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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Scarface Mob Blu-ray Review

Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: April 23, 2024

Video: 1.33:1/1080p/Black & White

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 98:35

Director: Phil Karlson

Chicago, 1929. Al Capone's (Neville Brand) ruthless gang of thugs are dealing in bootleg booze in blatant defiance of Prohibition laws, and paying off corrupt cops and crooked politicians to stay out of their way. That is, until Federal Investigator Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) is tasked with bringing down Capone's criminal empire. To aid him in this task, he assembles a crack team of men he is sure will be incorruptible to identify and sabotage the Capone gang's distilleries. But when Capone, Scarface himself, gets wind that his operation is under threat, he decides to take matters into his own hands. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Before Brian De Palma and David Mamet collaborated to win Sean Connery his one and only Oscar, Eliot Ness’ autobiographical memoir, co-written with Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables, was the subject of an enormously popular television series. Ness’ book had just been published in 1957 when Desilu Productions put together a two-part pilot episode for a series based on his (mostly true) adventures in Prohibition era gangbusting. The pilot, later cut into a movie and retitled The Scarface Mob (1959), depicted Ness and his team’s takedown of Al Capone at the height of the Chicago Outfit’s influence. The remainder of the series, which ran for 118 additional episodes and was rebooted in 1993, took place after Capone was imprisoned and was largely fictional. The Scarface Mob itself, on the other hand, covers the bulk of the book and was essentially remade by De Palma in 1987.

Putting its legacy aside, does Scarface Mob work as a standalone movie? For the most part, yes, surprisingly well. What makes Scarface Mob and, in turn, much of the original Untouchables series stand out is how cinematic it is. It doesn’t feel like a made-for-TV movie from 1959 (it apparently didn’t premiere in the US until 1962), but a theatrical release from perhaps ten years prior. Only real-world broadcaster Walter Winchell’s constant narration, the speed at which the story is told, and the slight stiffness of a few scenes give away its television origin, while the production design, photography, and performances – especially Keenan Wynn and Robert Stack – are all up to studio theatrical release standards. A lot of this is probably due to the fact that Desilu hired Phil Karlson to direct the pilot. Karlson was a veteran filmmaker and Chicago native with a respectful film noir pedigree that included Scandal Sheet (1952), 99 River Street (1953), and the absolutely fantastic Kansas City Confidential (1952).

Ultimately, Scarface Mob isn’t on the same tier with something like Kansas City Confidential, but it’s a good enough facsimile, well above average, and not too limited by its made-for-TV origins. It’s also a fun companion piece to the De Palma film and every bit as compelling as a comparison between Howard Hawks’ original 1932 Scarface to De Palma’s own 1983 reimagining. Neither version of the story is 100% historically accurate, but each takes a completely different stylistic approach to the fiction (curiously, despite the historical basis, very few of the characters share names between the films). Scarface Mob harkens back to the previous decade of dark crime drama, while The Untouchables ‘87 enjoys the ironies of applying the pulp crime methodology of the ‘30s to the borderline cartoonish action heroism of the ‘80s. Not to mention the almost shocking superiority of Stack’s Ness, his signature role, over Kevin Costner’s limp portrayal.


Scarface Mob was released as a standalone VHS tape in the US and later as part of the first volume of Untouchables episodes on DVD from Paramount, though I’m not sure if the TV and movie edits were different. This is the pilot/film’s Blu-ray debut and it might be its HD debut as well. The 1.33:1, 1080p black & white transfer was supplied directly by Paramount, so they had it on hand and it might have been on an HD streaming service at some point, even if it and the show are currently unavailable. The image is nice and clean without obvious noise reduction or oversharpening issues. Grain appears pretty accurate for a 35mm television production, though the grittiness and dynamic range is often in flux, depending on lighting schemes and the fact that actress Barbara Nichols is always shot in soft focus. Cinematographer Charles Straumer’s rich shadows are deep and highlights glimmer, but don’t crush or blast out the more delicate gradients. Print damage is minimal, typically light scratches and white dots, though there’s also a small pulsing issue on occasion.


Scarface Mob is present in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio and its original mono. There are natural limitations, given the one-channel treatment and age of the production, but I didn’t notice any problems with buzz, crackle, or muffling of dialogue, aside from one very obvious dip in the middle of the film, when Ness is proposing to Betty Anderson. The score is provided by Desilu regular composer Wilbur Hatch, who was responsible for various Untouchable series music, as well as I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone (though he didn’t compose the main themes). The horn-driven music blares quite loudly over some scenes and can become a little grating in its ‘Mickey Mousing’ of every on-screen action, but the audio quality is consistent.


  • Gang Busters (23:10, HD) – The critic, screenwriter, and teacher at the University of Edinburgh David Cairns discusses the Ness and Oscar Fraley book (Ness reportedly died in Fraley’s kitchen after reading the manuscript), Karlson’s directing career and childhood in Chicago, Desi Arnez seeking Karlson out and promising him that he wouldn’t have to censor himself, casting, the complex politics of Karlson’s films, the film’s mix of fact and fiction, and television censorship. It includes footage from pertinent Karlson and Stack trailers (among others) and an Untouchables promo hosted by Arnez.

  • Philip Kemp on The Scarface Mob (19:05, HD) – Critic and Cinema: The Whole Story (Thames Hudson, 2019) editor Philip Kemp closes the featurettes out with an additional look at the larger history behind Prohibition, the rise of organized crime, Chicago gang warfare, Ness’ career, his team of Untouchables, and disappointing post-Capone life, the wild popularity of the Untouchables book, the making of The Scarface Mob, controversy surrounding the television series, and the De Palma movie.

  • Theatrical trailer 

  • Image gallery

The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.



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