Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness

Overview
Reefer Madness is a well-known 1936 American propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 exploitation film
Exploitation film
Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by "exploiting" often lurid subject matter. The term "exploitation" is common in film marketing, used for all types of films to mean promotion or advertising. These films then need something to exploit, such as a big star, special effects, sex,...

 revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

 students are lured by pushers to try "marijuana
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

" — from a hit and run accident
Hit and run (vehicular)
Hit-and-run is the act of causing a traffic accident , and failing to stop and identify oneself afterwards...

, to manslaughter
Manslaughter
Manslaughter is a legal term for the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is said to have first been made by the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Dracon in the 7th century BC.The law generally differentiates...

, suicide, attempted rape, and descent into madness. The film was directed by Louis Gasnier
Louis J. Gasnier
Louis J. Gasnier was a French film director.Born in Paris, Gasnier was working in theatre when Pathé hired him to direct films in the earliest days of cinema. He directed comedian Max Linder in many of his early short comedies...

 and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors.

Originally financed by a church group under the title Tell Your Children, the film was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use.
Discussion
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Quotations

It's Public Enemy, Number One!

Women Cry For It - Men Die For It!

The Sweet "Pill" That Makes Life BITTER!

Adults Only!

Drug Crazed Abandon!

Sin - degradation - vice - insanity!

SEE youthful marijuana victims - what actually happens!

Tell your children!

65 years later, audiences are still hooked!

Encyclopedia
Reefer Madness is a well-known 1936 American propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 exploitation film
Exploitation film
Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by "exploiting" often lurid subject matter. The term "exploitation" is common in film marketing, used for all types of films to mean promotion or advertising. These films then need something to exploit, such as a big star, special effects, sex,...

 revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

 students are lured by pushers to try "marijuana
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

" — from a hit and run accident
Hit and run (vehicular)
Hit-and-run is the act of causing a traffic accident , and failing to stop and identify oneself afterwards...

, to manslaughter
Manslaughter
Manslaughter is a legal term for the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is said to have first been made by the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Dracon in the 7th century BC.The law generally differentiates...

, suicide, attempted rape, and descent into madness. The film was directed by Louis Gasnier
Louis J. Gasnier
Louis J. Gasnier was a French film director.Born in Paris, Gasnier was working in theatre when Pathé hired him to direct films in the earliest days of cinema. He directed comedian Max Linder in many of his early short comedies...

 and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors.

Originally financed by a church group under the title Tell Your Children, the film was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. However, soon after the film was shot, it was purchased by producer Dwain Esper
Dwain Esper
Dwain Esper was an American director and producer of exploitation films . Esper died in 1982. He and Hildegarde had two children, Dwain, Jr...

, who re-cut the film for distribution on the exploitation film circuit. The film was then reissued under several titles in addition to Reefer Madness, including Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness, and The Burning Question. The film did not gain an audience until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and gained new life as a piece of unintentional comedy among advocates of cannabis policy reform. Today, it is in the public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

 in the United States and is considered a cult film
Cult film
A cult film, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific group of fans. Often, cult movies have failed to achieve fame outside the small fanbases; however, there have been exceptions that have managed to gain fame among mainstream audiences...

. It inspired a musical satire
Reefer Madness (musical)
Reefer Madness is a musical satire of the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness that opened in Los Angeles in 1998. The book and lyrics were written by Kevin Murphy and the music by Dan Studney. Directed by Andy Fickman, it was initially shown at the Hudson Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los...

, which premiered off-Broadway
Off-Broadway
Off-Broadway theater is a term for a professional venue in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499, and for a specific production of a play, musical or revue that appears in such a venue, and which adheres to related trade union and other contracts...

 in 2001, and a film based on the musical in 2005.

Plot


Mae Coleman (Thelma White
Thelma White
Thelma White was an American radio and film actress. White is best known for her role in the 1936 exploitation film Reefer Madness.-Early life and career:...

) and Jack Perry (Carleton Young
Carleton Young
Carleton Scott Young was an American character actor born in New York City, New York and known for his deep voice.-Private life:...

