Loosely based on Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel of the same name, Scarface centers on Tony Camonte (Paul Muni), a key lieutenant of South Side Chicago crime boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins). Being the ambitious and reckless gangster that he is, Tony ignores warnings not to mess with Irish gangs on the North Side and ends up massacring them all. Worried about Tony’s overconfidence, Johnny orders him killed, but this also backfires, leaving Tony even closer to becoming king of the city.
Scarface became a hot topic in Hollywood after censors believed that it’s glorifying violence, crime, and intimations of incest. Censors called for adding a prologue condemning gangsters, changing the ending to more clearly reprehend Camonte, and replacing the title with The Shame of a Nation.
Though audience reception was positive, censors ultimately banned the film in several cities and states, forcing Hughes to remove it from circulation. The rights to the movie were only recovered after Hughes’s death in the 1970s.