(director: Jerry Schatzberg; screenwriter: Garry Michael White; cinematographer: William Zsigmond; editor: Evan Lottman; music: Fred Myrow; cast: Gene Hackman (Max Millan), Al Pacino (Lion), Dorothy Tristan (Coley), Ann Wedgeworth (Frenchy), Richard Lynch (Jack Riley), Eileen Brennan (Darlene), Penny Allen (Annie), Richard Hackman (Mickey, prison guard); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert M. Sherman; Warner Home Video; 1973)
“A road film, buddy movie and character study dramedy about alienation… .”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A road film, buddy movie and character study dramedy about alienation that seems to be going places when on the road, but crashes in absurdity when it gives way to a dreary sentimental conclusion that just doesn’t work. Director Jerry Schatzberg (“The Seduction of Joe Tynan“/”Panic in Needle Park”/”Street Smart”) gets good picturesque American road location cinematography from William Zsigmond, but the overwrought screenplay by Garry Michael White after the halfway mark gives way to its moralistic agenda as the parable about the two losers and their intense friendship goes off course and has an unfulfilling tragic ending.
Hitchhiking drifters Francis (Al Pacino) and Max (Gene Hackman) meet on a deserted California country road and after a frosty beginning the friendly Francis wins over the hostile Max and they team up going cross-country. The volatile Max, just released from a 6-year stretch in San Quentin for assault, shortens his new drifter friend’s middle name from Lionel to Lion and then feels comfortable enough to make him his business partner in a Pittsburgh car wash he plans on opening. Pittsburgh is chosen because that’s where Max has a bank savings account. Lion is returning from 5 years away at sea as a sailor from the pregnant wife in Detroit he deserted, Annie (Penny Allen), and plans to visit the kid he never saw and whom he doesn’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl. To be safe, Lion brings along a lamp as a present.
With the drifters compared to scarecrows by Lion, who envisions that the birds stay away from the farm scarecrows not out of fear but as a good-will gesture as to how clownish they look and how much they make them laugh.
There’s a significant visit to Denver to Max’s affable sister Coley (Dorothy Tristan). Max has sex with sis’s busty loose-living business partner and roommate Frenchy (Ann Wedgeworth ). When spending an evening with the girls in a seedy bar that they frequent, Max gets into a bar fight with one of Frenchy’s roughneck fellers and after Max accidentally slugs a cop the boys get sentenced to a month in an honor farm prison. There the vulnerable Lion is beaten to a pulp by the trustee prisoner Jack Riley (Richard Lynch) after refusing to pleasure him. In Detroit, Lion calls his wife and gets taken aback when the embittered woman, now unhappily married, falsely tells him that she had a miscarriage caused when she slipped because he wasn’t there for her and the dead child can’t go to heaven because he wasn’t baptized. From that bad news, we’re led to believe that Lion no longer believes in his happy-go-philosophy and suddenly goes catatonic. Lion is carted off to the state mental hospital and the insecure Max is off to Pittsburgh not sure if he can operate a business on his own and thereby promises to return to Detroit with enough money to treat Lion.
REVIEWED ON 10/15/2012 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/