Reefer Madness

Movie Information

Walk-In Theatre will present Reefer Madness Friday, Sept. 12, starting at dusk in the parking lot behind Westville Pub. Sponsored by the merchants of the Bledsoe Building. Admission is free. As usual, patrons are asked to leave pets and coolers at home, but to bring lawn chairs.
Genre: Tabloid Drama
Director: Louis J. Gasnier
Starring: Dave O'Brien, Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles
Rated: NR

Reefer Madness—originally titled (more prosaically) Tell Your Children when it was “released” circa 1936—attained cult/camp status in the 1960s and ‘70s for reasons that have nothing to do with any intended qualities. The film—directed by Louis J. Gasnier, whose style never developed much past his work in 1914 on The Perils of Pauline—is a lunatic treatise on the evils, dangers, pitfalls and plain not niceness of marijuana use. Though made with facilities provided by short-lived Grand National Pictures (who must have been easily satisfied, since they appear to have signed Gasnier to helm less disreputable fare), this is strictly states’ rights, four-wall stuff. That’s to say, it wasn’t really released; it was shown in rented theaters and auditoriums various and sundry as “educational” material. Maybe the approach fooled the credulous, but this is tabloid trash that made it past the censors by never being shown to them. It was aimed at the hick market based on sensationalism, sex and maybe a flash of nudity.

This is neither the best nor the worst of this sort of thing—nor even the most salacious. It may, however, be the silliest, as marijuana ruins these suspiciously old-looking young people’s lives. But it’s worth it just for Dave O’Brien going mad after a few tokes on the “weed with roots in Satan’s garden.” (These folks are remarkably active for stoners.) The presence of O’Brien (who went on to play the hero who uttered the immortal line, “It’s not so funny when it’s your jugular vein,” in the Bela Lugosi picture The Devil Bat (1940)) adds some interest, as does Gasnier’s historic (if not artistic) significance. As a bonus, there’s Lillian Miles, who had a moment of fame singing “The Continental” in the Astaire-Rogers film The Gay Divorcee a couple years prior to Reefer. Seeing as how she was down to doing this sort of thing within two years, it’s not hard to see where her career was heading. The real question is: Did anyone ever take this movie seriously? (Ask yourself that again when someone tells you The Blair Witch Project is a true story.)

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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18 thoughts on “Reefer Madness

  1. Or Ralph you can join the party behind the Bledsoe Building at 8pm for a double feature of REEFER MADNESS and SPINAL TAP. Our last Walk in Theater of the year!

  2. Ken Hanke

    But, speaking of REEFER MADNESS, this movie and a growing number of other “classics” are available for free viewing

    The word “classics” in this case meaning “Movies that have fallen into the public domain.”

  3. not entirely, Ken … let’s modify that to:

    “Movies that have fallen into the public domain and which appeal to my eclectic sense of wonder.”

  4. Ken Hanke

    “Movies that have fallen into the public domain and which appeal to my eclectic sense of wonder.”

    Okay, so it’s Ralph’s personal selection of movies that have fallen into the public domain. If this selection doesn’t include six of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine (two aren’t PD and one ought not to be seen), then it’s lacking something.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Why? Because any set of PD offerings that includes only Spooks Run Wild out of that set is lacking in my view. Also, Frankenstein’s Daughter is 1958, not 1948.

  6. thanks for the correction, I’ve editing that title.

    this is a work in progress over the last week or two, so any “lacking” is just so much “clacking” until I announce that this is now a complete list. …

    which, of course, I am far too smart to ever do.

  7. Ralph… you are just amazing… what all you do for people who have no idea what all you do!

    Keep up the great work…. you are a Great Inspiration to me. ;)

  8. Tau Siafu

    Reefer Madness? isnt that what we feel when we run out of our ganja? No, my mistake, reefer madness is what i feel when i think about our foolish Government spending BILLIONS of dollars a year fighting a God created PLANT! they should be spending that money on fighting REAL criminals. if they insist on continuing to fight the failed war on drugs they should at least go after the drugs that actually do destroy lives such as meth or crack…but hey, after all its not their BILLIONS being wasted, it is ours, the tax payers… ;)

  9. Privatized prisons and jails… the revolving door of the criminal justice system… take your number and we shall see you again…and again…

    There is no need to rehabilitate those sick, drug and alcohol addicted people when they line the pockets of greed.

    A medicinal herb that is natural grouped with the chemical creations of man for the profit of possession.

    How many of those who are incarcerated because they were under the influence of a chemical at the time of arrest?

  10. Tau Siafu

    Indeed, the pockets lined with greed are those that have the power to run and are ruining our amazing country (land / people not ‘Gov). Our country is falling apart as apathy seems to be the new god of the masses. It is written that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil, nowhere is that more evident than in big oil, the medical industry, big pharmaceuticals, ill conceived wars, oh how the list goes on with an ending in tears. GREED = Government Ravenously Eating, Engorging, Destroying! When will WE THE PEOPLE open our eyes collectively and see that WE are the ones to blame for doing nothing?

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