), sell marijuana. Mae prefers to sell marijuana to customers her own age, whereas Jack sells the plant to young teenagers. Ralph Wiley (Dave O'Brien
Dave O'Brien (actor)
Dave O'Brien was an American film actor, director and writer. Born David Poole Fronabarger in Big Spring, Texas, O'Brien started his film career in bit parts before gradually winning larger roles, mostly in B pictures....

), a psychotic ex-college student turned fellow dealer (and addict, according to the film), and Blanche (Lillian Miles
Lillian Miles
Lillian Miles, was an American actress in several films in the 1930s. Aside from singing and performing in the celebrated 'Continental' musical number in The Gay Divorcee , starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Ms. Miles film career was brief, unremarkable and confined to low-budget 'B' pictures...

) help Jack sell cannabis to young students. Young students Bill Harper (Kenneth Craig) and Jimmy Lane (Warren McCollum) are invited to Mae and Jack's apartment by Blanche and Ralph. Jimmy takes Bill to the party. There, Jack runs out of reefer. Jimmy, who has a car, drives him to pick up some more. Arriving at Jack's boss' "headquarters," he gets out and Jimmy asks him for a cigarette. Jack gives him a joint. Later, when Jack comes back down and gets into the car, Jimmy drives off dangerously, along the way running over a pedestrian with his car. A few days later, Jack tells Jimmy that the pedestrian died of his injuries. Jack agrees to keep Jimmy's name out of the case, providing he agrees to "forget he was ever in Mae's apartment". Jimmy does indeed escape the consequences of his crime - a rare occurrence in the film.

Bill begins an affair with Blanche. Mary (Dorothy Short
Dorothy Short
Dorothy Short was an American film actress mainly in low-budget westerns and serials in the 1930s and 1940s.A native of Philadelphia, she married actor Dave O'Brien in 1936, the same year they appeared together in the low-budget exploitation cheapie Reefer Madness, which in modern times has become...

), Jimmy's sister and Bill's girlfriend, goes to Mae's apartment looking for Jimmy, and accepts a joint from Ralph, thinking it to be a normal cigarette. When she refuses Ralph's advances, he tries to rape her. Bill comes out of the bedroom after having sex with Blanche, and hallucinates that Mary strips for Ralph. He attacks Ralph, and as the two are fighting, Jack tries to break it up by hitting Bill with the butt of his gun. The gun goes off and Mary is killed. Jack puts the gun in the hand of an unconscious Bill, and wakes him up. Bill sees the gun in his hand, and is led to believe that he has killed Mary. The group of dealers lies low for a while in Blanche's apartment while Bill's trial takes place. Ralph, losing his sanity, wants to tell the police who is actually responsible for the death of Mary. The film attributes Ralph's insanity to marijuana use.


Seeking advice from his boss, Jack is told to shoot Ralph so he keeps his mouth shut. Meanwhile, at the apartment, Blanche offers to play some piano music for Ralph to keep his mind off things. They are both very high, and Ralph tells her to play faster. She increases her playing speed to a downright cartoon-like speed in one of the film's most famous and over-the-top sequences. Jack shows up and Ralph immediately senses that Jack wants to kill him, so he kills Jack by beating him to death. The police arrest Ralph, Mae, and Blanche. Mae talks, and the criminal gang is rounded up. Blanche explains that Bill was innocent, and he is released. Blanche is then held as a material witness for the case against Ralph, but rather than testify against him, Blanche jumps out a window and falls to her death, Ralph is put in an asylum for the criminally insane "for the rest of his natural life." Mae's ultimate fate is unspecified.

