Awhile back, I profiled The Onion Field in this series, noting how many 70s movies were failures but interesting failures. Well, that film withers on this point in comparison to the 1971 film Born to Win. Directed by the Czech New Wave emigre Ivan Passer and starring George Segal, Karen Black, and a young Robert DeNiro, it follows a heroin addict through his pathetic attempts to score, the woman who falls for him to her disadvantage, and the crooked cops who use him. Now, movies about heroin can be very boring. That’s because heroin is very boring. In fact, all drugs are boring on screen. So it takes a real talent to bring out something interesting. We saw that sometimes during the early 70s. Panic in Needle Park with Al Pacino is a good example. This almost does that. Segal is just so damn charismatic that even as a pathetic junkie you are rooting for him, knowing that you are wasting your time doing so. There are some brilliant scenes in this film, especially when he leaves New York for the country and everything is filmed as optimistic until he starts needing his fix and flees back to the city as everything is filmed as darkness.
But Passer attempted to combine this heroin film with slapstick comedy and oh my god it does not work. Like, it really does not work! It almost has to be seen to be believed. The ending is also a total disaster. So you know, this film is actually worth watching if you are up for something interesting but also bad. If you go into this way, it’s kinda worthy.
This is also part of the great looking Criterion Channel collection this month of New York-based films. Lots to work from there. Looks like you can stream the entire thing on YouTube, so have at it.