Reefer Madness (1936-1939) [COMMENTARY]

Reefer Madness
DIRECTOR: Louis J. Gasnier
STARRING: Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles

Originally known as Tell Your Children, Reefer Madness has become infamous. Better known today as an archetypal “stoner” movie, it was first released in 1936 as church group propaganda.  As such, it’s full of nonsense.  Later re-cut in 1938 by Dwain Esper into an even more tawdry film, I honestly have no idea which version I have here.  Many consider it one of the best “bad movies”. For me, the current “bad movie” champion remains The Amazing Mr. X.  With a myriad of public domain movies still to come, there’s plenty of time for it to be dethroned….

From Wikipedia:

A 1936–1939 American drama film revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana—from a hit and run accident, to manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness due to marijuana addiction.

Obviously, Reefer Madness is a grandly misinformed affair when it comes to its subject.  Almost everything it says about cannabis and its effects is wildly inaccurate.  As just one example, since when has having a smoke resulted in you murdering your entire family with an axe?  Its archaic attitude to the culture aside, there’s really not all that much merit left behind anyway.  A total mess of a production, there’s nothing of interest in any nook or cranny of this movie.  Sound production is always going to be shady in the 30s, of course, but you can barely hear a word that comes from anyone’s mouth!

The biggest trouble I had was its lack of humour.  I’d heard and read much about Reefer Madness, and its status as a cult obscurity.  For this reason, I expected it to be a far more entertaining hour than it turned out to be.  It certainly had its own share of camp and unintentional hilarity.  There just wasn’t nearly enough of it.  Most of the time it feels like a genuine lecture.  At one point, a dour schoolteacher even points directly into the camera and threatens you.  Its guilt-tripping is proved utterly ineffective in its ineptitude.  All this does is leave us with a thoroughly dull piece of work.

One thought I had left me staggered at the stupidity of Reefer Madness‘ production.  A good toke is something I’ve always been a fan of.  It’s not something i’m ashamed of either.  I support decriminalisation and even relished a smoke when recording this commentary.  I’m certain, however, that I could have done a better job.  Anti-cannabis dross is clutching at straws, true.  That said, you can still have a pretty convincing go at it.  This very much isn’t that, instead turning to outright insult.  By the time it comes to an end, it truly couldn’t come sooner.  It even manages to make sobriety look very unappealing.  Who would want to be that wholesome?

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