Hackman has been quoted as saying that this was his favorite role. No argument here, it's my favorite too. Thanks Gene. You too Al.
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Hackman has been quoted as saying that this was his favorite role. No argument here, it's my favorite too. Thanks Gene. You too Al.
Don't overlook this film. Rent it!
Why Pittsburgh? Just one of the peculiarities of Max, mayhap? More-so a thing of pride. There's characteristics to Max and Francis that make them compelling for the honesty in what they are: Max is a tough guy, tending to get drunk, get in fights, sex it up with women (who knew Hackman had such, um, animal magnetism), and Francis (also named Lion by Max) is a clown, a little boy who somehow made the mistake of having a kid with a woman before he left the Navy, and has a present ready to give to the kid in Detroit- an androgynous lamp- despite not knowing entirely what to expect. It's an odd couple movie, but also one that has a more affecting view into a world of men on the fringe of society. These guys don't have big plans, and wouldn't want any anyway. It's refreshing to see that, and how it pans into the nature of them and their environment: the small towns, the local dives, the bad drunks, and, when things go bad after a big brawl during a drunken hoopla, the subtle horrors of prison for the both of them. Did I mention train-hopping?
A film like this, despite having on its side gorgeous cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond (who, along with Badlands and, in its own way Mean Streets, captures a vision of Americana that is pure and unique to its time and place), needs strong acting. Who better than Hackman and Pacino? They're playing big personalities, with Hackman doing great as always in a somewhat typical part of a guy who's aggressive and pig-headed but does have a hear. And Pacino doing a rare comedic turn as he gives some of his funniest (genuine, not unintentional scene-stealing) moments, like his 'diversion' gone wrong in the clothing store, or his classic "teach me how to handle a drunk" bit at the bar. Sometimes its too much, but it leads to a bittersweet side to the story that turns even more bitter by the time Schatzberg reaches the emotional climax in Detroit. What's been alternately crude and crazy, sometimes in ways that remind one a little of Altman, turns towards what is a small but great tragedy for these characters. And doing the script one better, the actors are able to get subtle, crushing, telling moments in scenes that others wouldn't be able to grasp with a ten-foot pole.
It's also a fun movie, with a feel that you could only get in one of the truly great years in all movies (look at the year this came out, and realize how many films of its ilk were released, be they independent-like from Scorsese or Altman or Ashby or even Romero, or even Friedkin's Exorcist). Scarecrow is of its time, but it doesn't mean it can't be greatly liked in the present; it's even a near classic of genre subversion, doing a service to drama and comedy by not paying lip-service to either form, but enriching what comes naturally out of life, which is both sometimes, harrowingly, at once. 9.5/10
They are both very different characters with Hackman dominating as Max, an irritable tough guy, and Pacino, for once underplaying, in the lesser role of Lionel. Although Hackman can play hard-nut characters in his sleep, the role of Max offers him more range than he often gets. This comes mainly through the quirky aspects of his character, such as his obsession with having to wear several layers of clothing, and also in the more tender and comical scenes.
Despite a running time of nearly two hours the film never drags, unlike many road movies, and this is largely due to the performances, especially that of Hackman. There is also another excellent sinister turn from Richard Lynch, a token 1970s villain, who befriends Lionel (Pacino) after he and Max (Hackman) have been sent to prison.
If there is one aspect which lets the film down it's the ending. "Scarecrow" is one of those films in which very little happens and thus it is tagged with an unnecessarily dramatic ending, which is pure Hollywood schmaltz. It would have benefited far more if the film-makers had simply ended the film where it began, rather than struggling with the choice of an overly happy or sad conclusion (I won't tell you which).
I would recommend 'Scarecrow' to all viewers who are interested, as I am, in knowing better Al's earlier filmography, or his filmography in general, because it is different than most of his movies.
