Reefer Madness (1936) — A gateway drug to jazz

“Oh, why don’t you button up your lip? You’re always squawkin’ about something. You’ve got more static than a radio.”

Justin’s rating: Last dance with Mary Jane, one more time to kill the pain

Justin’s review: According to the 1936 informational film Reefer Madness, marijuana causes the following effects:

  1. One puff, and you’ll begin laughing like the Joker on payday. You’ll howl and scream with maniacal laughter, unstoppable by any means.
  2. Your eyes will sink into their sockets and your face begin to resemble a ghoul. At this point, you’re ready for a trip to Hot Topic.
  3. You suddenly find girls attractive (if you’re a guy), or guys attractive (if you’re a girl), and wish to partake of lip-mashing with them. You have relinquished the ability to say no to sex from now on.
  4. An insatiable love of jazz music, which must be danced to in a wild frenzy.
  5. Drug dealers who dress up in fancy three-piece suits.
  6. You find death kinda funny. Other people’s deaths.
  7. Horribly fast driving (45 mph) and a terribly strong urge to aim for pedestrians.
  8. Fist- and gun-fights. Get your mitts off of my reefers!
  9. Suicide over your enormous guilt from using reefers.
  10. Insanity, deserving of an extended stay in a mental institution.
  11. Jail time and executions. And…
  12. A decrease in study habits at school, in addition to missing a basket while practicing with the basketball team.

Now, not being a dope fiend myself, I shall only hazard a guess that the makers of Reefer Madness worshipped at the altar of exaggeration a slight bit. There’s something a little suspicious in seeing a PSA that blatantly states that this is the most hideous, demonic drug ever produced, far worse than crack, crank, and meth.

This 70-minute masterpiece comes in the guise of a “shocking” and “daring” peek into the seedy underworld of reefer use. I don’t know how you imagine the drug culture to be, but I can pretty firmly guess that it isn’t contained to a middle-aged couple’s living room, where Fred and Wilma Smith seek to corrupt today’s youth (and make a bit of pocket change) by pushing the drug on teens they meet in the malt shop.

There’s an overly long intro, both in the form of scrolling text and in a narrative device that has some pickled educator informing parents about how their kids are going to hell by Tuesday, at the latest, unless this marijuana mania is nipped in the bud. After that, however, we get to the good stuff — see above. It’s a cautionary tale that might as well been filmed in an alternate universe where the streets are made of Angel’s food coke and the sky coated with a glitter pen.

This film is so hilariously over-the-top that you can’t help, no matter what your stance on “reefers,” to laugh at all the ways they try to scare you away. For me? It’s number four. There’s no way I would ever take a drug that would be a gateway to an appreciation of jazz.

Didja notice?

  • If you still frame the newspaper which flashes on screen just before the verdict is announced at the end of the film, underneath the headline is another front-page news story which bears the smaller headline: DICK TRACY, G-MEN LEAD SUCCESSFUL RAID.
  • The kookiest jazz music hop you’ll ever see
  • Hey, that’s pretty good “running over a pedestrian” effects
  • The opening titles spelling it “marihuana”

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