Reefer Madness / Tell Your Children / The Burning Question / Dope Addict / Doped Youth / Love Madness (1936)

“The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you.”

Synopsis:
A principal (Joseph Forte) warns parents against the evil influence of “marihuana” by telling the story of an upstanding teen named Bill (Kenneth Craig) whose life went downhill after he was led into a life of wild partying by drug dealers Mae (Thelma White) and Jack (Carleton Young).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this cult exploitation film (with more alternate titles than you can count on one hand) was clearly “made by people who obviously knew nothing about their subject”, and “reinforces every falsehood you’ve ever heard about marijuana: that you become immediately addicted, that it is violence-inducing, that it’s as bad as heroin, [and] that it ends in one’s ‘inevitable insanity’.” Reefer Madness possesses a handful of unintentionally hilarious moments — such as a young addict (Dave O’Brien) laughing maniacally, or characters reacting to weed as though it’s the latest form of speed — but I’ll admit I don’t enjoy it much on the whole: it’s too hard to keep track of the characters, and, despite its short length of only 67 minutes, the storyline tends to drag. Nonetheless, while Reefer Madness is undeniably a “terribly made, sensationalized, preposterous film”, it remains “the ultimate camp film”, and is required viewing for anyone seriously interested in the history of cinema.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A hilariously uninformed representation of the effects of marijuana
    Sex
  • Countless campy moments
    Laughing
  • Dr. Carroll testifying to Bill’s unexplainable outburst of laughter during a class reading of Romeo and Juliet
    Romeo
  • Ralph (O’Brien) prompting Mae to play the piano “faster — faster!”
    Faster

Must See?
Yes, both for its undisputed cult status, and as a representative example of post-Hays Code exploitation films. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).

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One Response to “Reefer Madness / Tell Your Children / The Burning Question / Dope Addict / Doped Youth / Love Madness (1936)”

  1. A must – as a genuine cult item.

    As I recall from the late ’70s in Greenwich Village (when such ‘madness’ was the norm), this movie was a midnight staple. Until just now, I hadn’t seen it since. And it does come off quite differently when not seen in a pungent atmosphere.

    I’m sure many who have not seen ‘RM’ think it runs along Ed Wood lines. This isn’t the case, necessarily. The acting isn’t all that bad; it’s rather like what you’d see in a college production only with age-appropriate actors. What does send the viewer into ‘bad movie heaven’ though is the full-tilt boogie depiction of pot-use leading to (in no particular order) rape, murder (there’s talk that one ‘inhaler’ killed his whole family with an ax!), suicide, insanity, and – as noted and apparently worst of all – maniacal laughter! (You’ll notice, btw, that nobody in the film seems to know how to smoke pot. When I think of the waste!)

    It’s also interesting to note that ‘RM’ makes the case that marijuana does no real harm to older people, but that it’s sure to wreak havoc on young and esp. innocent types.

    I don’t think the film drags but some of the who’s who can be a bit murky.

    This is one that ffs will undoubtedly want to say they’ve seen, but essentially it’s a once-and-done.

    Fave: a piano-playing scene toward the end – “Play faster! FASTER!” (with, of course, the ubiquitous maniacal laughter)

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