Lion is a comical, yet sentimental and shy character. In his essence, he resembles Sonny Wortzik, in 'Dog Day Afternoon' when it comes to his good intentions, pure heart and complex nature. Al seems to have gotten the comedy and sensitivity part right, and at times his performance is really touching, as the scene when he's playing with the children by the fountain. My problem with Lion is that, unlike Sonny Wortzik, for instance, he seems unrealistic - he's way too childish and innocent for a man his age, and seems to lack any sexual interest. Max, played by Gene, seems kind of caricatured in the beginning, but eventually becomes more believable, and the friendship he develops with Lion is beautiful in some parts of the film.
The problem is this friendship starts out of nowhere, with Lion agreeing to be in Max's car washing business even though they only knew each other for a few hours. And the film continues with inexplicable scenes of them together, that are way too long, and yet, leave the impression that the friendship could've been better explored. Not to mention how painful it is to see Al in such vulnerable positions as almost being raped by a cell mate. The end is an unbelievable anti-climax, that makes you wonder if there really was a thought given to the meaning of this film, or to the continuity of the plot. Of course, not all plots have happy endings, and it shouldn't be expected from 'Scarecrow', but the story seems to have been interrupted, rather then ended. If anything this movie should be watched for Al's and Gene's endearing performances.
Hackman is great as the hard-edged Max, yet despite his gruff exterior you know there is a man of deep feeling and caring underneath. Pacino never fails to disappoint in whatever he does and he doesn't in this tour-de-force performance. Famous for playing loud, larger than life character's with extreme zeal -- Colonel Frank Slade from SCENT OF A WOMAN and Tony Montana from SCARFACE for instance -- here his performance is like a whisper -- quietly calm yet powerfully effective.
A nice surprise in the cast is Richard Lynch (in his screen debut) as Riley, the man who befriends Lionel while he and Max are briefly incarcerated for a bar fight. Lynch is only in the movie for approximately 20 minutes, but what a 20 minutes! His ability to convey the sleazy yet somehow likable Riley let's the audience know that this is a talent to watch for in the coming years. With such great method acting from all three actors, it's no wonder this movie won the prestigious Golden Palm Award at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival!
This movie moves along at a leisurely pace, as Max and Francis gradually become friends, despite their very different personalities. The two men become embroiled in several misadventures along their journey, even getting put in a prison farm for a month. The prison stint sorely tests Max and Francis' friendship. But, both men discover that the loyalty they develop to each other, transcends the chaos that threatens to tear these two pals apart.
Scarecrow was made back when movies with intense character studies, were much more common than they are now. And this film is among the best made in the 70s, regarding the complexity of the main characters. Gene Hackman is superb as the world-weary, cantankerous Max. Al Pacino gives one of the best performances of his career, as the cheerful, yet achingly vulnerable Francis.
If you like films that have plenty of substance, intriguing characters, and splendid acting, then you owe it to yourself to see Scarecrow.
What makes this movie all the more frustrating is that it features two of the greatest American actors - Hackman and Pacino - at the peak of their powers. But it squanders them on stereotyped and predictable characters. Max (Hackman) is always belligerent but fiercely loyal to his friend Lion, while Lion (Pacino) is always a clown but equally loyal to Max. In scene after scene, Hackman antagonizes people in bars and diners while Lion looks on in mute horror. Sometimes, Lion tries to diffuse the tension by acting like a goofball. Unfortunately, most of his comedy routines are painfully unfunny. I wonder if that was intentional...anyway, the movie soon feels like it's looping back on itself as this familiar tableau is replayed again and again.
Just to heighten the sense that every scene is the same, Max endlessly talks about his dream to own a car wash. The canny viewer can, of course, easily figure out what will become of Max's dream long before the climax. This is a 70s movie, after all, and hopelessness was the order of the day.
I feel guilty bombing "Scarecrow" because it is so well-intentioned, and there are moments when the rapport between Hackman and Pacino works beautifully. But the storyline is too episodic and rambling (despite being repetitive!), and the Max-Lion friendship is solidified too quickly to be convincing. The plot twists are strangely predictable, too; even the Act 2 "falling out" between Max and Lion feels scripted and clichéd. It's a nice try, but I don't even think it's worth seeing for Hackman and Pacino - they've both done better work that's more worthy of your attention.