The film's story is told in bracketing
Inclusio
Inclusio is a term with two distinct but analogous meanings in grammar and literature. This article discusses both.-Grammar:In linguistics, inclusio is syntax for the relationship between a noun in genitive case and head noun of the phrase....

 sequences at a lecture given at a PTA
Parent-Teacher Association
In the U.S. a parent-teacher association or Parent-Teacher-Student Association is a formal organization composed of parents, teachers and staff that is intended to facilitate parental participation in a public or private school. Most public and private K-8 schools in the U.S. have a PTA, a...

 meeting by high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

 principal, Dr. Alfred Carroll. At the end of the film, he tells the parents he has been talking to that events similar to those he has described are likely to happen again, and then points to random parents in the audience and warns that "the next tragedy may be that of your daughter's... or your son's... or yours, or yours..." before pointing straight at the camera and saying emphatically "...or YOURS!" as the words "TELL YOUR CHILDREN" appear on the screen.

Cast

  • Dorothy Short
    Dorothy Short
    Dorothy Short was an American film actress mainly in low-budget westerns and serials in the 1930s and 1940s.A native of Philadelphia, she married actor Dave O'Brien in 1936, the same year they appeared together in the low-budget exploitation cheapie Reefer Madness, which in modern times has become...

     as Mary Lane
  • Kenneth Craig as Bill Harper
  • Lillian Miles
    Lillian Miles
    Lillian Miles, was an American actress in several films in the 1930s. Aside from singing and performing in the celebrated 'Continental' musical number in The Gay Divorcee , starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Ms. Miles film career was brief, unremarkable and confined to low-budget 'B' pictures...

     as Blanche
  • Dave O'Brien
    Dave O'Brien (actor)
    Dave O'Brien was an American film actor, director and writer. Born David Poole Fronabarger in Big Spring, Texas, O'Brien started his film career in bit parts before gradually winning larger roles, mostly in B pictures....

     as Ralph Wiley
  • Thelma White
    Thelma White
    Thelma White was an American radio and film actress. White is best known for her role in the 1936 exploitation film Reefer Madness.-Early life and career:...

     as Mae Coleman
  • Carleton Young
    Carleton Young
    Carleton Scott Young was an American character actor born in New York City, New York and known for his deep voice.-Private life:...

     as Jack Perry
  • Warren McCollum as Jimmy Lane
  • Pat Royale as Agnes
  • Josef Forte as Dr. Alfred Carroll
  • Harry Harvey
    Harry Harvey (actor)
    Harry Harvey was an American actor.- Career :Born in Indian Territory, U.S.. Was a film character actor, he has more 300 appeared in television series and movies...

     Jr. as Junior Harper

History



Tell Your Children was financed by a church group and intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. Soon after the film was shot, however, it was purchased by notorious exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper
Dwain Esper
Dwain Esper was an American director and producer of exploitation films . Esper died in 1982. He and Hildegarde had two children, Dwain, Jr...

, who inserted salacious shots and applied the more scandalous title of Reefer Madness, before distributing it on the exploitation circuit. Such education-exploitation films were common in the years following adoption of the stricter version of the Production Code
Production Code
The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral censorship guidelines that governed the production of the vast majority of United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the Hays Code, after Hollywood's chief censor of the...

 in 1934. Other films included Esper's own Marihuana
Marihuana (film)
Marihuana is a 1936 exploitation film directed by Dwain Esper, and written by Esper's wife, Hildegarde Stadie.- Pot :Burma is a confused girl who likes to party. One day, she meets some strangers in a bar who invite her and her group to a party...

(1936) and Elmer Clifton's Assassin of Youth
Assassin of Youth
Assassin of Youth is an exploitation film directed by Elmer Clifton. It is a pre-WWII movie about the supposed ill effects of cannabis. The movie is often considered a clone of the much more famous Reefer Madness...

(1937), and the subject of cannabis was particularly popular in the hysteria surrounding Anslinger
Harry J. Anslinger
Harry Jacob Anslinger held office as the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner in the Bureau of Prohibition, before being appointed as the first Commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics on August 12, 1930.Anslinger held office an unprecedented 32 years in his role...

's 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.

The film was reissued under a number of alternate titles, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth and Love Madness. The concept of after-market
After-market (general)
After-market refers to any market where the customers who purchase one product or service are likely to purchase a related, follow-on product....

 films in film distribution
Film distributor
A film distributor is a company or individual responsible for releasing films to the public either theatrically or for home viewing...

 had not yet been developed, especially for films that existed outside the confines of the studio system
Studio system
The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1960s. The term studio system refers to the practice of large motion picture studios producing movies primarily on their own filmmaking lots with creative personnel under...

