Reefer Madness – Propaganda Cult Classic Film Cliffs Notes + Review
If you haven’t heard of this film, to make a long story short, it was made to scare people off weed. Made and released in 1936, Reefer Madness was created for parents to warn them about the dangers that Marijuana poses on their children. The film was commissioned by a church group under the original title “Tell your children”.
In today’s blog I will be going through the film, scene by scene detailing what happens so that you don’t have to watch it yourself. How lucky you are to have a play by play of this film rather than watch it... Pacific Standard wrote that Reefer Madness was one of the first films ever to be considered transcendentally bad.
In the 70’s the film popped back up, gaining popularity amongst stoners as it is so far-fetched it actually makes it funny. Even though the intent of the film was not comedy, it certainly has its moments of hilarity thanks to its dramatic views on weed and what weed does to young kids.
The film begins with a dire warning that reads;
Scene 1: High School Principle Dr. Alfred Carrol speaks at a school parents meeting to a room full of parents.
The meeting is to warn parents about the “frightful assassin on our youth” that is marijuana, calling for parents to join in on a nationwide campaign for compulsory narcotic education. Dr. Carroll reads a letter written to him by the department of narcotics, urging parents to get behind this movement to eradicate marijuana. The Dr. says “Many of you do not believe these things happen, that they cannot happen to you. You may also believe that the facts have been exaggerated.”. He goes on tell a story that happened “right here in our own city, you probably read about it in the papers. However, I’ll give you the real facts behind the case.”.
Scene 2: Mae Coleman is asleep in bed at her apartment. Jack Perry lets himself in, wakes her up and demands she clean the place up.
Mae reveals she had a big party last night where all her guests were very high. Jack says he’s got more kids on the way today to have a party. Mae is uncomfortable with the age of Jack’s clients. There is a knock at the door, Jack answers and 3 adults come in and make themselves comfortable. Mae mentions to Jack that her clients are old enough to know what they’re doing, unlike the kids he brings. Before Jack leaves her reminds Mae that he’ll be back with some kids, she once again protests saying “oh I wish you’d lay off those kids!” to which Jack replies “Oh why don’t you get over that mother complex.”.
Scene 3: Jack runs into Ralph on the street
Ralph seems a happy man, him and Jack exchanges pleasantries. Two passer by-s discuss their opinion on Ralph saying he’s been in a couple “Jams” and is too old for the kids he is often seen with.
Ralph, who is now accompanied by Jack, asks Mary, her boyfriend Bill and her younger brother Jimmy if they all want to come to the soda shop. Mary and Bill decline saying they are busy but perhaps another time, and Jimmy decides to join Ralph and Jack.
Scene 4: Ralph, Jack and Jimmy enter the soda shop which is buzzing.
A man is playing jazz on the piano and a woman grabs Jimmy and begins to dance with him while Ralph and Jack sit down at a near-by booth where Blanche is sitting.
Ralph, Jack and Blanche discuss the party at Mae’s later. Jack asks Blanche is there are “any new prospects?” she says maybe and looks over at dancing Jimmy.
The piano player takes a break and goes into a closet to menacingly smoke a joint.
Jimmy and his dancing partner join the group and they all convince him to come to Mae’s party. They leave.
Scene 5: Mary and Bill are having a study date at Mary’s parents house.
They talk about school and recite Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, while sharing a kiss they notice Mary’s mum is watching them, Bill is startled and begins to leave, walking backwards into their pond.
Scene 6: Bill returns home to his house where his Mum, Dad and little brother are all gathered in the dining room.
Bills little brother makes fun of Bill for having a girlfriend and gives him a hard time in front of their parents. To deflect Bill asks his brother what’s wrong to make him give Bill such a hard time. The little brother confesses he needs Bill’s help fixing his model aeroplane.
Scene 7: Bill is waiting for Mary on the street.
Mary’s little brother Jimmy shows up instead of Mary, telling Bill she is busy and sent him to tell Bill. Jimmy convinces Bill to come by the soda shop for a root beer.
Scene 8: Soda Shop, Jimmy and Bill arrive and get called over to a booth where Ralph and Blanche are sitting.
