Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Panic in Needle Park

When James Arness died over the weekend, I mentioned that TCM had already scheduled Them! for tonight at 8:00 PM. I've already blogged about it before, so the movie I'd recommend for tonight is The Panic in Needle Park, also at 8:00 PM over on the Fox Movie Channel.

Kitty Winn plays Helen, a girl from the Midwest who's new to the New York City of the early 1970s. She meets Bobby (Al Pacino), who's a bit of a crook, to put it mildly, stealing a TV off the back of a truck. It turns out he's got a much bigger problem than that: he's a heroin addict, and the reason he's stealing is so that he can support his habit. Helen falls in love with Bobby, who introduces her to his true love: as we'll see, each of them seems to care about getting that next hit more than anything else. Predictably enough for anybody who's seen The Lost Weekend or The Man With the Golden Arm, heroin does nothing good for Kitty, and her life begins to take the same turns as Bobby's.

In some ways, The Panic in Needle Park trawls through much of the same waters as earlier addiction movies like the two I mentioned above or The Days of Wine and Roses. And yet, there's something about The Panic in Needle Park that's even rawer than any of the others. Perhaps it's the location shooting of New York as it was back in 1971. Sure, The Lost Weekend did some location shooting, but New York by 1971 looked much less vital than it had a quarter century earlier: remember that this was just a few years away from President Ford's telling the city to "drop dead". There's something about the dingy apartment interiors and the diner scenes that feels so much more right than The Lost Weekend.

The acting is also quite good, as far as I can tell (I don't think I've ever known any heroin addicts, so I can't quite judge how realistic this is). In addition to Bobby and Kitty, there's his brother Hank (Richard Bright), who's a bit higher up in the thieving racket, planning and running the jobs. It gives him more money than Bobby and Helen could hope for, but more importantly, Hank doesn't spend his money on heroin, which leads him to needle Bobby over his much more screwed-up life.

The Panic in Needle Park is a movie that at times is quite uncomfortable to watch, but is still a very good movie.

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