, and were therefore considered "forbidden fruit". For this reason, neither Esper nor the original filmmakers bothered to protect the film's copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

, and it eventually fell into the public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

.

In 1971, Reefer Madness was discovered in the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 archives by NORML founder Keith Stroup
Keith Stroup
Keith Stroup is an attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1965, he enrolled in Georgetown Law School and worked in the office of Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen...

, who bought a print for $297, and made it the darling of pot smokers and college campuses. For this modern audience, the poor production values and overacting create an uproarious comedy. Distributing Reefer Madness to college campuses of the 1970s helped bankroll the burgeoning film company New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema, often simply referred to as New Line, is an American film studio. It was founded in 1967 by Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne as a film distributor, later becoming an independent film studio. It became a subsidiary of Time Warner in 1996 and was merged with larger sister studio Warner...

.

Today, Reefer Madness is considered to be a cult classic
Cult film
A cult film, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific group of fans. Often, cult movies have failed to achieve fame outside the small fanbases; however, there have been exceptions that have managed to gain fame among mainstream audiences...

, and one of the best examples of a midnight movie
Midnight movies
The term midnight movie is rooted in the practice that emerged in the 1950s of local television stations around the United States airing low-budget genre films as late-night programming, often with a host delivering ironic asides...

. Its fans enjoy the film for the same unintentionally campy
Camp (style)
Camp is an aesthetic sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its taste and ironic value. The concept is closely related to kitsch, and things with camp appeal may also be described as being "cheesy"...

 production values that made it a hit in the 1970s. Sean Abley's stage adaptation, Reefer Madness, ran for a year in Chicago in 1992.
The film was spoofed in a musical of the same name
Reefer Madness (musical)
Reefer Madness is a musical satire of the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness that opened in Los Angeles in 1998. The book and lyrics were written by Kevin Murphy and the music by Dan Studney. Directed by Andy Fickman, it was initially shown at the Hudson Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los...

, which was later made into a made-for-television film
Reefer Madness (2005 film)
Reefer Madness premiered on April 16, 2005 on the Showtime cable network. It is a television movie version of the 1998 musical, and stars Alan Cumming as the Lecturer, Ana Gasteyer as Mae, and Kristen Bell as Mary. The movie also stars siblings Christian and Neve Campbell as Jimmy Harper and Miss...

 in 2005, which featured major actors such as Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming, OBE is a Scottish stage, television and film actor, singer, writer, director, producer and author. His roles have included the Emcee in Cabaret, Boris Grishenko in GoldenEye, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler in X2: X-Men United, Mr. Elton in Emma, and Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids trilogy...

, Kristen Bell
Kristen Bell
Kristen Anne Bell is an American actress. Although her first film role was an uncredited appearance in Polish Wedding, Bell previously acted in stage and musical productions. In 2001, she made her Broadway debut as Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer...

, Christian Campbell
Christian Campbell
Christian Bethune Campbell is a Canadian stage and screen actor. He is married to actress America Olivo.-Personal life:Campbell was born in Toronto, Ontario. Campbell's mother, Marnie , is a yoga instructor and psychologist from Amsterdam, Netherlands...

, and Ana Gasteyer
Ana Gasteyer
Ana Kristina Gasteyer is an American actress of stage, film, and television. She is best known for her comedic roles when she was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2002.-Early life:...

.

Release history



In 2004, 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

, in collaboration with Legend Films
Legend Films
Legend Films, a San Diego-based company, was founded in August 2001. The company specializes in the conversion of feature films, both new release and catalog titles, and commercials from their native 2D format into 3-D film format utilizing proprietary technology and software...