Ralph and Blanche convince the pair to come to over to yet another party at Mae’s. We see the pianist manically playing the piano... clearly, he has a few screws loose.
Scene 9: Mae’s Apartment, party in session, someone is on the piano, people are dancing, laughing and making out.
Ralph, Blanche, Jimmy and Bill arrive. Bill stands in the doorway looking very scares. Blanche invites him in to sit down. Mae walks in and Blanche introduces Bill saying “He’s ok” Mae says “well if you say so, he’s alright with me.” Mae leaves and enters the kitchen where Jack is, she expresses her concern about the new guy and tells him she is running out of smokes and he needs to go pick up more. Jack’s car is in the shop so he asks Jimmy if he can drive him.
Bill offers Blanche a cigarette which she declines, Mae walks in and offers her a joint to which she takes a couple. Blanche takes Bill’s cigarette out of his mouth and says ‘Oh here, if you want a good smoke, try one of these.” And hands him a joint. Bill looks around the party unsure about the joint, he sees everyone at the party smoking joints, progressively getting more hysterical and sexual, there smiles widening with each puff. Bill is looking unsure when Blanche says “I thought you were a sport! Ofcourse if you’re afraid…” She lights up the joint for him and he smokes the joint.
Scene 10: Jimmy and Jack arrive into town.
Jack leaves the car but before he is able to get away, Jimmy asks for a cigarette. Jack hands Jimmy a joint and leaves to enter the building.
Jack enters his Boss’s office and they discuss their new clientele of kids. Another man barges into the office and confronts Jack’s boss about selling to kids. Jacks boss threateningly says to the man that if he’s not happy selling he’s always welcome to retire. He pauses for a while and a smile comes to his face as he says “retire permanently.” The man leaves with his tail between his legs and Jack is sent out to his boss’ secretary to pick up the smokes.
Jack returns outside to Jimmy and they leave for Mae’s. Jimmy is high as a kite and is recklessly speeding. He runs a red light and runs over a pedestrian and continues to drive away from the scene.
Scene 11: Mary is at home in the dining room with her mum.
Mary’s mum asks Mary where Bill is and why he hasn’t been around lately. Her mum encourages Mary to question Bill on this to see if anything is wrong. Jimmy comes in and sits down at the table. He seems very distressed. Mary asks Jimmy if he is ok, he doesn’t say anything.
Scene 12: At the FBI offices. A detective is sitting down with high school principle Dr. Alfred Carrol.
The pair discuss the organised gang distributing narcotics to students. The FBI agent explains to the Dr. that there is no interstate commerce in the drug and as a result the governments hands are tied. And frankly the only sure-cure is a widespread campaign in education. After some push back from Dr. Carrol regarding the schools responsibility on the matter, the FBI agent shows him a cabernet filled with marijuana cases showing an example of a 16 year old addict who under the influence of marijuana killed his whole family with an axe. Dr. Carrol asks the FBI agent if he can take a few cases in order to assist him in combatting the evil in his school. The FBI agent willingly obliges.
Scene 13: At school in Dr Carrol’s office he sits down with Bill.
Dr. Carrol confronts Bill asking what’s up with him, urging him to be honest. He asks “Isn’t it true that you have, perhaps unwillingly, acquired a certain harmful habit, your association with certain undesirable people?”. Bill denies and deflects by telling the Dr that he is worried about something that is going on at home. On that note Dr Carrol stands up and leads bill out, saying “We’ll just have to let it go at that” then proceeds to tell Bill that if he ever need to confide in anyone, he is here to listen.
Scene 14: Mary waits for Bill at the tennis courts.
A classmate informs her that he hasn’t been to tennis in weeks.
Scene 15: Mae’s Apartment, another party is in session.
Blanche and Bill are dancing and laughing together. Mae and Jack are in the kitchen arguing. Blanche and Bill venture in to a bedroom and begin to make out in between bursts of laughter. They have sex.
Scene 16: Two police officers knock on Mary’s families door. Mary answers the door.
They question her where abouts on the day of the hit and run as her car matches descriptions given. She gives her alibi and they ask if anyone might have had her car that day. Knowing that Jimmy did have her car she lies and says no, she had the car.
