Today: February 28, 2024

The Panic In Needle Park

The Panic In Needle Park is a clear message that if you’re going to be a successful drug baron, it’s best not to have a junkie girlfriend who will screw you over for her next fix. Oh, and that ‘heroin’ is bad.

The Panic In Needle Park is a clear message
that if you’re going to be a successful drug baron, it’s best not to have a
junkie girlfriend who will screw you over for her next fix. Oh, and that ‘heroin’
is bad.

In fact, such is the somewhat heavy-handed
message ‘Just Say No’, this gritty, bleak realistic portrayal of the descent
into smack hell was banned until 1975 by British censors. Certainly, we get a
series of graphic closeups of needles penetrating the flesh and the like, but shocking elements such as these were not palatable in mainstream
films at the time; but if anything, the narrative is
primarily focused on a tragic lovestory rather than the glamourisation of this dark
world.

Written by Joan Didion, with her husband Dominick
Dunne, and based on the novel by reporter James Mills, the title of the film refers to the drug trade in New York City’s
Sherman Square that the locals refer to as “Needle Park” because
it is overrun by junkies.

The scene is set when we are introduced to Helen
(Winn) in a subway, immediately after a dodgy illegal abortion. A student from
Indiana, she is returning to her artist boyfriend Marco (Raúl Julia) where junkie
and petty thief Bobby (Pacino) is providing her
beau with his latest fix. The next day, Helen finds herself in hospital where she
learns from a concerned (or horny) Bobby that her man has done a runner. She
quickly washes that man out of her hair and moves in with her charismatic messenger,
in his flat in Needle Park. Life is good to begin with, but heroin soon becomes
the third wheel in the relationship and our damsel soon feels emotionally and
sexually neglected. Panic has descended into the area with drugs becoming
scarce on the streets and the prices escalating. In a desperate bid to remain
high, addicts shoot as much as they can handle and anything they can get their
hands on. Bobby gets right up in the mix, continuously smacked out and at
one point he overdoses and almost does not make it. Along the way, Helen decides
to find out what the fuss is all about and so joins him in his path of self-destruction.

After yet another stint in the clink for burglary Bobby,
having been forced to go cold turkey, returns home to find that Helen has been whiling
away her time in a heroin haze, funding her habit on her back to support her
habit. Even Bobby’s brother Hank (Richard Bright) is not out of bounds. There’s
nowhere for the couple go but down, and they do so with alarming speed. After Helen has been caught pushing
pills to schoolkids, NARC Hotchner (Alan Vint) offers her a reprieve if she
grasses on her man, the bigger catch. Hey, this is a dog-eat-dog world – and she’s
in.

It’s clear why Kitty Winn won the best
actress award at Cannes but it is the 30-year old Al Pacino who steals the
show. In his first leading role, he already shows that he’s got it going on
before nestling under Francis Ford Coppola’s wing in The Godfather (1972). Directed
by Jerry Schatzberg, there are some scenes that just do not cut it and does little more than
bang on with the anti-drug message. For one, a wee puppy the couple own, jumps
off a ship and drowns whilst our adoring stoneheads are high off their heads.
And yes, the shocking elements of this film may now seem outdated for the
modern audience but nevertheless, The Panic In Needle Park is a slice of
70s drama that deserves a revival.

To Order The Panic In Needle Park Click Here

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