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Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface (Brian De Palma, Universal Pictures, 1983)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

Scarface – "Say hello to my little friend"

Edit Line Pop culture
Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

“Say hello to my little friend!” is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and quotable lines of dialogue in cinema history.

It’s not something that’s open for debate, it’s a simple fact as Al Pacino’s execution of it in Scarface’s (1983) final act is used constantly and consistently throughout pop culture … still. Interestingly, Brian De Palma’s crime epic about a Cuban immigrant who becomes a drug kingpin – Tony Montana (played by Pacino) – has faded in comparison to the line itself. Shouted during the film’s climatic finale, there’s a whole generation of media consumers who are more familiar with the line and its delivery rather than the movie it came from. However, it wasn’t initially this way.

Following Scarface’s 1983 release in theatres – and corresponding awards season push – the film as a whole was sharp in the minds of everyday viewers and the film community more broadly. It continued this way for most of the 1980s, but by the end of the decade this had started to shift with the focus now less on the film and more on Pacino’s portrayal of Tony Montana specifically. Nominated for a Golden Globe – which he lost in a tied win to Robert Duvall and Tom Courtenay in The Dresser (1983) and Tender Mercies (1983) respectively – the role was denied any larger accolades because of Pacino’s tendency to be too much, according to critics. This, however, is precisely why it endured according to Roger Ebert, who wrote at the time: “If Pacino goes over the top in Scarface and he does, that's because the character leads him there; over the top is where Tony Montana lives.”

By the early 1990s, hip hop and rap were starting to hit the mainstream and it was this space where Scarface the film, Tony Montana the character, and Pacino the performer were evangelised with religious zeal. Wesley Snipes in particular played two characters in two seminal 90s movies that use the line “say hello to my little friend”: first New Jack City (1991), which is often referred to as the black Scarface, and secondly as futuristic villain Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man (1993). Both instances were some of the first to use the “say hello to my little friend” quote verbatim, rather than just referring to Scarface with a poster hanging in the background of a scene (Miami Nice (1984–89)) or playing on a television (The Terminator (1984)). This Is Spinal Tap-esque (1984) mockumentary Fear Of A Black Hat (1993), which spoofed the forming of N.W.A., followed shortly after, along with multiple Scarface references and parodies in episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990–96). Unashamedly black films with black directors and black stars tipped their hat to Scarface almost non-stop, like Bill Duke’s Deep Cover (1992) with Laurence Fishburne, John Singleton’s Poetic Justice (1993) and F. Gary Gray’s first two films, Friday (1995) and the all-black, all-female heist movie Set It Off (1996). Rapper Nas’s track Last Real N***a Alive made several direct and indirect references to Scarface, Montana and the line itself. It was black culture that first popularised the Montana mantra and the dialogue: soon white culture was scrambling to adopt it as well and by that point, there was no going back.

In Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) – the sequel to Jim Carrey’s first hugely successful 1994 film in the franchise – the pet detective uses a machine gun as he fires at foes while repeating the famous line. And it doesn’t stop, from almost every television genre – South Park (1997–present), Veronica Mars (2004–19), The Sopranos (1999–2007), The Powerpuff Girls (1998–2005), Friends (1994–2004), The Simpsons (1989–present) True Blood (2008–14), Hannah Montana (2006–11) – to video games – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002), Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project (2002) – the line has been uttered over and over and over again to the point where there are articles charting its top moments of usage across media. Some are throwaway moments, others are key to the action: like when a henchman is about to fire a bazooka in the finale of comic book movie Kick-Ass (2010) and “say hello to my little friend” is his last line of dialogue before he is promptly blown apart by a masked vigilante in a jet pack (look, there’s a lot going on). There aren’t many lines like “say hello to my little friend it”, which now stand on their own, weirdly disassociated from Scarface itself but interconnected to any of a thousand other pop culture properties.
– Maria Lewis

This essay was written for Edit Line

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