Scarecrow (1973 )


Jerry Schatzberg

Cinematography by

Vilmos Zsigmond

The story revolves around the relationship between two vagabonds: Max Millan (Gene Hackman), a short-tempered ex-convict, and Francis Lionel “Lion” Delbuchi (Al Pacino), a childlike ex-sailor. They meet on the road in California and agree to become partners in a car wash business, once they reach Pittsburgh.


Lion is on his way to Detroit to see the child he has never met and make amends with his wife Annie, to whom he has been sending all the money he made while at sea. Max agrees to make a detour on his way to Pittsburgh, where the bank that Max has been sending all his seed money is located.

While visiting Max’s sister in Denver, the pair’s antics land them in a prison farm for a month. Max blames Lion for being sent back to jail and shuns him. Lion is befriended by an inmate named Riley (Richard Lynch), who later tries to sexually assault him. Max proceeds to teach Riley a lesson, rekindling his friendship with Lion. The two have a profound effect on each other, with Lion becoming more of an adult and Max loosening up his high-strung aggression (at one point doing a tongue-in-cheek striptease to defuse a fight at a bar).


When they finally make it to Detroit, Lion calls Annie, who is now remarried and raising their five-year-old son. She is still angry at him for leaving her, and spitefully lies to him that she miscarried their son. Lion is devastated, but feigns happiness at having a son. Shortly afterward, he has a breakdown while playing with neighborhood children and becomes catatonic. Max promises Lion that he will do anything to help him, and boards a train to Pittsburgh with a round-trip ticket.


Great film

14 September 2004 | by PatrickFlanigan (United States) – See all my reviews

Essentially, the film reveals is that people use different ways and personas to protect themselves from being hurt. Max is obviously confrontational and aggressive. Francis is a clown. Each disarms those around them so that they don’t get too close. You can look at a scarecrow in many ways, but the purpose is the same…. to keep the crows away. Max uses fear, Francis uses jokes. At the end of the movie, Francis’ scarecrow doesn’t work anymore when strong feelings break through surface. The dialog and acting in this film are first rate. Two of my favorite actors in break-out roles. Hackman as a sensitive guy… Pacino as a comedian… who would have thought?


The poignant chronicle of two lost souls trying to survive in the jungle of life …

Author: ElMaruecan82 from France
16 October 2012

No pun intended but 1973 was a ‘good year’ for road-movies, “Paper Moon” in comedy and “The Last Detail” in drama, both featured characters crossing a crisis-stricken America, learning to know each other in the process and to embrace the future with brighter hopes. All things come in three with “Scarecrow”, Golden Palm winner at Cannes Festival.


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.

I am surprised Francis wasn’t abducted by aliens or had a herd of gnus run all over him.

Author: fedor8 from Serbia
22 December 2011
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A great opening shot, visually speaking, when Hackman appears from behind the hill. What follows is utter silence for several minutes, reminding the viewer that although this is an American movie, it is more European in its attitude.


Then Pacino starts impersonating a gorilla, and at that point I was very close to pressing the “stop” button. Later on I realized why they did this (and other buffoonery they glued onto his character): Pacino had to be made into an over-the-top happy person (well, OK, not THAT happy) in order for the writer to make him fall.

Fall down. Way, way, way down, all in the name of “the human condition” or whatever it is that “Scarecrow” was supposed to be about. Suffering, both mental and physical, as the only way to create (a) drama – for some writers and film-makers that’s the only way they know, which I find somewhat pathetic.


Typical of its era, yet another 70s “grit” drama, focusing on various joes shmoes and their empty, irrelevant lives. Much like similarly well-cast, well-filmed movies of that era, such as “Straight Time”, “Five Easy Pieces”, “The Last Detail”, (to name but a few that were quite solid), “Scarecrow” is an “actor’s dream”, a film-critic’s “wet dream”, but also frequently the viewer’s nightmare. I bet this was a flop at the box-office.

Fortunately, neither Bergman nor some overrated French con-artist (with a penchant for Marxist propaganda) directed this, hence there is a decent cast, and while the goings-on may get occasionally too slow and even depressing, SC is a watchable drama, though with the predictable downer ending in which Pacino gets the crap end of the stick, which was to be expected.


After all, when a “buddy drama” starts off with a happy character, that happy-go-lucky guy is the one of the two that is in grave danger of either: 1) ending up dead, 2) being severely beaten at some point (check), 3) locked up innocent (check), and/or 4) ending up a catatonic like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (check). (Oh alright, Jack was lobotomized, let’s not split hairs, it’s the same damn ending.) The writer went all-out to destroy Francis (Pacino) in every way he could, simply so that the movie would have that critically-acclaimed tragic touch that gets movie-festival juries all bubbly with joy, rushing to hand out awards in the name of “art” (which HAS to do with suffering, nearly always, for some daft reason, which is why sci-fis and comedies cannot win anything usually).

