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There are very few men who have been able to simultaneously live in public and successfully break the law, all while consistently getting away with it. One of the most notorious people to have done this was the late mob boss Al Capone. Al Capone ran an illegal operation which, adjusted for inflation, would have been worth over a billion dollars today. Apart from being very respected and feared by his rival gang members, everyday people often gave him credit for being successful against the tremendous odds he was facing, even if they didn’t always agree with his goals.1 One of these people was the director of Scarface, Brian De Palma.

Rod Steiger in Al Capone | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

In the first opening scene of Scarface, the camera settles on a man named Tony Montana, who is undergoing questioning by Border Patrol after having just migrated from Cuba. Originally, nothing about him really made him stand out from the other Cubans save a huge scar on the left side of his face. Throughout the course of the film, that very same un-extraordinary Cuban goes from working in a soup truck and preforming low level drug deals to ruling over his city as a Kingpin and controlling all of the drug trade within the district. Likewise, Al Capone was a famous mobster, also nicknamed Scarface, who ran an illegal mob that committed crimes consisting of gambling, providing alcohol during prohibition, and selling drugs, just to name a few.2

Capone was known for his life of crime, and although the government usually kept a keen eye on him, they never managed to officially catch him in an illegal act, so he always got away scot-free. What set Capone apart from other mobsters at the time was his unusual love for the limelight. Throughout Scarface, the audience is surprised as they observe one of the most wanted men in the nation throwing the classicmillionaire mansion party,” or taking a trip to the most luxurious club in the city to party like there weren’t people doing all they could to capture him. Just like Scarface, Capone never had any fear of being spotted and actually made himself quite noticeable whenever he would go out in public. Capone would often flaunt his wealth by taking strolls through Chicago, which was struggling through the great depression, wearing dazzling and expensive suits with his signature fedora.3 

It is no mere coincidence that the main character of Scarface, Tony Montana, is seen wearing similar outfits throughout the film. Capone was also never known to be alone and had security with him at all times when he took trips through the city, which is another fact reflected in the film by the use of a secondary character: a best friend/body guard that seems to be there for Tony whenever he finds himself in a predicament that’s too much for him to handle. Capone never saw himself as a criminal, but as a business man and entrepreneur because of his success during theroaring twenties.He enjoyed the idea of people knowing that he had money, but he was also generous with it. He helped out people who were struggling during the tough economic times whenever the opportunity was presented, and this popular generosity resulted in crowds of people flocking to him for help even if they had never previously met.4

Al Pacino in Scarface | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Another signature trait of Capone that made him very different from the average mobster was his personality, and the film captured it perfectly. Capone wasn’t the typical dubious and suspicious crime boss, but rather, was seen as a friendly man with an extroverted personality and a kind smile. In ScarfaceTony Montana was a very likable person and people wanted to work with him because of that. He would also crack jokes at tense times, and knew how to have fun with any predicament he was in. In real life, Capone enjoyed being seen in a positive way by the public eye and would often speak with the press to ensure that stories and articles written about him were not doing anything but making him look good. His amiable nature was reflected within the mob community, too, and when Chicago began to show signs of chaos, he took matters into his own hands and called for aPeace Conferenceto help control the out-of-hand criminal activities that were sprouting up.5

Of course, Capone knew that his smile would only go so far, as he many times claimed, “You can get further with a gun and a smile than you can with just a smile.6 Capone demonstrated his friendly personality until he believed that his kindness could not help him achieve his goals, in which case he would often resort to his other known behavior: that of a coldblooded killer. This conflict of personality was a trait that Tony Montana displayed openly within the film numerous times. The screenplay is not shy at all to depict the cruel and heartless nature that Capone utilized during his time as a mob boss. He was respected for his reputation, but feared because of his bipolar personality. The boss could be friendly one second, but when his personality changed, there was no going back, and that friendly man with a smile could quickly become a ruthless killer driven only by his personal desires. There are countless scenes in Scarface where Tony Montana totally loses his temper in a split-second, just like Al Capone. This bipolar trait and the sheer unpredictability of his personality and actions were exactly what helped him rise to the top.

Al Capone At Terminal Island In California | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although Capone was one of the richest people in America because of his successful business and his strategies to avoid prosecution, the law eventually caught up with him. During his trial, the judge was faced with a lack of evidence for any of the many crimes, murders, and illegal activities that Capone had committed, and so the judge had no choice but to send him to prison for tax evasion. Close to the end of Scarface, we see Tony Montana enjoying his life in his extremely successful business, to the point where his problem is actually that he has too much money to account for. After getting set up by some cops, Tony is caught red handed and the audience was led to believe that he was finally going to have to pay for all of his illegal activities that he had previously committed. After Capone was sent to jail for income tax evasion, his life in crime fell apart.7

A photograph of Alcatraz Island on July 2, 2017 | Courtesy of Wikipedia commons

Due to his overwhelming popularity, he was sent to the most secure jail that the United States could provide at the time — Alcatraz. When he was finally released from prison eleven years later, he was no longer able to continue his life of crime, and the notorious gangster “Scarface” was gone. In his place stood a man who no longer took interest in crime, but turned in his criminal duties for fishing and living in his home in peace and tranquility.8 Mirroring Capone, Tony Montana had his lawyer successfully prove him innocent of all crimes that he had done save tax evasion. Immediately following Tony Montana’s conviction, his drug empire began to fall apart. His bipolar personality began to flare up more and more, partially due to his addiction with cocaine, another thing that Capone dealt with during his lifetime and especially during his rise and fall of success. This led to the character’s dramatic death, which has gone down in cinema history as one of the best epic finales of all time. Scarface ultimately died, and there is no Al Capone to left to live in peace and tranquility.

