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The Cocaine Fiends (a.k.a., The Pace That Kills) (1935).

May 6, 2008

The Scoop:
In the proud tradition of such roadside exploitation pulp as “Reefer Madness” comes this similar cautionary tale about the evils of narcotics. The subject this time is cocaine, which is much less benign than marijuana, but the cinematic results are just as goofy. The genre’s full capacity for breathless hysteria is brought to bear on this story of a small-town brother and sister who are led to The Big City by a taste for the nose candy, where they fall into crime, prostitution, racketeering and — worst of all — swearing.

Obviously, this is another classic. It hasn’t attained the legendary cult status of “Reefer Madness,” probably for the simple fact that it wasn’t embraced by the ’60s counterculture the way that film was. If the hippies’ drug of choice had been coke instead of pot, “The Cocaine Fiends” might have wound up being a much bigger part of our cultural history. (Of course, you could argue that if coke had been their drug of choice, Woodstock would have looked like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel instead of simply being a mud-caked lovefest.)

This film, like “Reefer Madness,” “Slaves in Bondage,” “Marihuana” and others, was born out of the roadshow circuit that flourished across rural America between the two world wars. Most often made by churches or morality groups, these films purported to offer education and advice on how to deal with many of the problems facing young people — mainly drugs, sex and white slavery. The reels were driven from town to town by showmen who would often set up tents to show the films if the small towns they were visiting did not have movie theaters.

These movies tended to draw big crowds, not only because they were the only show in town, but also because audiences got to see a little titillation on the way to the film’s spoon-fed moral message. It was this last fact that was seized on my many cheapie exploitation producers who found that they could get audiences for their sex-and-violence stories and skirt the mainstream film industry’s production codes by appending ham-fisted moral messages to their work.

The genre was eventually killed off, first by World War II, and then later by the wave of postwar prosperity that brought urban entertainment to every corner of the country. But the films live on as high camp relics of a very different age.

Best Line:
“Tonight I’m gonna take you on a sleigh ride with some snow birds.”

Side Note:
This is a remake of an earlier film called “The Pace That Kills” (1928) and footage from this was later edited into “Confessions of a Vice Baron” (1942) — all three films were directed by William A. O’Connor.

Companion Viewing:
“Reefer Madness” (1936).

1,000 Misspent Hours.

Take a Look:
The trailer:

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