Personally, I think they went overboard, something akin to overkill. I was half-expecting an elephant to step on Pacino’s face while he was lying motionless on that hospital bed. Or a bird to fly in, crap on his face, and infect him with a rare bird disease. Just for good measure. Just so the very last one of us knows that Francis has been royally screwed by fate.


So if you’re into deliberately slow-paced dramas (though nothing nearly as slug-slow as a typical overrated Bergman turd), and you’ve always wanted to see someone try to rape Al Pacino, after which he gets his face smashed in like a pancake, this movie’s right up your alley. Personally, I thought it was OK, nothing more, and without Hackman to hold it all together, this would have been a mediocre movie. Pacino is usually excellent, but this role wasn’t written that well, and his character wasn’t all that interesting, so there was little he could do to make himself stick out – except of course when he went bonkers at the fountain, got a seizure, and then went catatonic just so the writer could have his glorious moment of tragedy. Amateur (the writer, not Pacino).

Sure, it’s fairly intelligent, but is it particularly entertaining?


Btw, the movie wanted realism, in fact realism was its raison-d’etre (use French words and phrases in reviews, that somehow makes your arguments stronger and more convincing), and yet when Francis gets his head smashed, quite brutally, very extremely, I expected him to be disfigured for life, or at least to undergo some kind of massive reconstructive plastic surgery. However, there was none of that. Apparently, if you beat someone’s face in, disfigure it, break every bone in the head, you still get to recover fairly well within weeks. So much for the gritty reality.

Who could possibly blame Francis for leaving his former wife? Did you all take a close look at that woman? Damn.

Interesting – How this movie fits between “The Godfather” and “Serpico”.

Author: AzRanger from The Rincon Mesa, Arizona
9 December 2003

While `The Godfather’ was not Al’s first movie (it’s his third), it’s certainly the one that gave everyone their first look and feel of his talent. Then he made `Scarecrow’. At the start, we see him as a young drifter who immediately shares with Gene his attitude of humor as the way to take on life. I thought: Hey, he’s giving himself a break from the very structured character he played in `The Godfather’ and is going to have some fun in this movie. Well, as this movie goes on, we see that humor fading away, forced from him by some bad interactions with others. ‘Course, about this same time, Gene finally grabs the humor bug that Al’s character has been trying to get him to catch, so he’s having fun now, right? So, did Al get a break from playing the serious character? No, so what’s he do next? – He makes `Serpico’. What a downer.


I’m not knocking that great movie, just saying that his character plays an extremely serious cop forced into awful situations. It’s just that I was hoping, as `Scarecrow’ started out, that I was watching the kind of movie that actor’s enjoy making simply so they can have fun (they’re entitled, aren’t they?), but nope, the seriousness is all there. Still, it’s interesting the order these three fall into, within a year of each other. If you’re like most people (me included), you missed this one when it first came out. Watch it now. It’s well worth it.

Wistful road movie

Author: ereinion from Norway
3 September 2004

Whats great with “Scarecrow” is that it has both moments of comedy,tragedy and serenity.Its all spread throughout the movie carefully.Gene Hackman provides the fun with his tough guy persona which often looks comical.Al Pacino also provides some funny scenes,specially the one where he runs around the shop to create diversion so Hackman can steal.


The movie can be split in two parts.The first is when Max and Lionel meet and strike up a partnership,sticking together through thick and thin.Its the part which is the more enjoyable of the two and gives you a good feeling.

The second is the tragic one,when the two get arrested and are placed in jail with the villain of the film,Jack Riley(played well by Richard Lynch).What the kindly naive Lion doesn’t see,but Max does at once,is that Jack is out to get himself a prag.Therefore Lion falls victim to the beast,after being fooled that Jack will make him director for his talent show. Max is quick to avenge the brutal treatment that his buddy gets after a drunken night with Jack the Queer.


The “rape” scene is the most difficult to watch and it marks this film as heavy on the eyes.However,after Jack gets what he deserves from Max,things get better and there is a reassessment that everything will get better from now on.

Sadly,that doesn’t prove to last.Lion’s downfall comes shortly after the release from prison and its a heartbreaking moment.Al Pacino really shines in those scenes and I believe no actor could have been as good in this part.Max does everything to help his ailing friend and he doesn’t lose courage.

The interesting,and a bit frustrating,thing with this film is that it ends unfinished,leaving us in a maze.We don’t get to find out if Max managed to raise enough money to pay for Lionel’s treatment,we don’t get the final reassessment.


