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  Scarecrow On The Road Again
Year: 1973
Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Stars: Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan, Ann Wedgeworth, Richard Lynch, Eileen Brennan, Penelope Allen, Richard Hackman, Al Cingolani, Rutanya Alda
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Francis (Al Pacino) is out on the road in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a good Samaritan to come along and give him a lift, when he notices a tall man (Gene Hackman) carrying a battered suitcase advancing across a field nearby. He has a little trouble negotiating a barbed wire fence, then stands by the side of the road doing exactly what Francis is, so he tries to strike up a conversation with this newcomer. However, he doesn't respond, ignoring Francis until a truck approaches and they both make for it: then the man protests and waves him away, but it doesn't matter because it does not stop anyway. They are out there for hours, but what finally breaks the ice is when the stranger tries to light his cigar and his lighter fails...

Frances is such a goodhearted chap that he gives him his last match, and a firm friendship is forged in one of the buddy movies of the nineteen-seventies, except this was no cop thriller or comedy, it was a sensitive drama which pointed the way towards the independent films that were to come, works which either through lack of funds or a deliberate course of action to keep things low key would prize character interaction above any kind of stunts or setpieces. With Scarecrow, it was the first time Hackman and Pacino had ever starred together, two of the decade's acting heavyweights in a story reminiscent of an updated Of Mice and Men, only with enough variations to render it individual.

As it turned out, it was not only the first but the last time these two starred together, as reputedly they did not get on and indeed Hackman was very difficult on the shoot, which might make it seem odd that when asked he claimed it was his favourite of all his performances. You can understand why, as he distilled his character into the very epitome of the loosely assembled but precise in its aims thespianism which prevailed during this era: you see Hackman in this and you could not mistake it for any other period in time for film, he's at his most Hackmanesque here. Gruff, confrontational, but concealing a heart of gold should anyone get close enough to him to find it, his Max character was probably the most typical performance he ever gave outside of his more villainous roles.

As for Pacino, he was more impish, playing up the loveable aspects of Francis's personality, so much so that Max would have to be made of stone not to respond, which naturally opens them both up to vulnerability in a very prevalent message in dramas of male friendship: let someone into your companionship and there's a good chance you will be emotionally hurt some time down the line, which is precisely what happens here to each of them. Once they hit the road together, they chat and find out what their plans are, so Max is raising money to buy his own car washing service in Pittsburgh while Francis, who he renames Lion (short for Lionel, his middle name), is travelling to Detroit after five years at sea, having abandoned his pregnant girlfriend.

Francis carries with him a novelty lamp he wishes to give as a present to his child, not knowing whether it's a boy or a girl, hence the gender neutral gift, but this was a road movie so the duo do not reach their destination right away and make various stops off along the way for encounters with friendly faces and, well, less friendly folks. Vilmos Szigmond's cinematography helped immeasurably with capturing the ambience of America of the day, with its rolling hills, winding roads and no hope places in between, as director Jerry Schatzberg guided his cast to be as grounded in reality as possible without actually coming across in the documentary style. Richard Lynch offered one of his most memorable bad guys as the seemingly friendly fellow prisoner (yup, they get chucked into jail) who eventually tries to rape Francis, illustrating a common theme that nice guys will have the goodwill knocked out of them by the harsh realities of life, and it all winds up in a bleak finale as a result, but if this was contrived (listen for the title explanation), the acting was consistently captivating. Music by Fred Myrow.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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