Both actors are very good as usual, and being filmed on real road locations helps, but film, which feels very inspired by the far superior "Midnight Cowboy" never amounts to much, feels like an extended sketch study stretched to feature length. Hackman(Max) is a hot-tempered brawler, which gets them in frequent trouble, while Pacino(Francis) is a simple man who just wants to see his son again, but fate has other ideas. The ending is disappointing because it just stops, without any real emotional resolution. Nice try, but misses.
No child and no sailor, but rather an ex-sailor with a child-like personality: this is Al Pacino as Francis Lionel Delbucci aka 'Lion', and no rookie who's going to jail, no streetwise bad-ass, but a robust and short-tempered ex-convict: this is Gene Hackman as Max Millian, forming with Lion one of the most unlikely and endearing pairing of the New Hollywood period. After the gripping documentary-like "The Panic in Needle Park", Jerry Schwartzberg signs another piece of art about two misfit characters, indulging in more poetical and philosophical statements about life, from two vagabonds who meet in a two-lane road penetrating deserted hills, the fitting setting for two men at the crossroads of their lives.
Max wants to go to Pittsburgh where he sent all the money he earned during his jail time, his plan is to open a car wash. And 'Lion' left his girl Annie (Penelope Allen) while she was pregnant. He was so scared he never knew if it was a boy or a girl and never made amend of his irresponsible act except by sending money for five years. Carrying a little lamp in gift-box, he wants to see his child and Annie to forgive him, before starting a new life. The gift-box is the reminder of actions that might contain the roots of his juvenile and optimistic attitude, trying to make people laugh as a way to hide a tormenting guilt. We're inclined to believe this because Max, the one who paid his debt to society, has nothing to blame himself on anymore, and exudes self-confidence and moral strength.
The contrast between Lion and Max is the soul of the movie and the cement of their relationship, almost a 'friendship at first sight' but the real decisive step was when Lion gave his last match to Max, a gesture that made Max develop a genuine fondness and instinctive trust of Lion: he proposes a partnership in the car wash business and Lion's acceptance doesn't say much because he strikes as a character who never says 'no'. As the movie goes on, we know more about his philosophy of life, maybe sometimes in a too explicit way. Lion believes that making people laugh is the best antidote against hostility and aggressiveness, in a nutshell, "scarecrows make crow laugh". Al Pacino conveys the illusion of an optimistic nature that hardly hides a desperate desire to be loved and accepted. 'Lion' incorporates within the same character the cowardly lion of "The Wizard of Oz" because he can't face the hideous side of life and the scarecrow with a heart, a big and generous heart. Al Pacino delivers one of his finest performances, even more impressive because it was made right after a total opposite role, as the charismatic and menacing Michael Corleone, indeed, this 'Lion' is no 'Lionheart'.
Gene Hackman said it was his favorite performance and I can see why. he plays a strong man, a no-nonsense guy who takes no crap from anyone, who's never reluctant to fight if someone disrespects him, and sticks to his plan of car wash no matter what happens. And unlike Lion aka the scarecrow, he has the brains; he's got intelligence and street smarts. He completes Lion's naivety and lack of realism, while Lion, in his way, injects his joyful and cheerful nature in Max. Yet it would be too convenient to take their complementarity for granted. Yes they complete each other but one has more to learn about life. There's no doubt that the picaresque journey the two characters would take, will teach them a few lessons or two but Max only has to loosen up a bit, and to use a sense of humor while Lion, is the one who'll learn the hard way the limits of his theory about scarecrows, after one crucial visit to Max' sister in Denver that would end in another conviction to jail.
