To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Park Circus is pleased to bring Universal Pictures’ Scarface back to the big screen in 4K on its original 1 December release date. To mark the re-release, we asked BBC Radio film critic and Al Pacino expert Mark Searby to explore the myth of Monata, and how his legend was defined over decades...
“Say hello to my little friend!”
The American Film Institute suggests that line of dialogue is one of the top 100 greatest movie quotes of all time, ranking at number 61. It has been quoted endlessly in movies and TV shows. It has been sampled in music by Eminem, Cypress Hill, and even Michael Bolton. It has been adopted by sports commentators the world over. It is constantly used in nearly every form of entertainment. Inviting someone to say hello to your little friend is known throughout most of the world these days.
But that wasn’t always the case. When Scarface received its glitzy premiere in New York on 1 December 1983, there were walkouts after thirty minutes. Actress Tippi Hedren, who was at the Los Angeles premiere, said: “It’s too brutal.” This was a sign of immediate things to come for the film. It was savaged by most critics and by the end of its run in North American cinemas, it had pulled in a middling $45 million. It wasn’t a flop, but it also wasn’t the blockbuster that Al Pacino, Brian De Palma, and the film’s producers were hoping for. By the end of 1984, many filmgoers and industry people had forgotten Scarface existed.
Then, a decade later, the Scarface renaissance began – a one-two punch that saw Tony Montana live again.
Firstly, sports commentators in the US began to use the phrase when a home run was hit in baseball or scored a touchdown in football. Scarface co-star Steven Bauer remembers watching ESPN in the ‘90s and hearing legendary sportscaster Chris Berman continuously use “Say hello to my little friend!”. Bauer was flabbergasted that not only had the sportscaster seen this long-forgotten film, but had then started to quote it in nearly every live event or highlights programme Berman was commentating on. Bauer recalls: “I was sitting at home thinking: Holy shit! This guy saw Scarface. I can’t believe he quoted Tony Montana.”
Secondly, many in the Black music community started to take the film – and its central character – to heart. Brad Terrence Jordan, a rapper and DJ from Houston, Texas, was one of the first musicians to become enamoured with Tony Montana, so much so that Jordan changed his stage name to Scarface in honour of the character. His second album, released in 1993, was called The World Is Yours, a callback to the wording that appears on the gold statue in Montana’s mansion. Scarface, the rapper, was ahead of the curve when it came to loving Scarface, the movie.
However, other rap and hip-hop stars were catching up. By the mid ‘90s – when rap was exploding worldwide – MTV produced Cribs, a TV series that took viewers into the homes of millionaire rappers and other celebrities. It was a peek into their lives away from the music. As the show became more and more popular, Scarface memorabilia was appearing with increasing regularity in homes that featured in the series. These Scarface items – mainly posters and home video editions of the film – were taking pride of place in multi-million-dollar homes. It wasn’t about the bling, but rather about worshipping at the altar of Tony Montana.
Rappers who had become obsessed with Scarface would be seen waving their copies of the film around while proclaiming it the greatest gangster film of all time, and Tony Montana the original gangster - the OG. When Trick Daddy appeared on Cribs, he proudly showed off his room dedicated entirely to De Palma’s masterpiece: Scarface posters, Scarface mouse mat, Scarface window blinds. He called his Scarface room “classy.” So popular was Scarface iconography on Cribs that MTV aired a special short episode entirely dedicated to a digital recreation of Tony Montana’s mansion – hosted by an animated Montana himself, voiced by actor André Sogliuzzo – to tie-in with the release of the Scarface: The World Is Yours video game. Years later, Jonah Hill commented: “If you watched MTV Cribs around that time and they go to any rapper’s house they’re either watching – or have a framed poster of – Scarface.”
Rapper and producer DJ Quik told Vanity Fair that Scarface is “the greatest love story” and that it “romanticises the decadence and excess that is hip hop.” Hip hop legend Big Daddy Kane loves the film for a different reason – he sees it as a tale of loyalty, how Tony Montana climbed out of poverty and became a kingpin all because of the knowledge he gained from the streets. Kane believes it is about linking the streets to the culture, and no culture bigger than rap and hip hop has embraced street knowledge and loyalty so thoroughly.
Over the intervening years since Scarface was released, it has been reborn through reissues, and on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray. It is now cited by rappers and sports stars as one of the greatest movies ever made. On the surface, it could be that these heroes and idols to millions the world over hold the loud mouthed, gold chained, sickeningly wealthy Montana up as an idol – or, perhaps, they see their own early life struggles reflected in the young Tony, fresh off the boat. He is an underdog determined to make something of his life, while all the time being told “no”.
Montana’s neon sign bearing the legend “The World Is Yours” has undoubtedly resonated with generations of viewers in the decades since Scarface was released, flashing a different dream at everyone who takes time to reflect on it.
Mark Searby is a film critic for BBC Radio. He is the author of Al Pacino: The Movies Behind The Man, a 624-page book looking at the career of the iconic actor. He is also the presenter of All About Al: The Pacino podcast. His favourite actor is Al Pacino. Find him on X @Mark_Searby.