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“The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) - Sam Gall's Movie Review Issue #27 Gem Mint 10.0

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

“The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) directed by Jerry Schatzberg

"The film portrays life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in "Needle Park" (then-nickname for Sherman Square). The film is a love story between Bobby (Al Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman who finds Bobby charismatic."

You might like this if you like: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn, Jerry Schatzberg director of "Scarecrow" (1973), dark love stories, romance, drama, thriller, movies about addiction, movies about drug addiction, New York, New York films, HBO's "Girls", "Requiem for a Dream" (2000), "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1959), just like to watch some good acting no matter what the movie's about.

I was first introduced to “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) when I met the truly wonderful actress and human being; Kitty Winn. I felt bad I hadn’t seen it sooner but was also shocked to realize she had played Ellen Burstyn’s assistant/Linda Blair’s “sitter” in “The Exorcist” (1973) who to this day has told me she still has not ever watched the film. After the realization I devoured her work. I knew I’d be getting to participate in some projects with her so I was intimidated yet SO EXCITED to educate myself on her career in anticipation. Everything she’s in she’s good. It’s insane. She’s one of the greatest actresses I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. I had the pure luck of getting to see her in a stage production of Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond” as Ethel Thayer.

Kitty Winn in "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971)

Kitty Winn is my super star of the 70s. She retired in the early 80s with the exception of a few theater productions later but worked in such films other than wonderful Sharon in “The Exorcist” (1973) & “The Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977) but also starred in such films as “Peeper” (1975) co-starring Michael Caine, “Message to my Daughter” (1973) co-starring Martin Sheen, “The House That Would Not Die” (1970) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck and “They Might Be Giants” (1971) starring George C. Scott and even starred in television including a couple episodes of “Kojak” (1973-1978).

Kitty Winn ended up winning the Canne Film Festival award for Best Actress in 1971 for "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971). I wish there was more I could see her in. She’s been a constant inspiration in my life and I’m honored to have gotten the pleasure of meeting and getting to know her.

Al Pacino in "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971)

Al Pacino couldn’t be fresher! He’s the most charming and lovable I’ve seen yet powerful and strong like I’m used to. He feels innocent and free and I know that’s the spirit of the character he’s playing but it being his first film just adds to it all.

It almost feels like a darker, drug infused “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1959). Or if “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1959) just got gritty and real. I know that sounds strange but it’s a compliment. I love both but the way the romance and mystery intermingle is reminiscent of each other. I’m not talking about plot or storyline similarities between the two (because there aren’t that I can see) but the feeling both pairs of characters/the story emits. Or maybe it’s because both just take place in New York.

Kitty Winn (left) & Al Pacino (right) in "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971)

It echoes that New York feel that HBO’s “Girls” employs so well and they even have an episode titled “The Panic in Central Park” in Season 5 in which they pay light homage. A famous scene from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994) pays homage to “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) when Uma Thurman’s character is stabbed with an adrenaline needle to revive her after an overdose of cocaine.

Al Pacino (left) & Kitty Winn (right) in "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971)

The film ramps up and can be difficult to watch at times. It deals with the deep struggles of addiction and drug use. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s real. It’s honest. It’s beautifully and powerfully portrayed not just by the incredible actors but the direction, locations, camera work and lighting. It’s an outstanding piece of cinema that touches the heart in more ways than one.

Written by Sam Gall on 07/25/20

CGC Grading: Gem Mint 10.0

Kitty Winn winning Best Actress in 1971 at the Cannes Film Festival:

Official Trailer:

Couldn't find it to rent online only for DVD/BluRay purchase (last I checked it was still on Netflix):

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