Rotten Sadistic Little Cowards

A pure, unrestrained piece of ‘50s tough guy hokum, Scarface Mob has few moments of truth over an entertaining 90-minutes. Eliot Ness, as played by Robert Stack, smacks and punches mobsters as if never leaving a violent interrogation room. If Al Capone became an American anti-hero in his defiance of prohibition, Scarface Mob turns Ness into an aggressive angel, one that could only exist on the movie screen.

… or TV screen. Scarface Mob was originally designed as a pilot for The Untouchables, but unlike many of these small-screen-to-big-screen translations, this doesn’t look meant for television. There’s definite, unmistakable cinematic style atypical of weekly shows from the era. It’s a glossy, gorgeously dark noir-like vibe that elevates this period piece.

Scarface Mob turns Capone into a caricature

The dramatic score and embellished law-abiding carries the aura of the late 1920s, the film’s setting as Ness tracks Capone’s businesses throughout Chicago. There’s limited honesty, but some acknowledgment of prohibition’s faults. A brewer arrested by Ness and company pleads for leniency, stating this was the only thing he ever knew how to do, and their laws cost him everything. One of Ness’ men themselves even winks at a friend when offered a bottle of red wine. Even the men fighting the speakeasies, deep down, knew this was absurd.

Moving at an entertaining, engaging clip, Scarface Mob turns Capone into a caricature, not helped by Neville Brand’s awkward performance that accentuates rather than accents words. Still, Brand’s work shows some of what made Capone a public celebrity, with a bright personality hiding his utter lack of empathy.

Stack is fine too as an unbreakable lawman, who, along with his trustworthy team, smash endless barrels of booze with their custom-made plow truck. It leads to a fantastic finish, a shoot-out inside a brewery, with bodies strewn amid draining alcohol, an incredible image that sells the job’s purpose as much as prohibition’s needless cost, and less ridiculous than the slow motion filling Brian de Palma’s adaptation decades later.

Video

An unusually messy transfer from Arrow, the source material takes some of that bite. It’s a messy print, dirty and scratchy. The era’s fade outs create rather ugly scenes, but that’s unavoidable. These shots look filtered and sloppy. Thankfully, the majority does not, even with a sense of imprecise edginess abound and mild low-pass filtering.

When peaked, grain fluctuates but always under control. Detail can flourish, including crisp, defined facial definition. The sets representing Chicago feature sharply defined brickwork and wet streets that look spectacular on this disc.

Gray scale varies, a touch of dimness in places aside. A scene in a diner around 14-minutes drains the brightness. Generally, there’s variance and depth, including deep (if not pure black) shadows.

Audio

Adequate PCM reveals its age through the strained dialog and flat score. Scarface Mob sounds great for its period though, doubly so for what was originally intended as a TV production. No popping or static is apparent; it’s clean.

Around 30-minutes in, there’s a visible change in visual quality and the audio goes with it. It’s brief, but notable.

Extras

Two video essays come from critic David Cairns (who focuses on director Phil Karlson) and critic Philip Kemp (detailing Elliot Ness’ career). A poster/lobby card gallery follows.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Scarface Mob
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Movie

An exaggerated but enjoyable take on Chicago’s prohibition era, Scarface Mob is lifted by Robert Stack’s performance.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 32 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:


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