Reviewed by Nicholas D'Amico
Rating: 9 Beans
he first time I saw this film was at a Midnight showing back in the late 70's at the late, lamented Westwood Theater on Hilliard Road.. It was not only everything I'd been led to believe, but much more…
It opens with a scroll explaining that what you are about to see may startle you and goes on to inform us about the "new" drug menace, the scourge of this Nation's youth. "Marihuana is that drug - a violent narcotic - an unspeakable scourge - The Real Public Enemy Number One!" (I wonder how John Dillinger felt about that…) "Its first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter;" (Actually, this is true. I know that I and the rest of the crowd laughed like hell when we saw that line) "…then come dangerous hallucinations - space expands - time slows down, almost stands still…" (This is true of the time you spend watching this movie, as well) "…fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances - followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of power to resist physical emotions…" (Sounds more like puberty to me) "…leading finally to acts of shocking violence… often ending in incurable insanity." (????) It goes on to say that, while the story is "fictionized", it's based on actual research, which is about as reliable as the research done on it today.
After this claptrap, it goes to a number of newspaper headlines such as POLICE WAGE WAR ON NARCOTIC RING! and SCHOOL-PARENT ORGANIZATIONS JOIN DOPE FIGHT. We then dissolve to just such a meeting at Truman High, chaired by the school's principal, Dr. Alfred Carroll (Josef Forte), who looks a hell of a lot like my fifth grade teacher, Sister Pancracious, only not as wrinkled. Dr. Carroll is a fish-faced middle-aged man with horn rim glasses who likes to punch the table in order to drive home a point. After raving about how "this frightful assassin of our youth" must be stomped out, he tells the audience of concerned parents about a recent bust in Brooklyn. They then demonstrate how to harvest and prepare "the deadly narcotic" for use, thereby showing anyone who didn't know anything about pot how to smoke it, then they show how drugs such as heroin and cocaine are smuggled into the country in watch cases (in pill form?), in innocent looking barrels, and the heels of shoes, thereby giving a crash course in drug smuggling as well. He goes on to state that marihuana, as they spell it, is more dangerous and soul-destroying than the aforementioned drugs. Dr. Carroll then tells a story about something that happened "right here, in our own city".
At this point we meet Mae and Jack (Thelma White and Carleton Young). These two lowlifes run the local marihuana flat. Jack enters and wakes Mae, telling her to clean the place up. "Looks like the Marines have landed," he says. "Oh, that bunch last night was high enough to take over the Marines and the Navy," she answers. The fact that kids are expected this afternoon is established and, as Mae puts on her stockings, Jack goes into the kitchen and pulls his stash out of the cupboard. A few people then arrive and start partying. As they're Mae's customers, they're in their thirties. She tells Jack that she wishes he'd lay off bringing kids up to her place, but Jack is ruthless about turning a buck, which is strange because they seem to be giving the stuff away. No money ever changes hands in this movie.
Then we dissolve to a stern-faced cop stopping traffic for a few 28 year old High School students, one of whom is college man Ralph Wiley (Dave O'Brien), my favorite character in the movie. After a high schooler invites him to a party at his grandmother's place that Saturday, he runs into Jack and the two of them ogle Mary (Dorothy Short) and then cross the street to meet her, her younger brother Jimmy (Warren McCullom), and Mary's wuss boyfriend, Bill (Kenneth Craig). By way of exposition, the two kids that were talking to Ralph before establish that Ralph's father and mother just got a divorce (GASP!) and that Ralph's "been in a couple of jams", so despite his good looks, we know the truth of his seedy existence.
While Bill and Mary play tennis, Jimmy, Jack and Ralph go to the local soda shop and hang out with all the other overage students. When they walk in, Jimmy notices the piano player and says, "Hey, he ain't no paper man!" to which the girl meeting him says, "Why, don't you know him? He's Hot Fingers Paroni!" who kind of looks like Chico Marx with a bad haircut on nitrous oxide. "Boy, he really swings out hot with a mess o' jive!" declares Jimmy. Jack and Ralph, meanwhile, join Blanche (Lillian Miles) at a table, and over sodas, discuss the new "prospects". Hot Fingers finishes his number and then goes into a closet with a venetian window to show us what gave him the nickname "Hot Fingers". Standing right next to the open air door, he lights a joint and starts to puff on it like a madman, blowing the smoke every whichway, smiling like an idiot. Jimmy and his girl then join Blanche, Ralph and Jack and go to Mae's place to get stoned.
Bill and Mary go to the latter's house and discuss domestic matters (Bill: "Well, I'll try anything, except Domestic Science!" Mary: "Why Bill! Don't you want to learn something about running your own home?" Bill (laughing): "The answer is, 'No!' "). Mrs. Lane serves them refreshments in a silver tea set ("Gosh! Hot chocolate! Thanks, Mrs. Lane!" exclaims Bill) and he gets amorous, suggesting they rehearse some lines from "Romeo and Juliet" before they tackle their math homework. As the two of them emote (badly), Mrs. Lane spots what they're doing and watches impishly. When they begin to share an extremely chaste kiss, she butts in and Bill gets all flustered, backing into the fountain and falling on his wuss ass.
