…In the original release 20th Century-Fox decided to play up the sensational elements in The Panic in Needle Park, and to overlook the qualities that make this a special and sometimes extraordinary movie. The New York Times carried one of those public confession ads that apologize for the ads that have gone before. “Did our ads blow it for The Panic in Needle Park!” the studio says. Their mistake (according to the current ad) was to play up the drama and love story in the movie, and play down the shock, the horror, the strong stuff. “If you see it,” the ad now promises, “it will sear your senses forever. And that’s the truth.”
Well, not quite. The shocking documentary details are there, and sometimes they work but usually they break a tone instead of creating one. That’s because (if you’ll permit me, 20th Century-Fox) this film is indeed a love story, and more specifically a carefully observed portrait of two human beings. If you go to see needles and blood and depravity, you may well be disappointed; the movie is more intelligent than your expectations.
That may be because of Joan Didion’s contribution; she wrote the screenplay with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, but somehow I think the character of the girl, Helen, came out of Didion’s private resources.
— Roger Ebert, in his 1971 review of Jerry Schatzberg’s film, about which screenwriter Joan Didion was interviewed by IFC