31 user 13 critic

Born to Win (1971)

A smart-mouthed junkie and loser known as J.J. (George Segal) spends his days looking for just "one more fix".


Ivan Passer


David Scott Milton (screenplay), Ivan Passer (screenplay) | 1 more credit »




Cast overview, first billed only:
George Segal ... J
Paula Prentiss ... Veronica
Karen Black ... Parm
Jay Fletcher ... Billy Dynamite
Hector Elizondo ... Vivian
Robert De Niro ... Danny (as Robert DeNiro)
Ed Madsen Ed Madsen ... Detective
Marcia Jean Kurtz ... Marlene
Irving Selbst Irving Selbst ... Stanley
Tim Pelt Tim Pelt ... Little Davey
José Pérez José Pérez ... Junior Conception (as Jose Perez)
Sylvia Syms Sylvia Syms ... Cashier (as Sylvia Simms)
Jack Hollander Jack Hollander ... Harry
Alex Colon ... Bus Boy
Max Brandt Max Brandt ... Store Clerk


J.J., a former New York City hairdresser, commits petty crimes, often with his friend Billy Dynamite, to support his drug habit. He's not very good at it, with something often going wrong. One of J.J.'s more regular gigs is working as a mule for Vivian - who J.J. calls Geek Man to Vivian's chagrin - a pimp for who J.J.'s ex-wife, Veronica, also a junkie, now hustles also to support her habit. J.J.'s life has the potential to change the result of two encounters. One is with a pair of NYPD narcs who have him over a barrel concerning his drug use and what they want out of him to make a drug conviction go away. Two is with a young woman named Parm who he meets in the act of one of his crimes. J.J. and Parm enter into a relationship, the love and support within that makes J.J. want to come out on top for once in his life. Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Their story is written on his arm. If they can get a grip on each other, maybe they can turn their lives around.


Comedy | Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Some of the characters in the film were played by actual New York City junkies at the time, people who Writer and Director Ivan Passer encountered while researching the film. See more »


[first lines]
J: They same I'm a charmer... that I charm the people I hustle. Well, that comes after dealing with women, after hairdressing. I love to dress hair! But being that I know what to do, being that I'm hip enough to know, I do it! That's love and peace. Love and peace. You just gotta keep sending it out. Love. That love and peace.
J: I'm not J for nothing, you know?
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Alternate Versions

The budget video releases of this film cut the film by approximately four minutes. Among the missing footage: Segal and Prentiss putting tourniquets on in a back room of the nightclub in preparation for taking heroin, an exchange involving Karen Black's character's breast size (and a retort involving Segal's breast size), an extension of the scene featuring Segal in the pink robe giving the "up-yours" sign to the girl on the balcony, dialogue when Black and Segal are making love, and assorted others. A 35mm print screened at New York's Museum of Modern Art in March 2009 retains these scenes. The video prints have been seemingly TV-edited for objectionable content. See more »


Features Applause (1973) See more »


Ballad in C
Written by Karen Black
Sung by Karen Black
See more »

User Reviews

An Interesting, Unpretentious Flick
19 December 2013 | by writerasfilmcriticSee all my reviews

I've seen Karen Black in several roles where I didn't care for the character she portrayed. The thoroughly dependent and constantly whining waitress she played in Five Easy Pieces was a good example. You could understand why Jack Nicholson had trouble committing to a serious relationship with her. In Born to Win, however, she is easily the most likable personality in the film. How many women would start an affair with a man who was attempting to steal her car? Her beauty, her sense of humor, and her spirit shine through immediately and continue throughout. George Segal's unrepentant junkie character, who lost his wife to a sleazy, backstabbing, pimping drug dealer, somehow manages to charm us more than most of the other actors, including the police, who think nothing of planting evidence on anyone they feel like at the moment. There is something hip about this movie, not because it glorifies heroin addiction, which it certainly does not, but because it seems to show a slice of New York life in a fairly realistic manner. The death of JJ's best friend, Billy, from "a hot shot" that was meant for JJ, the armed "take offs" that the dopers pull on one another simply because they really need a fix or are having a bad day (with no offense otherwise intended), the way the corrupt cops are portrayed, the shots of the city, too often grimy yet somehow alluring -- this is interesting cinema. I think I bought this DVD for a buck and have watched it a number of times. It's a good movie.

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Release Date:

22 March 1972 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Scraping Bottom See more »

Filming Locations:

New York, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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