Panic in Needle Park, The (1971): Jerry Schatzberg’s Drug Drama, Starring Al Pacino

Jerry Schatzberg directed The Panic in Needle Park, a drama revolving around drug addicts, starring Al Pacino, in his second film appearance.

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne’s script was adapted from James Mills’ 1966 novel.

The film portrays a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” (nickname for Sherman Square on Manhattan’s Upper West Side near 72nd Street and Broadway).

Bobby (Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler is in love with Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman. When she also becomes an addict, life goes downhill for both, eventually leading to a series of betrayals.

In New York City, Helen returns to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Marco, after an inept abortion. Helen becomes ill and Bobby, an amiable small-time drug dealer to whom Marco owes money, shows unexpected gentleness and concern.

Helen moves in with Bobby, and when she sees him taking drugs, he explains that he is not an addict, but only uses a little.

At Sherman Square, nicknamed Needle Park for the drug addicts who use it as a hangout, Bobby introduces Helen to his brother Hank, who burgles for a living.

Bobby and Helen are eventually evicted from their apartment and move into a sleazier one.

In the end, Helen agrees to help the police, and later on, she watches them apprehend Bobby, who possesses large amount of heroin. When Bobby spots Helen on the street, he yells at her, and months later, when he is released from jail, Helen waits for him at the gate.  Although his first impulse is to rebuff her, he turns and asks her “Well?” as they walk away together.

Al Pacino as Bobby
Kitty Winn as Helen Reeves
Alan Vint as Detective Hotch
Richard Bright as Hank
Kiel Martin as Chico
Michael McClanathan as Sonny
Warren Finnerty as Sammy
Marcia Jean Kurtz as Marcie
Raúl Juliá as Marco
Angie Ortega as Irene
Larry Marshall as Mickey
Paul Mace as Whitey
Nancy MacKay as Penny
Gil Rogers as Robins
Joe Santos as Detective DiBono
Paul Sorvino as Samuels
Sully Boyar as Doctor
Ruth Alda as Admitting Nurse