Cast & Crew
Two drifters meander cross-country from California to Detroit, toward a shattering converstaion with an alienated wife.
Robert M. Sherman
Garry Michael White
Hackman and Pacino were the first choices for director Jerry Schatzberg, a successful portrait photographer (he shot the cover of Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde") who made his filmmaking in 1970 with Puzzle of a Downfall Child. Hackman was a top box office star while Pacino was a hot young talent coming off of The Godfather (1972). Schatzberg had directed Pacino in his breakout role in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Scarecrow was his third major film for both artists. "It was the greatest script I have ever read," said Pacino years later, and he and Hackman both prepared for their roles by dressing in castoff clothes and bumming around San Francisco asking for change. But he found making the film a dispiriting experience. Pacino came out of the Actor's Studio in New York and was a proponent of method acting. To get into character as the fidgety, goofing Francis, he would pace and work himself up. Hackman, who had the more volatile role, took a more studied approach, quieting himself in concentration before the cameras rolled. "It wasn't the easiest working with Hackman, who I love as an actor," Pacino told interviewer Lawrence Grobel. "It's the old thing of not knowing who the other person is until after you've done the movie." The collision of styles made for a dynamic onscreen relationship but put a strain on the atmosphere of the set, where even Schatzberg found Hackman difficult to deal with.
In contrast to Pacino, Hackman was pleased by the experience and called Max his best role and Scarecrow one of his best films. The actor had recently won his first Academy Award for The French Connection (1971) and came to Scarecrow right after finishing the disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure (1972), choosing the intimate character piece as a change of pace from the crime pictures and violent characters he has been playing. Schatzberg shot the film in sequence and the production took to the road, starting with the opening scenes in Bakersfield, California, then jumping to Reno, Denver, and Detroit. Hackman appreciated that approach: "It was the only film that I made totally in sequence. Any actor will tell you how helpful that is in understanding character development." The production also gave his brother, Richard, work as his stand-in, which led to a small role as a corrupt guard on a prison farm.
Scarecrow shared the 1973 Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, with The Hireling, but faced mixed reviews in the U.S. and was a box-office failure. Its reputation grew over the years, however, and it always had a special place in Hackman's heart. "It just worked so well," he recalled in 1986. "A lot of people come up to me and say it was one of their favorite films."
The film was digitally restored in 2013 for its 40th anniversary and screened for new audiences in film festivals and revival showings, earning rave reviews that eluded the film on its first release. Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, called the film "a masterpiece of the American new wave, a rangy, freewheeling tragicomedy in which Hackman and Pacino give effortlessly charismatic performances." As Scarecrow traveled the festival circuit, Schatzberg announced that he was developing a follow-up that takes place 30 years after the events of the film. Not that he had any commitments from the actors--Hackman had long since retired from acting and Schatzberg admited he probably couldn't even afford Pacino--nor permission from Warner Bros., who owns the rights to the film. But then that spirit of underdog ambition feels appropriate to a buddy film of down-and-out drifters sustained by big dreams, unlikely friendship, and the possibilities of the open road.
Al Pacino in Conversation with Lawrence Grobel, Lawrence Grobel. Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2006.
Gene Hackman, Michael Munn. Robert Hale, 1977.
Al Pacino: A Life on the Wire, Andrew Yule. S.P.I Books, 1992.
"Scarecrow" review, Peter Bradshaw. The Guardian, April 25, 2013.
"Modest 'Scarecrow' Preps Fresh Field in Gotham," Peter Debruge. Variety, May 14, 2013.
"Jerry Schatzberg at Work on 'Scarecrow' Sequel," Etan Vlessing. The Hollywood Reporter, July 1, 2013.
By Sean Axmaker
Scarecrow on DVD
The script for Scarecrow was by first-time screenwriter Garry Michael White. It tips its hand all too often (the meaning of the "scarecrow" of the title is brought up early and casually discussed by the characters throughout), but it otherwise provides that sort of loose framework that actors love to grab and run with. Well, perhaps the framework is a bit too loose - like Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), the storyline is intentionally sparse, although the characters are not the ciphers that populate that film. Max (Hackman) has just gotten out of prison, and Francis (Pacino) has just returned from sea, when they meet while hitchhiking on opposite sides of the road. They decide to travel together. Max instantly renames Francis "Lionel" because "Francis" sounds like a girl's name. Max is headed to Pittsburgh, where he has been sending his prison wages and plans to open a car wash; Lionel wants to personally deliver a gift to Detroit, to the son or daughter that he has never seen. They hook up on the Northern California coast, and in the best road movie tradition, the journey is the focus. There are stops in bars and diners, a layover in Colorado with Coley (Dorothy Tristan) and Frenchy (Ann Wedgeworth), and a stint at a prison work farm.
Scarecrow was lovingly shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who helped define the look of early 1970s New Hollywood, in films like McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Deliverance (1972), and The Long Goodbye (1973). Director Jerry Schatzberg was a former magazine photographer, and he and Zsigmond obviously took great pains in creating the look of the film; the care in capturing dust wafting through morning sunlight practically gives a literal meaning to the term "road picture"! Schatzberg's previous film was Pacino's breakout feature, The Panic in Needle Park (1971).
For all of the gorgeous photography, Scarecrow is primarily an actor's film – there are frequent long takes, in which the players are allowed room for improvisation. This can lead to an uneven quality and to the occasional indulgence, however, as when a nonsensical ad-lib by Hackman at the end of a five-minute shot is left in the film. Several other scenes are memorable tour-de-forces; Max is prone to break out in fights, but eventually tries out Lionel's preferred method of disarming violent situations - with humor. The resulting scene, in which Hackman performs a striptease, is nothing less than a hoot. For his part, Pacino makes the most of a scene in which Francis is supposed to create a diversion in a store so that Max can shoplift.
Upon initial release, Scarecrow shared the Palmes D'Or with Alan Bridges' The Hireling (1973) at the Cannes Film Festival, but opened in the States to lukewarm reviews and less-than-stellar boxoffice. It's a shame that it never quite found its audience – despite a slight script and a sometimes indulgent director, Scarecrow delivers strong performances from two of the essential actors of the decade, and is a worthy entry next to the powerhouse films listed on either side of it in Hackman and Pacino's respective filmographies.
The DVD presents a nearly blemish-free 2:40:1 widescreen transfer and a fine mono soundtrack. The only extras are a trailer (as trailers go, the print quality is quite nice), and an all-too-short vintage featurette called "On the Road with Scarecrow." The picture quality of the short is awful, but it contains some alternate take versions of a couple of scenes in the film and a few intriguing behind-the-scenes shots, including one of director Schatzberg and cinematographer Zsigmond manning the camera car as it follows Hackman and Pacino hitching a ride on a hay truck. At less than four minutes, the featurette is a tease, pointing out that this DVD package cries out for some historical context. A commentary track would have been a welcome addition, since Scarecrow was apparently filmed in continuity as the actors and crew traveled across the country, no doubt generating many potential behind-the-scenes stories along the way.
For more information about Scarecrow, visit Warner Video. To order Scarecrow, go to TCM Shopping.
by John M. Miller
Scarecrow on DVD
Scarecrows are beautiful.- Lion
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)