Lion is the victim of a rape attempt from an inmate named Riley (Richard Lynch), in a scene even more disturbing because Lion is such an adorable character, he'll try to use humor as a defense, totally blinded by his own naivety, but Riley breaks Lion's shield as if it was made of paper. Max eventually avenges his friend, but after the jail episode, nothing would be the same. There is one crucial moment where Max avoids fighting by starting a striptease, and it's obvious that he pulled some of Lion's character in his attitude. Yet, it's a bittersweet moment, because at the same time, Lion stares at him with melancholy. This look on Pacino's face has been debated countless times, my belief is that he understood how limited he was in this rude life. His happy-go-lucky philosophy only had sense if he could handle tougher situations, a guy like Max can afford to make people laugh because he impresses too. Lion understands that a scarecrow still has to scare crows, otherwise, they eat the seeds.
Roger Ebert compared the film to "Easy Rider" and "Midnight Cowboy" with two men joining their efforts for a a better future, I myself found a deeper and more poignant connection with Fellini's "La Strada" especially through its tragic undertones. I was so upset by the film's conclusion that I hesitated to see it twice. But it's truly an absorbing and penetrating film about two misunderstood souls, one strong enough to deal with life, and another one who well, I can only hope, sincerely hope, for an off-screen happy ending.
The movie really depends on whether you find the characters interesting enough to stick around for two hours. Characters other than the two leads don't stick around long, which I guess befits two drifters. Thus, there are other interesting types, except for Frenchy (Wedgeworth) who raises the whole idea of "bimbo" to new levels of exaggeration. Also, there's no attempt to pretty-up anything or anybody. It's pretty much a back roads America as it really is, and not as Hollywood would like it. And, unless I misread the subtext, the movie follows pretty much in the wake of 60's rootless counter-culture
This is Hackman's favorite movie, though it did flop at the box-office. As the hulking Max, he's completely convincing as a "planner" who can't really plan. (Note how he gets entangled in the wire in the film's opening scene—a tip-off of things to come.) Pacino's role is more complex. My initial impression was that Lion is a gay man being drawn to the macho Max. That would explain why he left his girl and took up a roving life whether as a sailor or drifter. Nonetheless, the movie leaves this gay factor uncertain.
The film's dramatic highlight is when a grieving Lion grabs a nearby boy and tries to baptize him in a fountain. That's because he thinks his own son died before baptism and therefore now dwells in eternal limbo. Of course that assumes Lion's been told the truth by the supposed mother. But then she would have reason to punish Lion since he did abandon her.
Anyway, these are some conjectures on a film I really enjoyed. Still, I can understand why others might be bored by a narrative whose virtues do tend to meander. But, if they do, it's in the manner that real lives also do.
The fountain scene near the end of the story turned out to be a harrowing harbinger of Lion's catatonic state, coming on the heels of his former gal Annie (Penelope Allen) telling him that their real live son was never born. It was that harsh and mean spirited lie that pushed Lion over the edge, but did you notice? - it was a statue of a lion that Francis clung to when he cracked. It made me wonder if that was just an inadvertent coincidence or whether the scene was specifically planned that way.
The conflicted resolution of the story is reminiscent of 1969's "Midnight Cowboy", reminding the viewer that life often doesn't present happy endings. Max's round trip ticket conveyed the idea that he would be back to look in on his road buddy, but one is left with the impression that Lion's condition was more despairing than hopeful. I'd like to think the car wash idea eventually came about, but somehow I have my doubts.
I guess following the characters is the point in both films. But, their journeys seem to lead nowhere, and I guess that's the problem for me. I wonder what the point of all of it is. In "Panic," (spoiler alert) the two drug addicts we follow end up in the same place they started. In "Scarecrow," (spoiler alert) one of the two characters doesn't make it at all.
Here, the film benefits from the excellent cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond, in one of his earlier films. Al Pacino and Gene Hackman are very good in their respective roles. And, the film is well made. But, when the film just kind of ends as it does, you wonder what the point of it was.
It's especially interesting concerning Schatzberg, since he went from these iconoclastic films to something like "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," a straight-down-the-middle romantic comedy drama. What's most notable about "Panic" and "Scarecrow" is that they are prime examples of how gutsy 1970's cinema could be.