Cut to Bill's home, showing him to be a normal, All-American youth with an adoring younger brother and loving parents. All the settings for a future psychotic episode now established, Bill's mother asks him what took so long to get home from school and when he tries to lie his way out of it, his little brother starts busting his chops, singing, "Bill has a gir-ril! Bill has a gir-ril!" and Bill shows what a supreme dick he is by crying, "Mom! Make him cut it out!"
In the next scene, Jimmy and Bill go to the soda shop where they meet up with Blanche and Ralph. As Hot Fingers Paroni swings out with his usual mess o' jive, Bill gets talked into going up to Mae's place with the other three. When they arrive, there's a wild party going on, with kids jitterbugging and mauling each other all over the place. Mae goes into the kitchen to get some more reefers and discovers they're running low. Jack gets Jimmy to drive him over to pick up some more and Blanche shames Bill into smoking his first joint. Bill isn't sure, looking around and seeing Ralph bogarting one and a girl across the way smoking one joyfully (so joyfully, in fact, that she forgets to inhale), but when Blanche accuses him of being afraid, well, dammit, that's the last straw, and Bill defiantly lights up. He takes his first puff and Ralph immediately starts laughing like a nut, watching Bill get stoned.
As Jimmy drops Jack off at Mr. Big's headquarters, he asks him for a smoke. Jack obliges, and Jimmy lights it up right there on the street while sitting in his convertible. (Oh, to live in the thirties!) Jack walks into to Mr. Big's office, which consists of a desk, two clipboards, a phone, and an adding machine, and they discuss business and how the kids really go for that reefer. They're interrupted by one of Mr. Big's minions, who, unlike Jack, has a conscience. He says that he didn't mind selling hooch, but selling hop to kids is where he draws the line. "All right, Pete," says the Boss. "You know what my policy's always been. If the boys are not happy, you know I'm always glad to have them retire… Retire…permanently!" Pete gets the message and splits, but not before saying, "I wish you had a couple of kids so I could…" "GET OUT!" yells Mr. Big.
Jack picks up his package of reefer and walks outside, where Jimmy is waiting and just finishing up his joint. As Jack gets in the car, Jimmy exclaims, "Let's go, Jack, I'm red hot!" to which Jack answers, "Better be careful how you drive or the first thing you know, you'll be ice cold." Jimmy then tosses what's left of the reefer out the window, takes the car up to 50 m.p.h., proceeds to run over a pedestrian, and keeps right on going.
The next day, we find that Bill is beginning to act strange through expositional dialogue between Mary and her mother, and then Jimmy comes down and starts acting irritable, snapping at his sister. Mary decides it's time to talk to Bill and find out what's what.
Meanwhile, Dr. Carroll is paying a visit to the local FBI office to discuss the citywide distribution of "the narcotic" in his and all the other schools in town and demanding they do something about it. The Agent in charge tells him that, since there's no inter-state trade in the drug because it grows wild in every state of the union, their hands are tied (This caused a huge cheer to go up in the theater I was in when I saw this). The Agent then goes on to state that the cases concerning marihuana use have grown to a point where they fill filing cabinets. He pulls a file out and hands it to Dr. Carroll, telling him, "Here is an example. A 16-year-old lad, apprehended in the act of staging a holdup. 16 years old, and a marihuana addict… Here is a most tragic case."
"Yes, I remember," says Dr. Carroll. "Just a young boy. Under the influence of the drug, he killed his entire family with an axe."
Taking a few files with him as bedtime reading, Dr. Carroll then has a talk with Bill in his office and pretty much accuses him of smoking pot. Bill, of course, denies the whole thing, but Dr. Carroll assures him that he can come and talk anytime in complete and total confidence.
Later, Mary is waiting in vain for Bill to show up for a tennis game. Bill, however, is busy getting busy over at Mae's place with Blanche. As Jimmy plays a wild honky-tonk tune on the piano, Blanche strips down to her skirt and camisole and leads Jimmy into the bedroom as Ralph watches, laughing like mad. While Bill and Blanche do the nasty (laughing almost the whole time), Jimmy plays on while he and everyone else in the living room
maul each other.