But that also makes the film better.And it leaves the possibility for a sequel,which is something I would like to see happen more than anything.Yet,I have a feeling that it never will.

This film,although not a box office hit,won a Golden Palm.That shows that although “Scarecrow” is a great film,it never had a chance to gather an audience for itself,possibly because of its gripping,realistic and bleak nature.Such movies have always been a rarity in American cinema.That all makes this a remarkable and rewarding film,something that any true cinema aficionado should see. 10 out of 10


Bad Timing

Author: inspectors71 from Fly-Over Country
3 March 2010

I recently sat down to watch two great movies, both by Francis Ford Coppola–The Godfather, Part II and The Conversation. They were dazzling films with little in common except, maybe, for the gloomy paranoia they shared. Both Harry Caul and Michael Corleone are deeply tragic characters, their nature damaged by their nurturing. Gene Hackman and Al Pacino made their characters heart-wrenchingly real, and I recommend both movies for these two actors’ performances alone.

I do not do the same for Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow, with Hackman and Pacino.

I’ve wanted to see this movie since I was in high school. The thought of these two powerhouse actors in a “road” film riveted my attention the first time I saw an advertisement for the movie.


But, with prudish parents, and not being old enough to see an R-rated movie, Scarecrow just slipped away from my consciousness, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that, when we subscribed to Netflix, I thought it was time to see this tour de force actors’ movie.

I didn’t even see it then. It wasn’t until recently that I checked out Scarecrow from the local library. Finally, after almost 37 years, I sat down to watch Scarecrow and . . .

It wasn’t The Godfather or The Conversation but a murky, uneven, and tedious art film, with two great actors just actin’ up a hurricane of deeply profound acting.


Whoo-ee, look at them boys up there on the screen actin’! Have ya ever seen the like? It took me two weeks to watch Scarecrow all the way through, it was that much work and that little pleasure. The movie was on video tape so I ran it all the way to the end to see how much of this actin’ was left and shoot, but there tweren’t 47 minutes still to go. I could do that.

Now, if you’re asking, “Idiot, if it was that bad, why not just take the damn thing back to the library?” And the idiot replies, “Once it’s started it’s my obligation to finish it!” So here it is, a day after I finished Scarecrow. I still respect and enjoy the work of Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. Yet, I can say without hesitation or reservation that Scarecrow is a dreadfully dull film that wasn’t worth the wait.

I can now check it off my “bucket list” of movies I need to go back to see.


“Scarecrows are beautiful”

Author: C.H Newell
11 July 2014
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Being a huge fan of both Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, lately I’ve been searching out their earliest works I’ve yet to see, which of course lead me to Scarecrow.

The acting here is what really pushes the film to perfect. Hackman is Max, a hard ass ex-con who slowly softens up a bit after meeting Pacino’s character, Lion, a sailor. Each of them a drifter now, they meet in a great opening bit where they’re hitchhiking; Lion makes a fool of himself on the side of the road, but it is his offering of his last match to Max that secures the friendship.


From there they drift about, taking care of one another, eventually ending up in jail for a brief period after a bar fight goes wild. In jail, their friendship is tested, but Max proves he really does care about Lion, and their bond. It is through all this Lion shows Max how “the scarecrows are beautiful”, how they keep “the crows laughing”. However, it’s a sad tale, and within all the comedy, the often times very engaging drama, there’s a very deep story about two wounded men who’ve somehow found each other on the road of life.

They’re both scarecrows, in a sense: Lion uses his humour to ‘scare people off’, while Max uses his real scare tactics and physicality to keep people away. The last twenty minutes of the film is absolutely heartbreaking; it’s the most sincere, beautiful performance I’ve seen by Al Pacino, personally.


The character of Lion really comes out at the end, and I applaud the writing for shielding the details of his personal life until near the finale- it’s a roller-coaster watching Pacino go through all the awful emotions Lion feels after the ‘reveal’. And it’s also frustrating; though Lion isn’t perfect, and we find out how his actions have affected his family, the lie his wife tells him does immense damage to his psyche, and possibly ends him, emotionally, for the remainder of his life.

Amazingly powerful movie. I expected it to be a real treat acting-wise, but I had no idea this was going to be such a moving, intense experience. There are little bits and pieces in the film that fall together here and there, and I love stories like that; even the very end, when Max is pounding his boot at the ticket counter, we finally understand exactly why he only ever slept with his boots under his pillow.


Hackman and Pacino should forever be proud of the jobs they both did here. In fact, the whole team came together, clicking in the right places, from script to direction, and I wish there were more soulful films like these in this day and age. Without a doubt at all, 10 out of 10 stars. One of the best of the 1970s in American cinema.



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