Al Capone owes a large part of his success as one of the most notorious and successful criminals of all time to his unique personality, one that allowed him to run crime in a way no one before him had ever thought of. While his Scarface persona may have died after he was released from jail, it lived on and was represented in the film Scarface, as well as through the media continuing the legacy of the world renowned criminal.

  1. “The True Story Of Scarface,” Trendchaser, November 1, 2017,
  2. “Al Capone’s tax trial and downfall,” My Al Capone Museum, January 7, 2010,
  3. Ashleen Wicklow, “Mob Mondays – Five True Mob Stories Behind Scarface,” AMC, 2015,
  4. Jim Fisher, “Al Capone Was a Nice Guy?” January 1, 1970.
  5. James P. Kirby, “Al Capone Is New York’s Contribution to Gangland,” The Times Herald, September 1928, 4.
  6. “Real Al Capone Quotes,” My Al Capone Museum, January 7, 2010,
  7. “Al Capone Biography,” Biography Online,
  8. Paul Harrison, “Al Capone to Be Released from Philadelphia’s Eastern Penitentiary after Serving 10 Month Sentence,” The Times Herald, March 1930, 1.

Recent Comments


  • Doan Mai

    I did not know who Al Capone was until I read this article. It is fascinating to be informed that he was a gang member at such a young age. However, he was a successful businessman with huge assets with a happy marriage despite his being a gang member. His wealth was able to last through the Great Depression- the period that many wealthy people went bankrupt. In the present day, he is still remembered as one of the most famous criminals at all times.

  • Sebastian Azcui

    Really cool article! I have seen the movie Scarface a couple of times and I really like it as you learn about him. Al Capone appears to be a humble man where he was generous with people from his city and he also was bipolar. He was one of the most known gangsters in all time and had a lot of power. It is amazing the amount of power he had and wealth. Some people can get so powerful but doing the wrong things.

  • Vanessa Quetzeri

    Al Capone was a very intelligent and literally a smooth criminal. I find it interesting how someone’s persona could go from generous and kind to killing off hundreds of people in his self-interest. It is insane to even fathom how a drug lord, let alone a criminal got away with his crimes and only got sentenced to eleven years in prison.

  • Aaron Peters

    I found this article pretty informative, I was surprised how although Al Capone was known as the owner of a notorious drug empire, but he often was more public with flaunting his massive amount of money even during the great depression, and also giving some of it back to people in his community. I was also surprised the authorities convicted him on taxes since they didnt have enough substantive evidence for his other crimes.

  • Judy Reyes

    This was a very informative article in who Al Capone was. It was interesting to read that he was quite a generous person at one point until he realized that his kindness could not help him achieve his goals. Also, I did not know that he was diagnosed with being bipolar, although, it makes a lot of sense now. He was both a respected and feared man.

  • Felipe Macias

    Al Capone sounds like the kind of person who would only exist in fiction. To think such a character was based on a real person is surreal and makes you want to know more, like his daily routine or his habits. Men like this must know how to handle money well and adapt to the federal police’s tactics to capture him. Though he is infamous, he is a master of his art.

  • Todd Brauckmiller Jr.

    During the times of mobs and gangs I find it very interesting how respected Al Capone was. He was seen as a nice guy who was serious about his work, even having large amounts of wealth to his name. Personally I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the movie “Scar-face” and it seems to derive lots of its emotion from Al Capone’s real life. This was a very well written article and found it very entertaining.

  • Courtney Pena

    This article was able to educate me on who Al Capone is. I had no idea that Capone was one of the richest people in America and even flaunted his wealth during the Great Depression. It is unfortunate that Capone had an addiction to cocaine during his lifetime. Capone will always be remembered as one of the most successful criminals of all time because he was able to get away with crimes.

  • Jose Maria Llano Aranalde

    Really interesting article. I watched the movie scar face but I never really looked deeper into it than that. It was interesting to see how he was able to have so much power. Especially that he was so well known with people and the community. People new who he was and the weight that his name carried.

  • Patricia Arechiga

    Al Capone has always been someone who I have sustained interest in. I was unaware of who he was and his overall existence prior to visiting Alcatraz. I was unaware of both the wealth and power he sustained during his life time. I find it pretty insane how people obtain so much wealth and power by breaking the law. These people do not fear the consequences. What a great article.

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