“Why’d you pick me as your partner?” Francis asks Max. Max replies, “‘Cause you gave me your last match.”
SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM.
Scarecrows are interesting creations. Their purpose is to keep crows away from the fields of farms. They’re even more fascinating when played by Gene Hackman and Al Pacino (metaphorically, of course). They did so in 1973’s Scarecrow, which was directed by Jerry Schatzberg. Hackman plays Max, an ex-con drifter. Pacino plays Francis (aka Lion), a homeless ex-sailor. They meet by a road one day while hitchhiking. Max tries to keep away from Francis at first, but when Francis offers him his last match, he finally talks to him. Max has a plan to open up a car wash in Pittsburgh. He has money saved in a bank there, and calculates that he has enough to get his business started. Francis is on his way to Detroit to meet his five year-old kid. He carries a gift box that contains a small lamp (he doesn’t know if it’s a boy or a girl).
Max immediately appears to be the titular scarecrow. He wears lots of shirts (one on top of the other), gets into a lot of fights, and has trust issues (which is why he keeps most people at a distance). Along their journey, Max and Francis forge a strong friendship. Their stay in Denver seemed fortuitous with Max deciding to open his car wash there instead of Pittsburgh (with some convincing from Francis and Coley, Max’s sister). Max and Francis end up at a prison farm the next day due to a fight Max became involved with (he was defending the honor of Frenchy, his sister’s friend). Their 30-day stay there affects them; one of the inmates beats up Francis after Francis declined to give him “relief,” and Max (who didn’t want to speak to Francis at all while at the prison farm) later beats up the inmate who assaulted Francis. This would be the second time that Max has fought someone not for his own sake but for someone else.
As Max and Francis continue their journey, it is Francis who is revealed as the film’s true titular scarecrow. Max begins to loosen up as he, at one point, diffuses a fight with an impromptu striptease. Max then decides to accompany Francis to Detroit. After they arrive, Francis calls his wife from a phone booth not far from her house. He’s heartbroken when she reveals that she’s married another man and used the money Francis sent to her (which was meant for their kid) to help her new husband start his own business. She also blasts him for going out to see the world (referencing his service in the navy) while leaving her in a slum in Detroit. She then lies to him about what happened to their son (she tells him that he died in the womb when she was eight months pregnant). Francis, unable to cope with this, slowly starts to act bizarre while entertaining some kids at a large fountain, and soon becomes catatonic. Francis’ naval service was a subconscious way of keeping his (now) ex-wife at a distance. Francis also believed that scarecrows made crows laugh so that they wouldn’t return to bother the farm. Throughout the film, Francis tries to make people laugh through impressions and goofy gestures. In the end, it is Francis who is catatonic in a Detroit hospital with Max vowing to return from Pittsburgh to take care of his best friend.