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Just out of jail after serving time on an assault rap, Max (Gene Hackman) is headed for Pittsburgh to open a deluxe car wash. Back from five years at sea, Lion (Al Pacino) wants to hit Detroit and visit the child he’s never seen. The dreams may not be glorious but you’ll want Max and Lion to fulfill them, because Scarecrow, cowinner of the 1973 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize, has a heart as big as its cross-country journey. Its hard-luck drifters drift permanently into our souls. This is due to teamwork of a high order: The moving performances of Hackman and Pacino, the sensitive direction of Jerry Schatzberg and the glowing landscape cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond. Hit the road with these two. You’ll find the trip unforgettable.
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Hackman and Pacino play the characters Max Millan and Francis Lionel 'Lion' Delbuchi, respectively, who are two drifters that hook up with each other in the backwoods of California, both headed east as Max, who was recently released from prison, has plans on opening a carwash in Pittsburgh while Francis, who completed a stint at sea, is returning home to Detroit to meet his child for the first time and make some sort of amends to his wife (apparently after his wife got pregnant, Francis got scared, ran off, and joined up with the merchant marines). Anyway, the two couldn't be more different...Max is a gruff, belligerent, short-tempered, mean-spirited, uptight cuss who likes to crack heads, take naps, and doesn't do anything without a plan while Francis is a likeable go with the flow sort, one who enjoys the spotlight if only to make people laugh (he believes you don't have to hit people if you can make them laugh). As I said, the two hook up on the road through a chance meeting, and Max immediately decides to make Francis a partner in his upcoming business venture, that being opening a carwash in Pittsburgh. Seems Max, who's been in the joint for the last six years, has been saving every penny and depositing it in a bank, fastidiously planning every aspect of the operation, pouring over every detail to the point of committing them to memory. As the pair hitch rides, jump trains, and hoof it by foot eastward, they have their ups and downs, eventually making their way to Denver to stop off and see Max's sister Coley (Tristan). Times are good, but quickly sour as Max gets both himself and Francis chucked in the can for a thirty-day stint after a barroom brawl (Max ends up blaming Francis for convincing him to deviate from his `plans', and subsequently the pair are now on the `outs'). Francis makes friends quickly with a trustee (played by Lynch), earning himself some relatively easy work assignments (along with some unwanted attentions), while Max's standoffishness earns him a trip to Pigville (the county pig farm), shoveling manure. Eventually the men reconnect, are released from prison, and back on the road, headed for Detroit for a reunion of sorts with Francis' estranged wife and child...
If you're looking for a straightforward type of story, one that has a distinctive beginning, middle, and an end, then you'd best pass this film up. This is purely a character driven drama with comedic underpinnings, one that, like life itself, tends to get a little messy. The real treat here is watching these two fine actors play off each other, something director Schatzberg encourages given the length of some of the scenes and the unrestrictive atmosphere in general throughout the feature. I'll admit, initially I was a little wary about the pairing of Hackman and Pacino in this sort of `buddy buddy' road picture, but the two completely immerse themselves in their roles, creating a pair of completely believable and identifiable characters. I thought Hackman did particularly well presenting an overly retentive, rigid, suspicious, angry at the world individual obsessed with sticking to his plan, his confidence stemming from the very fact that it was so well thought out (by himself) it couldn't possible fail. There's an exchange in the film that really helps put his character in perspective, as Francis relates how once in Catholic school he got the palm of his hand smacked by a nun with a ruler for clowning around.
Max: How come you didn't pound that old lady in the mouth?
Francis: What old lady?
Max: The one that hit you in the palm with the stick.
Francis: She was a nun!
I thought Pacino also did very well as in his role as the easy going, trusting, sociable type that's everyone's friend, a bit naive at times, always handy with a joke or a pratfall, whose main goal in life seems to try and resolve a past indiscretion that seems to have haunted him for awhile, that of leaving his wife in the lurch (he did send her whatever money he could over the years, but that was more or less out of an effort of support, and not one of amends). At some point he realized the only way to excise the demon that plagues him is to confront it, which is why he's headed to Detroit. The characters are obviously from different ends of the spectrum, but, in their differences, they create sort of a `ying and yang', as Max is the driven man with the plan, along with being the streetwise protector of the pair, his edge slightly offset by Francis' ability to enjoy each moment in the here and now (Max allows Francis quite a bit of leeway in terms of Francis poking fun at Max only because he sees Francis as sort of a child, one whose only desire is to please). My favorite sequence in the film comes while the pair is in prison, after their falling out. Despite the fact that they're now at odds, the bond is still there as Max dishes out the retribution after Francis discovers his new friends like him more than for his comedic repartee. As I said, there's not much of a story here, but I found the characters, relationships, and performances fascinating enough to keep me entertained throughout the nearly two hour running time. The ending is sort of downbeat, and offers very little in the way of resolution, but if you can get past this, you might want to check this movie out. It was definitely worth my time.
The picture quality on this DVD release is decent, presented in widescreen (2.40:1), enhanced for 16X9 TVs, and the Dolby Digital mono audio comes through reasonably well (it did seem a little soft at times). As far as extras, there are English, Spanish, and French subtitles, an original theatrical trailer, and a vintage featurette for the film entitled "On the Road" (3:48).
By the way, another scene worth seeing this film for is when Max strips off his clothes in order to go to bed...he's wearing like ten shirts, and watching him remove them is like watching the clowns come out of the little car at the circus. For those interested, the cinematographer on the film was Vilmos Zsigmond, who also did such features as Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Deer Hunter.