, released a colorized
Film colorization
Film colorization is any process that adds color to black-and-white, sepia or monochrome moving-picture images. It may be done as a special effect, or to modernize black-and-white films, or to restore color films...

 version of the film on DVD. The original release date was April 20, 2004, a reference to the drug slang term "420
420 (cannabis culture)
420, 4:20 or 4/20 refers to consumption of cannabis and, by extension, a way to identify oneself with cannabis subculture. The notable day for these is April 20.- Origins of terms :...

". Also during the film, the number "4" and then "20" is flashed very quickly (as a joke on subliminal messages), which is an effect added by Legend Films. The color version features intentionally unrealistic color schemes that add to the film's unintentionally campy
Camp (style)
Camp is an aesthetic sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its taste and ironic value. The concept is closely related to kitsch, and things with camp appeal may also be described as being "cheesy"...

 humor. The smoke from the "marihuana" was made to appear green, blue, orange, and purple, each person's colored smoke representing their mood and the different "levels of 'addiction'".

The DVD also included a short film called Grandpa's Marijuana Handbook, a new trailer for Reefer Madness, produced by Legend Films, and two audio commentaries
Audio commentary
On disc-based video formats, an audio commentary is an additional audio track consisting of a lecture or comments by one or more speakers, that plays in real time with video...

, one discussing the color design and the other being a comedic commentary by Michael J. Nelson
Michael J. Nelson
Michael John Nelson is a U.S. comedian and writer, most famous for his work on the cult television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 . Nelson was the head writer of the series for most of the show's 11-year run, and spent half of that time playing the on-air host, also named Mike Nelson...

, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is an American cult television comedy series created by Joel Hodgson and produced by Best Brains, Inc., that ran from 1988 to 1999....

fame. Legend Films owns the copyright to the colorized version of Reefer Madness. While most have praised the new color version for its campy treatment of the cult film, some viewers claimed that the color choices would better suit a film about LSD than a film about cannabis. A DivX
DivX
DivX is a brand name of products created by DivX, Inc. , including the DivX Codec which has become popular due to its ability to compress lengthy video segments into small sizes while maintaining relatively high visual quality.There are two DivX codecs; the regular MPEG-4 Part 2 DivX codec and the...

 file of the colorized version with the commentary embedded is available as part of Nelson's RiffTrax On Demand
RiffTrax
RiffTrax are downloadable audio commentaries featuring comedians Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett heckling films in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a TV show in which Nelson was the head writer, and later the host. The RiffTrax are sold online and delivered by digital...

 service. In 2009, a newly-recorded commentary by Nelson, Kevin Murphy
Kevin Murphy (actor)
Kevin Wagner Murphy is an American actor and writer best known as the voice and puppeteer of Tom Servo on the Peabody Award-winning comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.- Early career :...

 and Bill Corbett
Bill Corbett
Bill Corbett is an American writer and performer for television, film and theatre. He was a writer and performer on the cult television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 , for which he voiced the robot Crow T. Robot during the show's later seasons on the Sci Fi Channel and played the character...

, called the "Three Riffer Edition", was released by RiffTrax, and was the feature of a Rifftrax "live" event on August 19, 2010.

The DVD release of the 2005 TV movie
Reefer Madness (2005 film)
Reefer Madness premiered on April 16, 2005 on the Showtime cable network. It is a television movie version of the 1998 musical, and stars Alan Cumming as the Lecturer, Ana Gasteyer as Mae, and Kristen Bell as Mary. The movie also stars siblings Christian and Neve Campbell as Jimmy Harper and Miss...

 has the original film as a bonus feature.

See also

  • Girls Gone Bad
    Girls Gone Bad
    Girls Gone Bad - The Delinquent Dames Collection , is a five disc DVD boxset showing 25 hours of campy, cult classic exploitation films from 1930 through 1965...

  • List of films in the public domain
  • Reefer Madness (musical)
    Reefer Madness (musical)
    Reefer Madness is a musical satire of the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness that opened in Los Angeles in 1998. The book and lyrics were written by Kevin Murphy and the music by Dan Studney. Directed by Andy Fickman, it was initially shown at the Hudson Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los...

  • Requiem for a Dream

External links