At the Music Box Theatre in downtown Chicago, I had the chance to attend a screening of Scarecrow. The movie, originally released in 1973, is directed by Jerry Schatzberg and stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. The film was in 35 MM projection and is a superb dark flick that is not remembered or appreciated. Back in 1973, Scarecrow was in a competition section at the Cannes Film Festival and won the big award, the Palm d’Or (back then it was called the Golden Palm), but it shared the award with the Alan Bridge film The Hireling. Besides receiving that award, Scarecrow did not receive much attention. That is unfortunate because it is a deep and authentic drama that is essential for avid film fanatics.
The film gears on Max and Lionel (Hackman and Pacino). Max is an ex-con artist who is a drifter with a goal to save money by opening a car wash. Lionel is an ex-sailor who is homeless. Once they both get acquainted, they begin to go on the road together in hopes of finding ways to make income and start a car wash business. However, the title Scarecrow has a meaning which Lionel explains during a discussion in the movie. However, it is important to see it in order to understand the connection and why the film has this title.
Realism is such a critical element of Scarecrow. This film brings its audience back to the era of low technological support. The film also shows how networking was such a challenge in this time frame. There are moments where Max and Lionel hit plateaus and experience other troubles that make the goal of the car wash even more challenging than they have anticipated. Also, Max starts to resent Lionel, because he feels Lionel has no craft and is lacking in so many areas required for success. The realism with the anger and frustration brings out the harsh authenticity that Scarecrow portrays.
Given how brilliant Scarecrow is, I believe if it got the recognition it deserved, it would have led to more opportunities for the actors and people involved with the film. Hackman has said this role was his favorite, but because it was poorly recognized, it prompted him to pursue more commercialized films. While the movie got some recognition with awards and reviews, for some reason it never found an audience to help the film grow. Unfortunately, the film alone was off the grid, and not released on DVD until many years later.
Despite, the poor attention, Scarecrow is a film that is imperative for the 1970s and the film world we are in now. The film needs to be seen because of its character development, and its central conflict. The dialogue is top-notch, and viewers will sense deep feelings during this movie. There are many films like this one I love that are also underappreciated. I am giving Scarecrow four stars.