Scene 17: Mary shows up to the soda shop to look for Jimmy.
The waiter informs her that he was in early but had left for Mae’s. She convinces the waiter to give her the address to Mae’s apartment.
Scene 18: Mary shows up at Mae’s apartment
Mary is told by Ralph that Jimmy should be over any minute and is convinced to stay. Mary seems unsettled, Ralph offers her a smoke. Thinking that it was a cigarette she takes it and smokes it. Meanwhile, Bill (Mary’s boyfriend) is in the room over, having sex with Blanche.
Ralph makes a move on Mary to which she protests. He continues to grab her and undress her against her will. Bill walks out from the bedroom and sees Mary and Ralph together. In a fit of rage her lunges and Ralph and the two fight in the living room. Jack and Mae hear the commotion and run in. Jack pulls out a gun and using the butt of it, hits Bill over the head. The gun fires and shoots and kills Mary.
Jack convinces Ralph and Blanche to leave and forget what they saw. He wipes the gun clean and places it in passed out Bill’s hand. He wakes Bill and tells him he killed Mary.
Scene 19: Jack enters the soda shop and spots Jimmy at a booth, he pulls him aside to chat.
Jack informs Jimmy that the cops are investigating the hit and run and he guarantees that no one will ever find out that it was him who was driving the car so long as he never tells anyone that he ever went to Mae’s house. Jimmy agrees.
Scene 20: In the court room at Bill’s trial for the murder of Mary, Dr Carrol is called to the stand.
Dr Carrol is asked if he has noticed any changes in Bill over the past few months. He replies yes, he at times disassociated and he was missing the ball by 3 or 4 feel when playing tennis – this he understands could be attributed to the use of marijuana – causing errors in time and space. He gives an example of a time in class when they were reading Romeo and Juliet when Bill burst out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
Scene 21: Blanche and Ralph are at Mae’s discussing the trail.
Blanche seems to have no remorse where-as Ralph seems in a great deal of distress and paranoia.
Mae and Jack are watching Blanche and Ralph from the kitchen. Mae wants to leave the house to get away from the pair however Jack insists them on staying and keeping an eye on them. They both express their concern for Ralph saying “He’s about to crack”. Jack says to Mae they need to keep him off the reefers. Jack leaves to see the boss.
Scene 22: At Jack and Mae’s Boss’ Office, Jack arrives.
Jack confides in his boss and expresses his worries about Ralph revealing the truth, that he infact shot and killed Mary, not Bill. The Boss suggests keeping Ralph on pot, jack informs the boss that that’s not working. Jack says he is worried about what Ralph will do once he hears the verdict for Bill’s trail. Boss says “you mean you think we’d all be better off if ge never heard the verdict?” Jack nods yes, the boss says “well, what are you waiting for”. Jack gives him an “okay” hand signal and leaves.
Scene 23: In the court room at Bill’s trial for the murder of Mary, the prosecutor gives his final remarks to the jury.
The prosecutor is arguing that Bill’s defence of being momentarily insane is not what happened, what actually happened was that he was feeling a mix of guilt for being with another woman and anger from seeing Mary with another man and knowingly shot her out of rage and guilt.
Scene 24: In the Jury room, the jury take a first vote.
The vote comes back 11 guilty to 1 not-guilty. The man who clearly voted not-guilty speaks out and says he could’ve been insane, its not beyond reasonable doubt! Another jurer clealy trying to sway his vote says “We’ve got to make any example, before boys like that contaminate all of our children!”
Scene 25: The jury files in from the jury room into the court room.
Defendant Bill is found guilty.
Scene 26: Ralph is at Mae’s growing more and more paranoid.
Ralph screams out to Mae, demanding some reefers. He expresses his need to see Jack so he can leave the apartment. He is in a bad state, clearly loosing his mind. He starts to cry. Blanche tries to settle him by playing the piano.
Jack arrives and Ralph is convinced he is there to kill Ralph. Jack insists he doesn’t want to hurt Ralph but Ralph doesn’t believe him, taking a stick and repeatedly hitting him over the head with a stick until he is dead. Blanche watches as Ralph beats Jack to death, manically laughing in the background.
A neighbour calls the police reporting a fight happening in her apartment complex.
The police show up and take Ralph, Blanche and Mae away.
Scene 27: Blanche and Mae are being separately questioned by police
Scene 28: Jack and Mae’s Boss’ office is raided by police
Scene 29: Judges Chambers Blanche and her lawyers talk to the judge from Bill’s murder trial.
Blanches layer says she is willing to plead guilty to her involvement and to give evidence on Bill’s case, telling the judge that it was Jack who killed Mary and that she was the one to convince them all to hang out at Mae’s so she is just as much to blame. She pleads guilty and signs her plea. The judge orders to set aside the jury’s verdict for Bill and rule Bill not guilty. Blanches court date to be a witness for Ralph’s trial is set and she is dismissed.
Blanche is being led down the hallway and is visibly devastated. She experiences flash backs on her involvement and the guilt overwhelms her. She spots a nearby window and runs toward and through it, many stories high, she kills herself.
Scene 30: Court room
Bill is cleared of all charges but gets a sturn talking to about his marijuana use from the judge and is told he must stay for Ralph’s trial so that he “will be abliged to witness what you yourself narrowly escaped.”.
Ralph is brought in, he is now nearly catatonic. His lawyer pleads insanity brought on my marijuana and they recommend he is placed in an asylum for the criminally insane for the rest of his life. The judge agrees and grants this.
Scene 31: Back at the school parents meeting
Dr Alfred Carrol finishes telling the tale of Mae, Jack, Ralph, Blanche, Jimmy, Mary and Jim. He encourages the parents to educate their children on the dangerous drug marijuana as it could happen to your son or your daughter. He points to different parents in the audience reiterating “or yours!” until finally he looks down the barrel of the camera to the audience watching saying “or YOURS!”. The words TELL YOUR CHILDREN appear on screen before they change to “THE END”.
There we have a play by play of the entire movie. Let’s discuss some main points from the film and some of the actions taken by those under the influence of marijuana… First let’s take a look at what the creators of this film think happens when you are on pot;
“It’s first effect is sudden violent, uncontrollable laughter.” This is not unheard of.. besides the descriptive word – violent.
“Then comes dangerous hallucinations”… yeah…. Nah that’s not the case lol.
“Space expands, time slows down, almost stands still” I’d agree with this, especially the first time you ever have weed.
“Fixed ideas come next”… ok.. yeah if we’re talking like munchies kick in and you’re like fuck yeah I NEED some food.
“Monstrous extravagances” I’m gonna be honest here.. dunno what that means.
“Followed by emotional disturbances”.. nah.
“The total inability to direct thoughts” yeah I’ll give them that too, I’d agree.
“The loss of power to resist physical emotions”… nah they’ve lost me again here…
“Leading finally to acts of shocking violence” Nope… we are talking weed here people… not bath salts for god’s sake!
“Ending often in incurable insanity” eye roll far out these squares are out of touch with the common man.
All these outrageous claims just discussed are in the foreword of the film.. let’s take a look at a few activities these stoned kids got up to in this film;
• Jimmy drove a vehicle high, ran a red light and as a result, ran over and killed a pedestrian
• The FBI agent tells a case of a 16-year-old addict who got high and killed his entire family with an axe
• Ralph attempts to rape Mary while high
• Ralph has a psychotic break and beats Jack to death with a stick
• Blanche Jumps out of a high building, committing suicide
• Ralph is finally sent insane
Safe to say we as a society have thankfully moved past this way of thinking. Yes, we have a long way to go (especially in Australia), however, when looking back at this film, it is clear how far we have come when it comes to public opinion.
For those of you who haven’t been completely turned off the idea of watching the film, it only runs for an hour and 8 minutes. Fortunately for you, unfortunately for me, I found a colourised version right after I had watched the film in black and white so I’ll leave all links in the references as always.
If you’ve made it this far (this may be my longest blog yet), you a real one <3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhQlcMHhF3w – black and white
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1pa4uGue90 – colour