RVOD004 Reefer Madness

(1936, Teen/Crime Drama, color)


Mike Nelson

Dope-O, the fifth Marx Brother.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

An innocent young man stands trial for the drug-related murder of his girlfriend.


Are those blurry nuns at the bottom of the poster?We begin with five minutes of scrolling text—handwritten, hard-to-read text—detailing all the horrible things marijuana (sorry, marihuana) will do to you and your children. Did you know that this terrible narcotic is worse than crack cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and a Sudafed/Nyquil combo? It’ll rape your sisters, burn down your house, run over your dog, and steal your bible too!

This rant continues—if “rant” is the right word for anything spoken aloud by the blandest man alive—as Professor Alfred Carroll (not his real name) addresses a PTA meeting to further disparage the drug. Eventually this gives way to narration of an event that happened “not so far away, to children just like yours.”

Local teens Bill Harper and Mary Lane share a pure, wholesome love, filled with chaste study sessions, stilted Elizabethan dialogue, and clumsy fountain pratfalls. But alas, it is not to be, for Bill falls in with a set of well-dressed ne’er do wells at the local malt shop. Soon, they’ve taken him back to their pusher’s apartment (a fast-talking Mafioso named Jack) where they smoke richly colored herb and let their primal instincts throw them into such hedonistic activities as giggling, dancing, and Jazz.

One day Jack’s stash runs out, so he bums a ride from Mary’s brother Jimmy (also a dope addict) to pick up a new supply from the local drug kingpin. Jimmy, of course, is flying high on the devil weed and runs over and old person on the way home. The cops track the license plate to Mary’s house. She realizes what Jimmy must have done, but lies to the cops to protect him.

This man's way too tense to be a dope fiend.After a bit of sleuthing, she tracks Jimmy and Bill to Jack’s apartment. Jimmy’s not there, but Bill is; he’s fornicating in another room with another addict. Mary accepts a cigarette while she waits for him to emerge. It’s laced with drugs, and soon she’s ineffectually fighting off a party-goer’s unwelcome advances. Bill comes out and starts to pummel the would-be rapist. Jack tries to break it up with a gun. Bill fights him too, and the gun goes off and kills Mary.

Bill wakes up a short while later with the gun in his hand. Jack convinces him that he killed Mary, a story he makes sure gets repeated to the cops. Bill goes on trial for murder while Jack and the other party-goers go into hiding. By the time he’s found guilty, the fugitives finally have a drug-induced fallout that ends with Jack’s violent death. One of the addict girls spills the true story to the cops before committing suicide. A judge overturns Bill’s conviction and commits the last surviving addict to an institution for the criminally insane. Professor Carroll returns for the heavy-handed moral, and then we’re done.


That guy peeking through the smoke--is that Skeletor?Okay, I get the fact that the people who made this have never smoked marijuana. Neither have I, but I’ve seen it smoked and observed its effects. It seems to me that these filmmakers have never been in the presence of anyone under its influence. They have never even spoken with anyone who, at any time, was ever under its influence. Indeed, it doesn’t appear as if they have ever spoken to anyone who has ever been in the presence of someone who has been in the presence of someone who has ever smoked marijuana. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for people so vehemently opposed to the drug, they seem remarkably ignorant about it.

Seriously, pot smokers as deranged maniacs? The way these kids in the movie act after a puff or two, you’d think they’d just snorted half a dozen lines of coke. I guess it makes for more exciting cinema this way. This absurd melodrama is certainly more exciting than reality. (In a more realistic presentation, the movie would consist of a bunch of slovenly teenagers hanging around in a basement slowly babbling nonsense while they chomp down snacks by the basket load.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m opposed to marijuana too. Though it’s never sent anyone into a homicidal rage (that I know of) it tends to intellectually and emotionally stunt its users. But it bothers me when people demonize the opposition to make a point, especially when they take it to this extreme. When you tell lies about something, people start ignoring you, even if that thing is truthfully bad in other ways.

The commentary track was originally part of Legend Films’ colorized DVD release, and Mike says as much at the beginning. The fact that he has to start off by introducing himself and giving an abbreviated version of his resume means that he wasn’t necessarily doing it for an audience of MST3K or Rifftrax fans. He doesn’t sound quite natural at the beginning either, as if he was out of practice or had a cold or something, but he warms up about ten minutes in. While the opening text enumerates many terribly exaggerated signs of marijuana addiction, Mike disagrees; quoth he, “These are the signs that you’ve been hit by a train.” Later, when we meet a lot of middle-aged actors cast as teenagers, he says, “Most of these guys probably had sons the same age as their characters.” At the end, when Dr. Carroll warns us not to smoke dope, Mike adds, “If you must smoke it, try not to go insane, or run over old people, or sit in a chair and laugh at stuff that's not funny.” The film is absurd, and Mike is funny enough to enliven it further. The result is amusing enough for a night’s entertainment.