Cocaine Fiends/The Pace that Kills (1935)

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Oh, Mill Creek…..
I first discover the magic of Mill Creek Entertainment while at a friend’s birthday party. I picked up a DVD compilation pack of low budget exploitation melodramas. Most of these films preach the dangers of drug abuse, but there are a couple pertaining to sexually transmitted infections among other societal ills. They feature an innocent young girl that meets the wrong man, takes the wrong turn and falls to ruin, addiction, unwanted pregnancy and loss of reputation.

One of these cinematic red flags is the 1935 remake of a silent film, “The Cocaine Fiends/The Pace that Kills” directed by William A. O’Connor and starring Lois January. The movie starts with a police chase. Drug dealer and no account hoodlum, Nick is on the run. He stops at a cafe, and sweet talks a young waitress named Jane (January) who is helping her mother work to send her little brother to college, into a cover story as well as a chicken dinner. In return, he promises marriage, an exciting new life in the big city, parts in ‘a show’ (what kind if show is anyone’s guess, but by golly she’s sure pretty enough to be in one) and a little pick me up he just calls ‘headache powder.’

Jane starts to get a lot of headaches since meeting Nick. When she runs off with him, she is locked in a room located at a seedy nightclub. She’s later informed by a jaded looking nightclub fixture played by character actress Fay Weldon that not only will Nick not marry her as promised, but that he fed lines to a score of others and by the way, that headache powder she needs is really dope.

To fill in the rest of the movie, there are a few subplots that seem to scatter throughout the film, making the pacing a little awkward to watch. They include Jane turning to club girl Lil and becoming more of an addict and a long suffering one at Nick’s hands as her mother spends day after day for over a year looking for a letter from her daughter. Her brother Eddie drops out of college after he is introduced to cocaine by a girlfriend. He later gets her pregnant after turning into a full on junkie or ‘hophead’ that can’t keep jobs or pay rent let alone go out on the town as they did. One young girl starts to run with a bad crowd, much to her father’s dismay, but while she does drink and stay out, she only dates casually and does not fall into the ‘hophead’ category. She still gets kidnapped and ransomed by Nick, who is always looking for that quick dollar.

Overall it is a story about Nick, his mules and the people he turns into addicts just as much as it is a story about the Janes of the world that fall from grace and eventually end up in jail for shooting Nick. There is a happy ending for one of the characters, despite her partying, which belies the anti-drug end of the propaganda. Not unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, the majority of the characters fall to death and despair on account of that demon dope which could get you and your children at any time!

Don’t do drugs, ladies and gentleman and don’t think of little things like plot holes and pacing if you want to enjoy this movie!

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