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REEFER MADNESS (1936)
[aka Tell Your Children]

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"And more vicious, more deadly even than these soul-destroying drugs, is the menace of MARIJUANA!"

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Director: Louis Gasnier

Starring: Kenneth Craig, Dorothy Short, Lillian Miles, Dave O'Brien, Thelma White, Carleton Young, Josef Forte, Warren McCullum

Screenplay: Paul Franklin and Arthur Hoerl, based upon a story by Lawrence Meade

Synopsis: Dr Carroll (Josef Forte), a high-school principal, warns a group of parents against the dangers of marijuana. He illustrates his point by telling the story of Bill (Kenneth Craig) and Mary (Dorothy Short), two of his students whose lives were destroyed by the drug. A crime ring operated within their town, which hooked teenagers on marijuana by supplying free reefers at parties given at an apartment owned by Mae (Thelma White) and Jack (Carleton Young).

These parties were attended by Ralph (Dave O'Brien), an older student attracted to Mary, and Blanche (Lillian Miles), one of the crime gang who was interested in Bill. One day Mary's younger brother, Jimmy (Warren McCullum), took Bill with him to Mae's apartment, where Blanche quickly hooked him on the drug. Jimmy went driving while high, and hit and killed a pedestrian. Bill began an affair with Blanche. Mary went to Mae's apartment looking for Jimmy, and accepted a reefer from Ralph, who then tried to seduce her. Bill came out of the bedroom, and hallucinated that Mary was stripping for Ralph. He attacked Ralph, and as the two were fighting, Jack tried to break it up by hitting Bill with the butt of his gun. The gun went off, and Mary was killed. Jack made Bill believe he had killed Mary. At Bill's trial, Dr Carroll testified that he knew all of Bill's behaviour was due to his use of marijuana. Jack and Mae kept Ralph at Mae's apartment so he wouldn't tell the police what really happened. Ralph went insane through his drug use and beat Jack to death. The police arrested Ralph, Mae and Blanche. Mae talked, and the criminal gang was rounded up. Blanche explained that Bill was innocent, and he was released. Ralph was put in an asylum. Blanche committed suicide.

Comments: It comes as no surprise whatever to learn that during the seventies, the pro-marijuana lobby used Reefer Madness to raise money for their cause. This film is one of the comedy classics of all time. Produced by people whose lack of talent is matched only by their utter ignorance of the subject in question, the film posits marijuana as the root of all evil - or at any rate, of partying, illicit sex, and violence. Someone should have told them that this kind of presentation isn't likely to discourage the drug's use.

They'd have done better to suggest that the Bill and Mary we see at the beginning of the film were the products of marijuana: they're so nauseatingly squeaky clean (particularly Bill, who comes across like a geeky cross between Fred Astaire and Stan Laurel - I think it's the hairline and the bowtie) that any self-respecting teenager would flee from them in horror.

It's a lot of fun watching these two fall into the clutches of the evil gang, who must the most generous criminals in history: not a penny changes hands throughout. Other highlights of the film include a detailed visual lesson in how exactly to prepare a reefer (gee, thanks, guys!) and of course, Lillian Miles' infamous piano playing (stoned out of her mind and never misses a note. The girl's got talent!)

But most fun of all is Bill's trial, where crusading Dr Carroll gets to air his knowledge of the dreaded drug. Dr Carroll can tell that Bill is using marijuana because he exhibits signs of "disassociation of ideas". While playing tennis, he "missed the ball by three or four feet" (well, that explains the Australian Davis Cup team), and in English class "he suddenly burst into a fit of hysterical laughter" (a teenager laughing at Shakespeare? No!). Worst of all, when he questioned Bill about his habit ("I'm going to ask you a straightforward question: isn't it true that you have, perhaps unwillingly, acquired a certain habit through association with certain undesirable people?" - hey, wouldn't you love to hear this guy ask a question that wasn't straightforward?),

Bill tells a lie! - and after his mother assured us that he never did that! (Can the end of civilisation be far behind?) Bill is such a jerk and his trial is such an orgy of public humiliation that you'd think he'd welcome the death penalty. It's odd that in the midst of all this recrimination, the fact that hit-and-run killer Jimmy gets off scott-free occur to anyone (including Jimmy). It also doesn't occur that if the teenagers in this film were discouraged a little more from their copious consumption of tobacco, they mightn't be quite so easy to hook on marijuana. But that, as they say, is another story....

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB