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The Bigger Picture Presents: Reefer Madness

The year is 1936. Or 1938. Nobody is quite sure when this film came out. But, what we do know is that the people behind Reefer Madness felt that they had to address one of the biggest issues of pre-war, depression-era America. A crisis that was threatening the youth of the age, something which could corrupt their minds and souls. Was it heroin? Was it a terrible illness? The rise of fascism? No!; It was marijuana! The film is absolutely certain about what it wants to discuss (which, after the movie I last reviewed, is something I am very grateful about). Reefer Madness wants to talk about the dangers of marijuana, something it discusses in its long opening text crawl. It is like Star Wars, except astonishingly long-winded, with not a lightsabre in sight.

This film is known for one thing, and one thing alone; the dimwits who made this film managed to get everything about marijuana completely wrong. I do not mean the technical specifics, I mean the bare basics. They get things wrong which I, a man who thinks drinking alcohol is rebellious, know all about. These gaffes are throughout the entire picture, as they assume that marijuana smoking causes teens to chop up their families with axes and gun down innocent women. I am opposed to marijuana smoking, but I also stand against lying to your audiences, (or being so blunderingly idiotic that you do not bother to research what it is you are protesting about).

So, the film’s message is a bit naff. How is the story? On a technical film-making level, it is actually good for the time period. Fine, there are jump cuts galore, the camera wobbles occasionally and every scene ends with a fade, but otherwise it is very watchable. The characters, on the other hand, are woeful. Our protagonist is Bill (or it could be Jimmy). The wardrobe department decided to dress both actors so similarly that I cannot tell them apart. I am just going to call him Bill for the sake of consistency. He is dating Mary, a doe-eyed (or dead-eyed, depending on perspective), young lady who has no spine and wildly overacts. In fact, everyone does this; nobody acts like a real person in this movie, they all perform like aliens who only learnt human interaction from those cheesy gangster films.

Their romance is horrible. I do not mean 50 Shades horrible. It is tacky and weird and, once again, nobody acts with any normality or realism. Spontaneously they quote Shakespeare to each other, Bill is stupefied when Mary’s mother offers him hot chocolate and he ends this hideous scene by falling over into a water fountain. So, our heroes include a stupid chump and his ditzy, on-another-planet girlfriend…Goody, we are stuck with these buffoons for the rest of the film.

How about the mobsters? They are equally unimpressive. Their boss looks less like Marlon Brando in The Godfather and more like my old physics teacher. His minions are desperate to bring kids back to their flat, luring them in with drink and then getting them hooked on marijuana. I cannot be the only one to get vibes of The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every time the gangsters talk about this, but it is not quite as sinister as that. The kids, after all, are played by people in their thirties.

Bill, somehow, finds himself pulled into this seedy underworld and goes into a downhill spiral, bringing Jimmy down with him. Jimmy is Mary’s brother (again, I think he is, it’s hard to tell who anyone is). Jimmy wears collars so large I think he mugged Harry Hill, and at one point he gets high and runs an old man over. This does not go anywhere, so do not worry about it. I am not sure why he is in the movie really.

Eventually, Mary finds her spine and decides to put a stop to Bill’s wild behaviour, (not that he really does anything terribly wild, even when he is high on drugs). This goes spectacularly wrong though, resulting in Bill scuffling with one of the gangsters who accidentally shoots Mary; this is especially impressive considering the gun was not even facing her, but ho-hum, marijuana must be one hell of a drug. With Mary murdered, Bill is framed by the gangsters and is sent down by a very blood hungry jury, only for one of the gang to have second thoughts. We get all sorts of hilarity here; a murder is committed by what looks like a giant fly swatter, and a landlady who rings the police shouts words so fast into the phone that nobody could possibly have understood her. The best comes at the end though, when one of the gangster’s girlfriends confesses and kills herself by jumping through a closed window. It is so random I cannot help but find it funny.

Reefer Madness is a silly film. Well-meaning, but completely clueless. If I am honest, I would recommend this film for anyone who wants a chuckle; it only lasts an hour and is genuinely very funny at times. It is a baffling little piece of 30’s scaremongering, but it is an absolute hoot.

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