Oh, the joys of the 1930s roadshow picture. Essentially highly moralistic propaganda films, these movies were produced by churches, family groups and other conservative organizations as a way to crusade against the evils of society. They tackled such topics as drug use and sexuality, and promoters sent them on tours around the country, where they played in church basements, American Legion halls, and sometimes in tents erected outside of town. This wonderful subgenre flourished in the Great Depression, particularly in rural areas of the U.S. that had few proper movie theaters. The movies — all dirt cheap, ham-handed productions with little professional talent — were popular not just with reform-minded civic leaders, but also with youngsters who wanted a look at the kind of subject matter that the production code had made taboo in mainstream Hollywood productions. Sermonizing and titillation lived side-by-side in these films, and the filmmakers knew which side their toast was buttered on. They often slipped in bits of nudity or other bits of exploitation alongside the moral edification to keep the crowds coming.
“Marihuana” (which also ran under the titles “The Devil’s Weed” and the clever “The Weed with Roots in Hell”) is a pretty typical example of the genre. The plot is pretty predictable and bargain basement — a bunch of 30-year-old teens bounce from odd house party to odd house party while a couple of greasy dealers keep the kids supplied with pot and booze. Eventually one drowns while skinny-dipping, one gets killed while smuggling drugs and one gets pregnant out of wedlock, which turns her into an immoral drug dealer. And its all delivered with the kind of low rent acting, writing and production values that make Ed Wood look like a genius.
“Marihuana” doesn’t quite hit the giddy heights of “Reefer Madness” (which is forever king of the genre), but it certainly does try, and you have to admire it for that. In fact, watching the film is kind of like being high — lots of activity passes in front of your eyes, but only makes intermittent sense, and cause and effect no longer have any meaning. It’s like 57 minutes of contact high. Rent it now for your next 4/20 movie marathon.
The guy pissing at his barstool.
“Reefer Madness” (1936) and “The Cocaine Fiends” (1935).
Take a Look:
The first 10 minutes: