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Film / Reefer Madness

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Originally called Tell Your Children, this anti-marihuana film from 1936 was directed by Louis Gasnier, and originally financed by a concerned church group and intended for parents, but was picked up by producer Dwain Esper, who recut it as an Exploitation Film. Today, it's in the public domain and considered So Bad, It's Good, and has even inspired a 1998 musical satire, which itself was adapted into a well-received TV special.

As the film is in the public domain in the United States, freely witness the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is sweeping America on the Internet Archive. Don't do drugs, kids!

Provides examples of:

  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Jack won't hesitate to sell pot to whomever he can set his sights on. Blanche also qualifies, even if she's not an actual dealer; at one point, she uses Reverse Psychology to goad Bill into trying a joint.
    • That said, nobody in the movie is ever shown exchanging actual money for pot, instead choosing to just give it away, so calling them "dealers" isn't really that accurate.
  • An Aesop: Drugs Are Bad.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: The best way to watch. Mike Nelson has done more than one, but in a pinch the goofy commentary of your stoned buddies will suffice. The film was also the subject of a live RiffTrax presentation, expanding on Nelson's solo commentary on the Legend Films release.
  • Artistic License Physics: When Jack's gun goes off, it is more or less pointed at the floor; meanwhile Mary is standing (or sitting) upright near the couch and facing the commotion. Somehow the bullet arcs up through the air and loops around to catch Mary in the center of her back.
  • Attempted Rape: Ralph gets Mary stoned and tries to rape her.
  • Ax-Crazy: When going over the government files on "marihuana," they talk about a teenager who became addicted to the drug and killed his family with an ax for some reason. It might have been an allusion to an actual person who was believed to have murdered his family while stoned (he was schizophrenic).
  • Big Bad: The unnamed boss of the drug ring.
  • Big Fancy House: The pot house is really nice, even by today's standards.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Mary is shot, and all that's visible is a little spot on her back.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall/The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end, the principal says that this could happen to anyone's children, like yours, or yours, or yours (repeating the Opening Crawl; as such, it also counts as an example of Bookends).
  • Celebrity Resemblance: In the RiffTrax commentary, the soda shop piano player is compared to Kramer and the Marx Brothers while Dr. Caroll is compared to Willie Tanner and The Judge is compared to Dick Cheney.
  • Clueless Aesop: The movie failed so badly at its Aesop that it's used as a strawman by people lobbying to legalize marijuana. Though then again, it might not have been the best idea to start the film by giving detailed instructions on how to make and even smuggle joints.
  • Cool Car: The main teen characters have a then-brand-new Ford convertible sedan. Ironically, the use of Stock Footage means the police cars shown are 5-8 years old (the equivalent of a 15-20 year old car today).
  • Driven to Suicide: Blanche, enforced by Moral Guardians as the Hays Code stated that no wrongdoer could go unpunished. Plea bargain? Screw you, jump out the window.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Well, duh. Or at least, that's what it tries to say. Weed bad, but tobacco and alcohol are A-OK!
  • Epic Fail: This movie's message is that Drugs Are Bad. It is impossible to take it seriously because of how over-the-top it is.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Mae the drug moll doesn't like selling pot to teenagers, a qualm her partner Jack doesn't share.
    • Ralph, whose near-rape of Mary leads to her death, is the only one of the gang who shows any remorse that Bill is convicted of her murder. Though it is implied that his attitude is primarily a side effect of marihuana usage.
    • Pete, another member of the gang, tells the unnamed boss he draws the line selling it to kids.
  • Fanservice: Funny how moral films backed by religious institutions always managed to sneak in a ton of cheesecake that the Hays Code would grudgingly allow because of the larger message the film was trying to send, as seen by Blanche's showing off of plenty of flesh.
    • There is also a whole, uninterrupted minute of Mae getting dressed, even to the point where they show her hiking up her dress to put on her nylons.
  • Frame-Up: They try to frame Bill for Mary's death.
  • Framing Device: Dr. Carroll, the high school principal, relates the film's events while addressing a PTA meeting about the scourge of marihuana.
  • Functional Genre Savvy/Single-Issue Wonk: While he does prove to be correct, Dr. Carroll never even considers the possibility that Bill's aberrant behavior might be the result of any problem other than marihuana use.
  • Gag Dub: Reefie's Madhouse, which once aired as a celebration to 4/20 on G4TV. There was even a gag colorization, with clown color pot smoke.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The colorized version adds Funny Background Objects For the Lulz.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "We educators can't do anything until the public is sufficiently aroused."
