Reefer Madness/Tell your Children (1936)


Movie blurbs describe this as a ‘cautionary’ tale featuring a fictionalized and ‘highly exaggerated’ take on marijuana smoking.

Highly exaggerated isn’t the half of it. This movie was so over the top that it became more funny than cautionary. When a very well done, but equally hammy musical featuring Neve Campbell gets the green light nearly seventy years later, how seriously can you really take this?

Back in the days when the world’s lumber barons shit paper wads over the prospect of the mass paper making potential of hemp, a scare film such as “Reefer Madness” was probably necessary to protect all interests. If the populace were unfamiliar with any potential dangers of any drug, I guess, it needed to be exposed whether the danger in question was real, imagined or fabricated.

Back then, it appeared that parents all over the country feared that their children will become addicted to drugs, alcohol, promiscuous premarital sex, and jazz music all the while attending unsupervised house parties.

On its face, this is a valid fear, especially since the parties in question center around a house party thrown by a pot dealer that is all about profiting and seduction in every form. The woman he lives with shows a little more of a conscience when it looked like truly innocent teenagers might get mixed up in something that they can’t handle. But, lo, for all her arguing she caves to that big strong man and his stash, even as a wholesome couple meet up for a little party after school only to fall prey to pot, sex, addiction and later death topped off by a poorly done but somehow plausible frame job.

“Warn your children” the movie blurbs.

This is one of several period propaganda films preaching the dangers of whatever illicit drug that scared the masses on that particular week. The melodrama of the story and actors is what sets Reefer Madness apart from the herd. It has everything, noir, protagonists so sweet that their image on the screen even to this day adds to a risk of diabetes, a jazz pianist that falls to utter insanity and a frame job. You are drawn to this film, even though it is more funny than scary. It might drive you to smoke more, but this film not only survived the cult test of time, but it was Rifftraxed with Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy to some acclaim. Also, how many of these were made into musicals?


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