Given its pedigree, it’s surprising that The Panic in Needle Park has been so overlooked in the decades since its 1971 release. Director Jerry Schatzberg has enjoyed a modest career as a filmmaker (other films include Scarecrow, the heralded but largely unknown Puzzle of a Downfall Child, and the Willie Nelson vehicle Honeysuckle Rose), but his work as a photographer is widely recognized and includes the iconic cover shot of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. First couple of hard-nosed sophistication Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne adapted the script from a novel by James Mills, and Dominick Dunne (of Vanity Fair fame) produced. The young, electric, and untested lead, Al Pacino, turned out to be the biggest star of the project—a year later, he’d enter the annals of cinematic superstardom as Michael Corleone. Legend has it that the producers of The Godfather wouldn’t greenlight his casting until Coppola screened Panic for them. Even so, the film itself—a portrait of two junkies in love—largely faded from memory, but it proves well worth revisiting.
Click here to read the rest of Emily Condon’s review of The Panic in Needle Park, which plays this week at New York’s Film Forum.