shame of a Nation" overprinted on existing paper. Since both versions of the title were used, it is logical to assume that the same was done to the one sheets. Since no other copies of the one sheet from the film's original release are known to exist, it's entirely possible that this copy simply escaped the overprint "The Shame of a Nation" that was done to other posters. Most of the real trouble in getting the film released came from the state of New York. Hughes premiered the film in New Orleans in March 1932, but didn't release the film in New York until June. In between those dates, Hughes showed the film in various places around the country trying to influence critics to hop aboard his bandwagon and get the film released in its original form and not the heavily edited version preferred by the various censors. Since the film was not officially being released by United Artists during those engagements, would the posters being used at the venues state United Artists as the film's distributor? It's an interesting question as this one sheet does not list a distributor. Also, during this time, UA had a deal with the H.C. Miner Litho company to print all of their posters. This poster was printed by the M.R. Litho company of New York. There are also examples of the "Scarface" three sheet (without the subtitle "The Shame of a Nation") and the one and three sheet for "Hell's Angels" printed by the same lithographer, M.R.Litho (Pg. 46, "Film Posters of the 1930s," Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh, Aurum Press, 2003 and Pgs. 52 and 53, "The Movie Poster Book," Steve Shapiro and David Chierichetti, E.P. Dutton, 1979). Both of these Howard Hughes pictures were released by United Artists with posters printed by H.C. Miner Litho, yet here are examples without a listed distributor and printed by another company, M.R. Litho. They are clearly off of the original plates used on the original UA posters as well. There has been some speculation that these non-United Artists posters date from a later 1930s reissue of the film, as "Scarface" was reissued in 1935, 1937, 1940 and 1947, however, all examples of posters from these re-issues state the distributor as either UA or Astor Pictures. Knowing Howard Hughes' propensity for self-distribution, it is entirely likely that this only known example of a one sheet is from one of Hughes' personal distributions of the film while he was trying to get the film passed by the various censors. Also, as a final note on an attempt to date this particular poster, by 1934 Boris Karloff was being billed on posters as simply "Karloff" and there wouldn't have been any need to bill him as Boris "Frankenstein" Karloff. In 1932, Karloff was still relatively unknown and it would have been logical for Hughes to draw extra publicity to his picture by reminding audiences that it was Boris Karloff who had portrayed Frankenstein's monster. This one sheet has had the borders airbrushed and some minor color touch to the fold lines where there were some small chips and crossfold tears. The yellow background toward the lower portion of the poster and some of the image has had some airbrushing and the poster was professionally cleaned to brighten the image. All in all, this is an amazing example of, what we feel is assuredly, the original poster for one of the greatest gangster films ever made. Fine+ on Linen.

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2007
    13th-14th Tuesday-Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
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