Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Perfect Henchman

That's how I'd define George Raft's character of Guino Rinaldo (what a great name!) in Scarface (1932). At least he's everything I'd want in my right-hand man were I a gangster. Unflappable, fearless, loyal, follows orders without question, will happily do the dirty work or guard the door while you do the dirty work, it's all the same to him. And most importantly - he's not ambitious. That sort of goes with the loyalty part, but it's important. You don't want your henchman getting ideas and bumping you off to take over, (like you're doing to your own bosses), and that's just never going to happen with Rinaldo. He has his place and he likes it. Also, he doesn't talk much, which I like in a henchman, though that ends up being his personal downfall. (There are just some occasions where standing there looking smug and flipping your gold coin is NOT a good idea. Speak up fast, you damned fool!) I'd also add good-looking as a quality, though I don't necessarily need that in a henchman, I just appreciate it from the comfort of my couch. (Why, is it spring? It must be! I'm definitely having a bit of a fling! :-D)

Alas, this movie isn't about Rinaldo, it's about Paul Muni's character, Tony Camonte, a colorful, ambitious lug whose rise up the gangster chain is as much a result of his own violent stupidity (ie: he's too dumb to realize what he's up against, therefore he doesn't fear it, therefore he actually succeeds where a smarter man might not) as his willingness to break all rules to get there. He's quite the amoral despicable character, and yet, Paul Muni plays the ugly mug with just enough naïveté and boyish enthusiasm that I actually grew to like him a bit. Not enough to want him to succeed or live (particularly after #*$(#*%# spoiler, grrrrrr), but enough to keep my interest when Rinaldo wasn't around.

This movie is chock full of colorful characters, and all of them leave a memorable impression. From Osgood Perkins (Anthony Perkins' father!) as Tony's not-ambitious-enough boss (all too briefly), to Vince Barnett as Angelo, the other faithful henchman who has some hilarious scenes when he attempts to function as Tony's secretary, to Boris Karloff as a rather refined (though bloodthirsty) Irish gangster, to beautiful Ann Dvorak playing Tony's free-spirited (understatement) sister. Her sexy dance (in public, no less) as she tries to get Rinaldo's attention -- Ay caramba! (The fact that she's unsuccessful just shows once again why Rinaldo is the absolute perfect henchman: the boss's sister is off-limits, and that's all there is to that.) One of my favorite screenwriters, the brilliant Ben Hecht, wrote the script, and Howard Hawks directs. It's a great combo all around and there's so many interesting things going on in this film, when I went back to watch just a few parts, it was difficult not to get sucked back into the movie and keep watching all of it. It's very well done.

Coolest shot: the tommy gun blowing away the calendar pages.

I intended to start a database at some point of opera used in movies, so I might as well start here... Tony likes to whistle the sextet from Lucia di Lamermoor before he's about to murder someone.


  1. Wow, I never realized that was Anthony Perkins father in the film!

  2. Yeah, if I hadn't read it on the Netflix site, I would not have guessed he was his father despite the Perkins last name. He looks just like a smaller, shiftier version of David Strathairn's LA Confidential character to me.