“Goodnight world, you mother fucker.”
Gene Hackman is Max Millan, an ex-convict determined to reach Pittsburgh with dreams of opening up his own his own carwash. Al Pacino is Francis Lionel “Lion” Delbuchi, a homeless sailor hoping to be reunited with the wife and child he previously walked out on. After a chance meeting they team up together to hitch rides, jump freights and hit the open road heading east in this overlooked and forgotten classic seventies road movie.
Released in 1973, it’s somewhat confusing as to why this extremely stylish, expertly directed and brilliantly performed tragic-comedy has been left to fall into obscurity. Having never been released on DVD on the U.K (I’m not sure whether it was even released on video) very few people have even heard of it let alone seen it, which is strange considering the legendary status of the actors involved. Gene Hackman has even officially stated that his part as Max was the best role he’s ever played. And what a fantastic role it is. Hackman is excellent as the flat cap wearing, cigar chomping Max, full of anger and hopes but unable to resist his own drunken, violent impulses. It’s also great to see Pacino in an early role that doesn’t involve shouting.
Directed by Vogue photographer Jerry Schatzberg, who made the equally gritty The Panic In Needle Park, Scarecow’s stylised visuals and polished cinematography remain crisp and ageless. There’s also a great score by Fred Myrow, who previously worked on orchestrations for Jim Morrison and Brian Wilson and went on to score eerie sci-fi Soylent Green and cult horror Phantasm.
With it’s tumble weed, dust bowl towns, run down diners and smoky bars, this is pure Americana at it’s fabled best, the U.S road as you’ve always dreamt of it being. Hackman and Pacino make a great double act as they skip from one sordid adventure to the next. Although it does fall into the bracket of those late sixties to mid-seventies bleak buddy movies with a purposely downbeat, “fuck Hollywood” ending, such as Midnight Cowboy, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, Easy Rider and The Last Detail. Despite the humour there is a constant feeling of unease throughout the film, and you know that something horrible is capable of happening at any moment, and it does. Things become particularly brutal and uncompromising during the infamous prison scenes.
This isn’t a perfect film by all means, it is flawed to a certain degree. I found the dramatic conclusion somewhat contrived and over the top for a movie with such natural, humorous dialogue and a breezy, episodic pace. But it is a film of great moments that feel completely genuine, featuring the kind of characters that Hollywood usually chooses to ignore. Hackman, Pacino and the rest of the cast are wholly believable. The open ended final scene with Hackman banging his shoe on a ticket booth counter to remove money he’s hidden inside the heel is priceless. If you get a chance to see Scarecrow please do, it’s an undervalued entry into the road movie genre and one of the most under rated films of the seventies.