    The Nostalgia Critic: I got some Playboys in the back. We can call it "pot porn."
  • He's Dead, Jim: Even though none of the characters are medically qualified, they all know that Mary is dead right away.
  • Hollywood Law: All over the place. For one, plea bargains aren't dealt with in that way.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Mary gets shot by accident.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: In his closing statements at Bill's trial, the prosecutor states that "we are not interested in 'motive' so much as the act [of murder] itself!" He then immediately — in fact, his very next sentence — launches into an elaborate hypothesis concerning Bill's motive (to cover up an 'affair' with Blanche). There's also the fact that the prosecution expends quite some effort in establishing Bill's drug use, but the elaborate hypothesis never even mentions it.
  • Insistent Terminology: Marihuana.
  • Irony: It's a good stoner flick.
  • Karma Houdini: Jimmy runs a man over with his car while stoned and gets away clean. Odd for a 1930s movie (since The Hays Code had a rule about bad people not being able to get away with committing crimes) and especially odd for this movie.
  • Laughing Mad: Ralph has this in spades, even before he's declared legally insane.
  • Leave the Camera Running: There seem to be a lot of long, pointless shots in the movie, such as Bill dropping his book, picking it up, and dusting it off.
  • Lost Aesop: The lead jurist won't accept one juror's "reasonable doubt" argument, but then he envisions a hanging noose, reminding him that a man's life hangs in the balance. He then proceeds to deliberately ignore his own epiphany and continues bullying the jury with his viewpoint.
  • Marihuana Is LSD:
    • Even less accurate, marihuana's shown as a violent narcotic. Hell, some of the posters for the film were covered with needles.
    • As several internet commenters noted during the Piano scene, "Well he's obviously smoking some very pure Methamphetamine but definitely not marihuana."
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Bill is found guilty of Mary's murder even though he was framed, but it's averted at the last minute when Blanche admits that it was actually Jack's fault.
  • The Musical: The original film was later made into a highly popular stage musical in the late 90's, and then that was made into an award-winning Showtime movie in 2005.
  • Nerf Arm: Seriously, someone was killed with a curtain rod?
  • No Indoor Voice: The District Attorney.
  • One-Liner:
    Jimmy: Let's go, Jack, I'm red-hot!
    Jack: Better be careful how you drive, or the first thing you know you'll be ice-cold.
  • Opening Crawl: a particularly lengthy one. Mike Nelson was not impressed.
  • Poe's Law: By today's standards, definitely.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Jack uses a loaded gun as a blunt weapon. The gun naturally goes off.
  • Rogue Juror: Subverted. One of the jurors at Bill's murder trial has doubts as to his sanity, but the others quickly buffalo him into voting for conviction.
  • Shout-Out: The newspaper showing Bill's verdict also has a headline about Dick Tracy.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The wholesome "high school students" rehearse Romeo and Juliet.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Very much on the shiny side, especially considering the producers' intent. The aforementioned nicest drug hangout in cinematic history and new car, and all the young drug users are well-dressed.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Averted. This was one of the first attempts (if not the first) at making smoking look uncool, and viewers might have a hard time believing they didn't set the studio on fire... Using "joints" which look exactly like factory-produced cigarettes is a contributing factor. On the other hand, it's notable that the two leads, Bill and Mary, are depicted as incredibly square even for 1930s standards — "Gooooosh, hot chocolate!" — and yet are implied to smoke (regular tobacco) even before they get introduced to pot.
  • Spinning Paper: Minus the literal spinning, but still...
  • Stern Old Judge: Of the gruff older white man sort, who, coincidentally, is played by the same actor who appeared as a judge in The Three Stooges' Disorder in the Court later that same year.
  • Stocking Filler: Mae, getting dressed in an early scene.
  • The Stoner: Averted — No one in this movie behaves like a real-life stoner. Whatever they're smoking is some kind of powerful stimulant; it certainly isn't pot. In fact, the only side effect realistically depicted was the drug pusher's constant eating, which is funny considering that they list a fair number of accurate symptoms in the opening crawl.
  • Stoner Flick: Ironically. Many people first hear about it from someone who's watched it stoned.
  • Think of the Children!: Invoked by the DA.
  • Totally Radical: Aside from the constant uses of alternate names for the drug, the poster in the page image calls "marihuana" a sweet "pill", dated slang, even for 1936, for a good time.
  • Wall of Text: The opening forward.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: All stories pertaining to the plot are given screaming headlines in the local newspapers.