Scarecrow (1973)

The Plot and Such: Max (Gene Hackman), an ex-con with a short fuse, and Lion (Al Pacino), an ex-sailor who is estranged from his wife and their child (whom he has never met), cross paths in their driftings in California. Reluctantly at first, they team up and decide to head to Pittsburgh, where they plan to open a car wash together. Along the way they stop to visit Max’s sister in Denver. There they relax with food, drink, and women. They go out, things get out of hand, and they end up on a prison farm for a month. Each according to his disposition, they react to this setback in ways that, for a time, alienate them from each other. When Lion encounters trouble, though, Max is drawn back to defend him. Upon their release, they continue on to Detroit, where Lion goes to see his wife and child (and darn if the kid doesn’t look just like Pacino). The meeting has heavy consequences for both men.

Scarecrows seem to have been the theme of the season for me earlier this year. As I reported extensively here on Shy Turnip, I saw and fell in love with Rapture (1965), a movie in which a scarecrow has different but equal symbolic importance. That movie got into my head, and then I watched Scarecrow, and now it’s in there, too.

Scarecrow is both grim and beautiful in its examination of what we do to get through life, the ways in which we protect ourselves, and the bonds we develop–sometimes, if we’re lucky–with other people.

The quality of the cast is excellent overall. Eileen Brennan’s relatively brief but very revealing (double entendre intended) performance warrants the high billing. Ann Wedgeworth, who I knew as Lana on Three’s Company, demands a second look. Gene Hackman is at the height of his powers. He’d just come off of his performance in The Poseidon Adventure and would next star in the incomparable The Conversation. But it’s Al Pacino’s performance that gets me thinking about the craft of acting and how each person performs for others, and sometimes for him or herself.

This is an underappreciated film. If you have a taste for 1970s American cinema and you haven’t seen it, you are in for a treat.

And, for the love of God, there are plans for a sequel.

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