“This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and to our liberty.” – the lie that opens this picture.
While the remake is all about the emptiness of the gangster life, the original is, despite the opening title card and some lazy motions at the end, basically about how it’s awesome.
Paul Muni plays the main character as a monkey idiot, but he gets all his dreams and more by being a gangster.
What he really gets punished for is his feelings for his sister; the remake had a few layers to Tony’s relationship with his sis, but in this one he definitely wants to fuck her, and his incestuous desires basically ruin him. He loses it all because he thinks of his family instead of himself. It’s basically “Capitalism is great: the movie.”
I’m really torn on which of the two is better. The remake is operatic and wild and tragic, and the original is mostly just a blast.
I think I’m going to give a slight edge to the original, mostly because it’s really and consistently funny. There is a bunch of slapstick and ridiculous behavior in this movie – my favorite being Tony telling his henchman to stay to the end of the play (while he goes out for hit) just so he can find out the ending.
Both of these are absolutely essential, though, and a good reminder that remakes aren’t always bad.