Movie of the Week: ‘Scarecrow’

“Scarecrow” (1973) – In 1972, Gene Hackman won the Best Actor Oscar for “The French Connection” (1971), and Al Pacino just starred in the “The Godfather” (1972) that captured the Academy Awards’ top honor in 1973. 

In 1973, these two thespian heavyweights found their way in a road trip picture named “Scarecrow”.  Now, director Jerry Schatzberg’s picture didn’t win Oscar gold, but it did take home Cannes’ 1973 Palme d’Or. 

Max (Gene Hackman) and Lionel (Al Pacino)

Well, the two lead characters in Schatzberg’s award-winning flick haven’t won anything in their lives, but Max (Gene Hackman) and Lionel (Pacino) – drifters by “trade” – connected via a pseudo-happy accident while hitchhiking east.  These dysfunctional opposites did attract, and Max, a cantankerous ex-con, recruits the boyish, happy-go-lucky Lionel for a business proposition.  Our recently-freed jailbird has an implausible dream of opening a car wash in Pittsburgh, which is an awfully long ways from their current position in Bakersfield, Calif. 

For most of the 112-minute runtime, the screenplay places this 1970s Mutt and Jeff team in the middle of nowhere – without another visible soul for miles – or into working-class neighborhoods, where verbal or physical assaults solve random disputes.  Max calls himself “the meanest son of a bitch alive,” and who could argue with his imposing 6’ 2” frame and short fuse.  Thankfully, Lionel – a Navy vet whose first name is actually Francis – is a full-time pacifist goofball, a court jester who attempts to diffuse any hint of conflict with weird faces or a Three Stooges routine.  Hackman and Pacino hook our interest with the makeshift entrepreneurs’ everyday dynamics because their protracted pace on their prolonged Promise-Land path promotes profound uncertainties. 

Max (Hackman) and Lionel (Pacino)

Can they get past Denver, let alone Lionel’s vitally important stop in Detroit before their eventual landing in the Steel City?  Max’s combustible persona might blow up their plans before crossing The Great Divide.  Well, geographically speaking, “Scarecrow” is an American story, but it’s also a demonstrative one, a tale filled with hard knocks, the freedom to make questionable choices, and an unlikely friendship. 

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Jerry Schatzberg

Written by: Garry Michael White

Starring: Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan, and Ann Wedgeworth

Rated: R

Runtime: 112 minutes

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