The Famous Turn Out for (and Some Are Turned Off By) the Bicoastal Previews of Al Pacino's Bloody Scarface

updated 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Kurt Vonnegut walked out after 30 minutes, muttering, "It's too gory for me." Author John Irving followed. Cheryl Tiegs called it "the most violent film I've ever seen. It makes you never want to hear the word 'cocaine' again." The celebs were unnerved by Scarface, the scarifying update of the 1932 Paul Muni classic, starring Al Pacino as a Cuban immigrant drug lord who shoots his way to the top and snorts his way back down (see review, page 12). At the movie's tag-team previews in New York and Hollywood, the verdict was generally the same: pro-Pacino and anti-firepower. Actor James (The Onion Field) Woods, though, had a different view. "Personally," deadpanned Woods, "I'm all for any movie whose lead character keeps a grenade launcher in his living room."

The $24 million Scarface could use the support. Before filming started in Miami last year, bomb threats and anger in the Cuban community over its criminal image in the movie forced director Brian (Dressed to Kill) De Palma to move the production to California. Then the movie ratings board stamped the completed film with an X for excessive violence and vulgar language. Not since Marlon Brando dabbled with the higher priced spread in 1972's Last Tango in Paris has an X-rated major movie been released. Universal wouldn't allow that for Scarface. Director De Palma recut the movie four times, while producer Martin (Serpico) Bregman successfully appealed to the ratings board for an R. "There is nothing in Scarface that hasn't been done more graphically in every slash film," says Bregman of a movie whose most grisly scene is an offscreen chain-saw murder suggested by screams and splattered blood. "All we took out was a part of an arm hanging."

The R rating's wider viewership is also important to Pacino, now 43, who hasn't had a solid hit since 1975's Dog Day Afternoon. Meanwhile, Pacino's performance in the Broadway revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo has drawn raves, though his nightly stage chores kept him away from Scarface's New York preview.

Despite Pacino's absence, Ron Reagan and wife Doria were among the first to arrive at the Times Square theater. Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider and Kevin Kline came clad in blue jeans, but the boldest fashions were fur: Beverly Sills in a cloud of white mink, Cheryl Tiegs draped in chinchilla, Lucille Ball swaddled in sable. Lucy was the favorite of a sidewalk crowd of fans, until she was upstaged by Eddie Murphy. A more subdued crowd filed out after the screening, some offended by the movie's barrage of obscenities. "We thought the performances were excellent," said Lucy, "but we got awful sick of that word."

At the postpreview party for 130 hosted by Bregman at Sardi's, reviews continued to be mixed. "I really liked it," said Cher. "It was a great example of how the American dream can go to s—." Raquel Welch added: "A lot of people will enjoy the comic-strip violence that goes on ad nauseam." Guests clustered around tables adorned with wild lilies and feasted on a buffet of pasta, seafood Newburg, beef bourguignon and enough desserts to satisfy 300. "You've got a smash smash," warbled rent-a-car baron Warren Avis to the producer.

Just before midnight, a wave of applause rippled before Pacino as he made a grinning entrance and walked into a flurry of embraces. Al's current girlfriend, Kathleen (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) Quinlan, 29, arrived later, dressed like a 1950s prom queen in lace over coral taffeta. The couple stayed an hour, Pacino bobbing up to bear hug each well-wisher while his cannelloni went cold.

Twenty-four hours later the film previewed in L.A. The Hollywood clan seemed more blasé about the bloodshed, and scenes featuring Pacino's face literally buried in a mountain of cocaine triggered titters. At the after-bash thrown at Century City, Carrie Fisher turned heel early, perhaps put off by the grub: cheese cubes stuck on toothpicks. Alana Stewart waltzed past on the arm of millionaire Jim Randall, who once was wed to Marisa Berenson. Asked about her reportedly shaky union to rocker Rod, Alana replied, "We're together right now, but one never knows." The luminary of the gathering was Scarface co-star Steve Bauer, 27. A Cuban immigrant himself, Bauer plays Pacino's sidekick and almost steals the movie. "We're both Latin, and that carries with it a certain kindredness," said Bauer. Joan Collins, who would gussy herself up for a smog alert, was one of the few who dressed elegantly, sparkling in black sequined leather. Typically, Joan had the final word about Scar-face's nasty language. "I hear there are 183 'f—s' in the movie," sighed Collins, "which is more than most people get in a lifetime."

KRISTIN MCMURRAN in New York; DAVID HUTCHINGS and PAMELA LANSDEN in L.A.

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