The Panic in Needle Park


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that the film really takes the time to develop its characters, so that you really feel that you know them. The bad news is that you'll wish you didn't. They're junkies, so they spend their time doing what junkies do: hustling anything for dope, ripping one another off, shooting up, and nodding out.

I'm not finished with the bad news. It's one of those ugly slice-of-life films made in that brief window of time after the studio system era but before the blockbuster era. It was an epoch when filmmakers felt obligated to have as little plot and structure as possible, and as much gritty realism as they could possibly create. Back in that era we felt that slick technical filmmaking was selling out to the man (whoever he was, probably Dick Nixon), and that a coherent narrative structure was the cinematic equivalent of your father's Oldsmobile.

So ... the film has a film verité aesthetic, has no beginning or ending, and features Manhattan junkies acting exactly like real junkies. That had some merit in 1971 because we suburban types didn't know what the lives of real junkies were like, and this film laid everything out in painstaking detail, including close-ups of needles entering veins. It was shocking then and its realism could cause people to turn from the screen. Watching it now can be a painful experience in a completely different way. We've seen it done better so many times since 1971 that this pioneering film seems tedious, obvious, painfully limited by the clichés and mannerisms of its time. It was probably hip back then, but now it's about as hip as the Keystone Kops.

And a lot less fun.

There are some interesting aspects of the film, primarily personnel related:

The film was entered at Cannes, and the young female star, Kitty Winn, got a heady welcome to the world of cinema when she was chosen as the festival's best actress in her film debut. It was her first movie, but she was no stranger to the acting profession. Like Annette Bening some years later, Winn had been discovered by a film director while she was performing with the American Conservatory Theater group. She starred with that troupe from 1967-1970, and it was her performance in Saint Joan that attracted the attention of producer Dominick Dunne, who invited her to California for a Needle Park audition. She got the part and the kudos at Cannes, but her career never took off. She married in 1978,  and never worked in another film after her wedding, committing to family life instead.

Fortunately for film nudity historians and aficionados, the political mandates of the counter-culture produced more than just meandering scripts. An important corollary of the anti-establishment attitude was that nudity was de rigueur in the era. It was another way of thumbing one's nose at society's uptight and hypocritical conventions. Right on, man. Power to the people. Thanks to the prevailing zeitgeist, Kitty Winn did her first and only screen nudity.

Kitty's young co-star didn't get any special attention at Cannes, but he went on to a somewhat more impressive career than Ms. Winn. I think you've probably heard of him. Guy named Al Pacino. His performance in Needle Park made an impression on a young director named Francis Ford Coppola, and the two of them would soon enter the A-list together as the director and star of The Godfather, Pacino's very next film.


* widescreen anamorphic








Kitty Winn was awarded the best actress honor at Cannes.

3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)


6.9 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. No info available.



  • Kitty Winn showed her breasts.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Considered a strong movie in its day, it is now dated and a prisoner of the filmmaking fads of its time.