How much did you know about our man Paul Muni?
There he is (above) in all his self importance.
To be fair, the role was that of Emile Zola, the Nobel prizewinning 19th century author who writings exonerated falsely accused and convicted Army officer Alfred Dreyfus. The movie is 1937’s The Life of Emile Zola, and it was one of may biopics of famous characters Muni took on.
The actor is usually associated with the character of Tony Camonte in the original 1932 version of Scarface. But did you know that he beat Marlon Brando as a Mexican revolutionary (in 1952’s Viva Zapata) by 13 years (opposite Bette Davis as Benito Juarez in a 1939 biopic; see below).
But outside of Scarface, Muni is perhaps best remembered for his gritty portrayal as a put-upon inmate in director Mervyn LeRoy’s marquee-bending title, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. It certainly shows that Muni was not above a bit of beefcake
On to the answers to our Paul Muni Quiz:
1) Question: In his movies, Muni at one time or another played these famous historical figures, except one. Which one? — a) Napoleon;b) Don Juan; c) Emile Zola; or d) Louis Pasteur.
Answer: Oops, another trick question. Muni played ALL of these characters at various times.
2) Question: Before he made his first movie in the late 1920s, Muni had an extensive back round in which one of the following platforms? a) Radio; b) the Broadway stage; c) the Yiddish Theater; or d) Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Answer: Muni was a child of actors, who emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Austria. He began his career on the stage — (c) in Yiddish Theater. By one count he played for several years strictly in the language, playing his first part in English in 1926. His movie career in “talkies” began three years later.
3) Question: In the mid 1930’s Muni was the biggest male star at the Warner Brothers studio. But by the end of the decade, a rising you actor took his place. Who? a) George Raft; b) Errol Flynn; c) Richard Barthelmess; or d) Humphrey Bogart.
Answer: (d) Humphrey Bogart, who in terms of screen acting was Muni’s stylistic opposite.
4) Question: Muni’s performance as gangster Tony Camonte in Howard Hawks’ 1932 edition of Scarface was criticized at the time for: a) Muni’s hammy portrayal; b) The movie’s ample violence; c) The movie’s long running time; or d) The movie seeming glorification of its gangster protagonist.
Answer: (d) The worries about Scarface had to do with a familiar complaint about Hollywood movies about gangsters — that they glorify their unworthy subjects. The debate continues.
5) Question: Muni appeared in 22 films, and was Oscar nominated five times but won the best actor award only once. For which film? a) Black Fury; b) I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang; c) The Valiant; or d) None of the above.
Answer: d) None of the above. The win was for 1937’s The Life of Emile Zola.