***** (5 Out of 10 Stars)
Schatzberg then quickly sketches the personalities of both men. Max is an angry hothead who has just been released from prison and who harbours dreams of starting a business. Lion, in contrast, is a coward who resorts to comedic self depreciation in order to avoid conflict. Both men have severe avoidance complexes, resorting to cowardice or violence, action or inaction, as a means of combating a hostile post-War America. Like Jack Nicholson's "The King of Marvin Gardens" (1972), "Scarecrow" (1973) ultimately watches as two outcasts grapple with delusions, aspirations and an American Dream which exists only to betray.
"Scarecrow" takes the format of a road-movie, Lionel and Max embarking on a little cross country adventure. Their ultimate destination? Small-town Pittsburgh, where the duo hope to start a car-wash business. Along the way they stop off at Max's sister's home in Denver, and then visit Lionel's ex-lover in Detroit. Both visits point to wasted lives steeped in sadness and regret. Lionel and Max's contradictory personalities may act as a magnet which pulls each towards a "sensible" middle ground, but there are no happy endings here. Lionel ends up in a mental hospital and Max remains a vagabond, a climax which perhaps too similarly echoes that of "Midnight Cowboy" (1969). Last shot? Max hammering a shoe full of dirty cash on a counter, still hopeful, but no closer to his dreams. Gorgeously shot by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmound.
8/10 – Minor classic. Worth one viewing.
If my theory is true, then I still can't figure out exactly what might represent other aspects of WOZ, such as the Tin Man, Gilda the Good Witch, or even the Wicked Witch for that matter, though Annie, with her lies ultimately spurring Lionel's illness, could be a very tenuous sketch of the Wicked Witch. Also, I suppose Max could be viewed as representative of the Tin Man ("if I only had a heart") due to his violent and aloof nature (i.e. he's heartless). The connection is rather attenuated, however, the above mentioned aspects seem too interrelated to be just mere coincidence. Did anybody else see such a connection, and, if so, are there other overlapping themes/characters that I'm missing?
They play down-and-outters, nearly on the level of bums... but they have a goal: To start a business with some money saved up by Hackman's roughneck character. The Ultimate Loner, he only accepts the good-natured Pacino as a partner because... well, you should see it for yourself. I'll just say that they meet on opposite sides of a country road while trying to hitch-hike. The surly Hackman views the flaky Pacino as competition for a ride and silently rejects him. After all his hyper-active attempts at friendliness are rebuffed, Pacino makes one simple gracious gesture that wins over Hackman.
The title has to do with an attitude, an approach towards life. Pacino states that a Scarecrow is successful in its life's mission, not by using fear and intimidation against the crows, but because it is humorous, and the crow's respond graciously for the good laugh by leaving alone his crop of corn.
And our two main characters represent these two opposing approaches to life. It's amazing to see them transform and morph into one another, to adopt the other's philosophy. The pessimist begins to soften up, and the optimist loses his most precious dream. Pacino even LOOKS like a Scarecrow by the last Act of the film.
Pacino's final scene is heart-wrenching. The closing images of Hackman in a bus station are perfect. He has to scrounge up a couple more bucks for a ticket but comes up short. While the impatient teller tries to shuffle him aside to help other people in line, Hackman digs out the last few beans... I won't give away the details, but his victorious expression in the end is priceless.
I think this is one of the most overlooked/under-rated films of the 70's. But I include it as one of my favorite films of the 70's on its own merits (not just to somehow "correct" an oversight of the rest of the fans). It possesses a greater depth of psychology/allegory/symbolism than most people give it credit for. Beware any edited-for-tv version. The language is salty but essential. Also, the wide-screen cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond (aspect ratio of 2.35 : 1) might suffer in pan-and-scan.
I watched the movie last night and it was as powerful as ever. Exciting most of the time, funny at other times, even sad in some scenes. It is certainly near the top of my list of favourite movies. Everyone must watch this excellent movie.