Reefer Madness

1936, Movie, NR, 67 mins

Review

REEFER MADNESS | BURNING QUESTION, THE | DOPE ADDICT | DOPED YOUTH | LOVE MADNESS | TELL YOUR CHILDREN
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This is one of the most notorious exploitation films of the 1930s, largely because young audiences in the 1960s and 1970s made it a cult film in their amusement at its lurid depiction of marijuana and its effects. The film opens with a high-school principal, Joe Forte, lecturing parents on the evils of the weed. He relates the tragic story of how two youngsters from his own school, Kenneth Craig and Dorothy Short, became entangled with dope dealers. In flashback, we see that Thelma White and her male cohort have an apartment where high-school students go to get high. One day McCollum, Short's brother, goes there with a friend, Dave O'Brien. After one puff, O'Brien is hopelessly addicted, and soon brings along his friend Craig, who with equal swiftness becomes a reefer-head. When McCollum drives his sinister supplier over to the supplier's connection to buy some more pot, the stoned boy hits a pedestrian on the return trip. Short, by now concerned about her brother's recent lackadaisical behavior, trails him to the apartment. He isn't there, but O'Brien is. He gives the innocent girl a joint, telling her it's a regular cigarette, and when she's stoned he tries to rape her. Craig stumbles out of a bedroom (where he's just spent the night with O'Brien's girl friend, Lillian Miles) and in his drugged-out state hallucinates that Short is willingly succumbing to O'Brien's advances. A fight ensues in which a gun goes off, killing Short. Craig proceeds to lapse into unconsciousness and when he wakes, White and the others convince the poor boy that he killed Short. The police break in, and O'Brien, found to be hopelessly addicted to marijuana, is committed to a home for the criminally insane "for the rest of his natural life." White goes off to jail; Miles is so overwhelmed by her guilt that she jumps out the high window of the courthouse. When the truth about the shooting comes out, Craig is let off with a reprimand. Crude technique, bad acting, and a ridiculous script are liabilities for most films, but here they're the very source of its popularity. Some of the dialog is hilarious, as when O'Brien (later a B western star) demands that Miles play the piano "Faster, faster!" as he becomes more and more agitated. All the performers either overact laughably or underact to the point of just standing in place and speaking lines in a monotone. Whether the film ever stopped anyone from smoking marijuana is doubtful, but it certainly turned out to be a greater success than its producers ever dreamed. leave a comment

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