Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Panic in Needle Park

Before the world knew Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in the mafia classic The Godfather, Al Pacino was in a little film called The Panic in Needle Park. This marked his second film appearance, following up his first film appearance in 1970's Me, Natalie. If you haven't heard of The Panic in Needle Park then I don't think that should be a very big surprise. With films like Scarface, the aforementioned The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, and Dog Day Afternoon to his credit, I suppose a title like The Panic in Needle Park tends to get shuffled into the "obscure movies" file more often than not. However, I think it is a bit of a mistake to go through life thinking this film doesn't exist or not watching it because it was made before Al Pacino was famous. 

This film is about two heroin users who are in love in a place called "Needle Park." The "panic" part of the title comes from what happens when there is a big drug bust and the amount of heroin on the streets dwindles. 

Believe it or not, it seemed a bit odd watching Al Pacino portray a struggling heroin-addict. Maybe it is just because I kept picturing him snorting copious amounts of cocaine in a mansion. 

However, Al Pacino is his typical Al Pacino self in this movie. There's a reason he became an acting icon and legend. 

The other primary figure in this movie is Kitty Winn and she is someone who is in the "Where are they now?" file. Her only other semi-well-known role was as Sharon Spencer in The Exorcist and again in the terrible sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. She hasn't been in anything since 1984. 

For a brief moment she stood on the same level as Al Pacino, though. As Pacino's love interest in the movie, she gradually follows Pacino down a twisted and ever-darkening path only to become the main protagonist at the end. If not exactly saving either Pacino or herself she at the very least takes a step in the right direction. Maybe. The ending is admittedly very vague. And that is either a strength or a weakness depending on what you think of vague endings. 

This movie's impact relies on how well the two main characters seem alive and in this case they do seem very much alive. Had the original plan of having The Doors' Jim Morrison be the main character worked out I don't think his movie would be half as watchable. The exclusion of music in general works to this film's advantage, too. There are no frills to be had here. It's a very somber and depressing movie with nothing to distract you from that fact. 

Apparently, this movie was actually very difficult to get made because no one would back a film that featured a nobody like Al Pacino as the lead. Imagine a world where the name Al Pacino is unknown by most people. How very bizarre, right? Director Jerry Schatzberg stuck to his guns, though. And thank God for that. In 1973 Schatzberg and Pacino would do their second and only other film together. That one is called Scarecrow. Coming after Pacino's massive success in The Godfather (as well as co-star Gene Hackman's success in The Poseidon Adventure), Scarecrow didn't quite capture the audience the same way at the time. 

Before I end my post I should mention the name of Richard Bright. As a huge fan of all things The Godfather, I was pretty excited to learn that the guy who played Michael Corleone's bodyguard Al Neri in all three films was actually the guy who played Pacino's brother in this movie. And Bright actually talks in this movie, too. He is more of a secondary character in this movie, but his role is still enough to make me want to mention him. 

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent flick that not many have seen. Another early Pacino flick to seek out is Scarecrow with Gene Hackman. Pacino was known when he did this but it's kind of obscure.