Cast & Crew
Jerome "J", a former hairdresser who is now a junkie, commits petty crimes and runs errands for dope dealer Vivian "The Geek" to feed his daily heroin habit. One night, after J and his addict buddy Billy Dynamite fail at robbing a restaurant, J leaves Billy and tries to steal a car. When attractive stranger Parm asks him for a ride, J lets her get in as he fumbles through dozens of keys hoping one will start the car. Parm teases him and finally produces the keys to the car, which belongs to her Far from being afraid of the thief, Parm is charmed and invites him up to her posh apartment, where J surreptiously looks for valuables he can steal. Soon after, J relaxes and Parm entices him into bed, where she notices J's "Born to Win" tattoo and his heroin track marks. Despite J's joking that they are the result of vitamin shots, Parm, knowing the real reason, romanticizes his street life and makes love to him. One day, J, seeking payment from The Geek for a delivery to wealthy dealer Stanley, goes to a club, where he finds his estranged wife Veronica, a drug addict who works as a prostitute for The Geek. Veronica tells J that their two children are with her mother in California, then the two get high in the club's backroom. After receiving a pittance from The Geek for the delivery, J takes Billy to Stanley's apartment, where Billy holds a gun on Stanley's wife Marlene while J deliriously chatters about "peace and love" until she reveals where Stanley hid the dope J delivered earlier. However, as J and Billy flee the apartment building with the drugs, two plain clothes policemen, Danny and his partner, a detective, stop them. After the addicts throw away the dope in the ensuing chase, Billy escapes, but, when J hides in a dryer in the building's laundry room, the detective turns on the machine to torture J. When Dann offers to let J go if he helps them catch The Geek, J, with no other options, agrees. Later, The Geek meets J at a bathhouse and tells him Stanley wants to kill him for the robbery, then orders J to pick up a delivery at JFK airport, offering to pay him $800 for the job. Over dinner that night, J tells Parm that they can take a vacation with the money and he can "get clean." Later, when J asks Parm how many men she has slept with and she half-jokingly answers over sixty, jealous, J accuses her of sleeping with junkies to be "hip" and warns that she will get addicted and end up prostituting herself to pay for the habit. Seeing that Parm remains undeterred and still childishly off-beat, J softens but warns that he is a "very boring guy when I'm straight." The next morning, Parm insists on accompanying J to the airport for the job, but after they receive the bag of dope, Stanley and his men corner J and Parm in the parking structure. Taking J to his apartment, Stanley demands to know where the package is. J claims that Billy has it, but when J cannot reach Billy on the phone, Stanley tells him to strip and says that his clothes will be returned when Stanley's dope is returned. Locked in the apartment's bedroom, J puts on a woman's sheer, feather-trimmed dressing robe and makes lewd gestures at two tenants in the adjacent building, who call the police. When the police show up at Stanley's apartment and a shootout ensues, J escapes and runs into a men's clothing shop, where he steals a velvet jacket and pants several sizes too short. J returns to Parm's, where she laughs at the ludicrous outfit but then confesses that she is afraid of the dope dealers and suggests they take a vacation. Driving to the beach together, the couple kisses and sings, enjoying a short respite from the city's harsh realities. After admitting they do not know why they are attracted to each other, Parm asks the growingly restless J what he wants, insisting that it is not really money he is after. Soon, J starts showing signs of withdrawal and, although Parm holds him in her arms, J decides they must return for a fix. J then finds Billy at a junkie hangout in a diner basement, and the two ask for a fix from Little Davey, who, with another dealer, tries to rob them at knife point. After Billy pulls out a gun, J and Billy reclaim their money and steal some dope. On another day, after Danny and the detective threaten J with a long jail term, J agrees to set up The Geek by involving him in a fake heroin deal. Meeting The Geek at a restaurant, J introduces Danny, who poses as a buyer interested in purchasing a kilo of heroin, but The Geek coolly explains that he knows he is being framed by J and refuses the deal. Fearing for his life, J quickly leaves. Later on the street as J waits for some heroin that he has ordered, Billy flirts with a girl and, after securing a date, happily tells J that dope has helped him overcome his feelings of isolation. Soon after receiving the drugs, J and Billy go to a public restroom in a building nearby, where Billy takes the first hit and suffers an immediate and violent death. J somberly realizes that The Geek intended the "hot shot" of either rat poison or battery acid for J, not Billy. Later, Danny and the detective stop J and Parm, plant drugs in her car and arrest Parm for possession. J begs the police to arrest him rather than Parm, but they want him on the streets to stay in contact with The Geek. Broken by both losses, J goes to the club looking for a score and finds Veronica, who wearily apologizes for "everything." When The Geek hands him dope, J asks what the odds are that the hit is a hot shot. The Geek smugly implies that J should not worry since he is a winner, to which J defeatedly replies, "born to win."
Robert De Niro
Marcia Jean Kurtz
Joseph Cambell Butler
William S. Fischer
David Scott Milton
David Scott Milton
The working title for the film was Scraping Bottom. The print viewed bore an illegible copyright statement, but the film was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. Before the opening credits, actor George Segal as "J" happily tells an off-screen interviewer that he can still charm women, even when robbing them. The closing cast credits differ in order from the opening credits. Actor Walter Steavens' name is misspelled "Walter Stevens" in the closing credits.
Although the onscreen credits list David Scott Milton as the author of the screenplay as well as an original story on which the film was based, a January 25, 1970 New York Times article states that Milton's screenplay was based on his "off off Broadway play" Scraping Bottom. However, no other source mentions the play and its production remains undetermined. Born To Win was the first American feature-length film for Czechoslavakian director Ivan Passer. As noted in reviews, the film was shot on location in New York City.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States October 9, 1971
Released in United States 1996
Shown at New York Film Festival October 9, 1971.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States October 9, 1971 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 9, 1971.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)