Back at home, two policemen looking into Jimmy's hit and run incident question Mary about the whereabouts of her car (which is what Jimmy was driving) on the day of the accident. It seems that they only got a partial plate number, so they're checking all owners with similar tags. Mary covers up for Jimmy (none too convincingly) and the cops take off. She then goes to the soda shop and the guy there sends her to Mae's place. It's pretty quiet as Jimmy and his girl are gone and everyone else is passed out on the furniture, except Ralph, who ushers Mary in. Jack and Mae are in the kitchen drinking booze like good Americans, and Bill is in the bedroom, recovering from banging Blanche. Ralph gives Mary a smoke, and when she starts giggling, attacks her. She's fighting back and screaming (which no one seems to hear), and then Bill walks out of the bedroom, his life ruined, hanging his head in shame at having had sex with a woman that looks like a young Vivian Vance. He sees Mary and Ralph struggling on the couch and hallucinates that the two of them are having consensual ju-ju, so he immediately goes Norman Bates and starts beating Ralph up. Jack and Mae hear this, so Jack tries to knock Bill out with the butt of his gun. Bill is too quick for him, though, and in the ensuing struggle, Mary is shot and killed. Jack finally manages to knock Bill unconscious and, after making sure everyone has their stories straight, puts the gun in Bill's hand and wakes him up. Bill, of course, remembers nothing, and so he assumes he's responsible for Mary's death.
Jack then visits Jimmy at the malt shop and tells him that the guy he ran over is dead and blackmails him into silence, after which we fade to a newspaper with the headline HARPER MARIHUANA SLAYING TRIAL OPENS (in a startling display of realism, a sub-headline reads, "Dick Tracy, G-Man, in sensational raid") and dissolve to the courtroom as Dr. Carroll takes the stand against Bill (so much for total confidence). He makes a few armchair medical speculations about Bill's marihuana use and sites a couple of examples of Bill's odd behavior, such as when he "burst into an uncontrollable fit of hysterical laughter" during a serious discussion of "Romeo and Juliet" during an English Lit class. (The judge, by the way, is the same guy that played the judge in the Three Stooges short "Disorder In The Court".)
At Mae's place, Blanche is trying to shift the blame for what happened on Bill and Ralph is flipping out. Mae is worried about this and mentions it to Jack, who tells her he'll go see the Boss about it. Jack does just that, telling him that Ralph and Blanche are starting to get a little restless hiding out over at Mae's. "Just keep feeding him those hopsticks," says Mr. Big. When Jack explains that's not working, the Boss tells Jack to "take care" of Ralph.
Back in court, the lawyers are making their summations. The D.A. demands a guilty verdict, pointing out that Bill was involved in "a tawdry love affair" (at this point, Bill buries his face in shame) and that's the reason he killed Mary (?!)
In the jury room, a panel made up of a bunch of reactionary men and old biddies (plus one guy who actually thinks things out) take a vote. 11 guilty, one acquittal. After browbeating the one holdout into voting guilty, they return the verdict and Bill is sentenced to hang.
Back at Mae's, Ralph is continuing to flip out and Mae keeps feeding him reefers, telling him to "quit that crazy laughing!" and then motioning Blanche to play a tune on the piano. She does so, smoking a reefer of her own, and Ralph starts telling her "Faster! Play faster!" This she does, and Ralph, complete with dark circles under his eyes, takes one toke too many just before Jack comes back in. He stands and faces Jack, saying. "I know what you want. You want to kill me!"
"You're crazy!" Jack says soothingly. "Take it easy, kid! I just wanna talk to ya!" He reaches for his gun and Ralph grabs a fireplace poker and beats Jack to death with it while Blanche watches, at first horrified, then laughing. A woman next door calls the cops, and when they get there, they find everyone right where they were when the murder took place. After a montage of Mae getting the third degree treatment (this was in the days before the Miranda Decision, remember), we see a bunch of stock footage of the "Calling all cars!" variety and see Mr. Big getting popped in his office.
We then dissolve to the Judge's Chambers, where Blanche's lawyer is attempting a plea bargain in exchange for her testimony. The Judge refuses to bargain with the law (now THAT'S refreshing!) and Blanche tearfully spills her guts anyway, clearing Bill. As they take her away, she has the usual superimposed flashbacks of how she ruined young Bill's life with her corrupting influence. Filled with self loathing, she breaks away from the elderly matron escorting her and jumps out the window, killing herself.
Back in court, the judge pontificates about the tragedy of the case and sentences Bill to watch the trial of Ralph Wiley "so you will be obliged to witness what you yourself so narrowly escaped!" Two burly guards then bring Ralph in. You can tell he's crazier than a shithouse rat by the various close-ups of his eyes, and the State waives trial because "It is convinced that he is hopelessly and incurably insane, a condition caused by the drug marihuana, to which he was addicted. It is recommended, your honor, that the defendant be placed in an institution for the criminally insane for the rest of his natural life." The judge concurs and they haul Ralph away.
We then dissolve to Dr. Carroll as he finishes the story and lectures the assembled parents to educate their children about the pitfalls that await them should they become addicted to marihuana. "Failing this," he warns, looking around the room, "the next tragedy may be that of your daughter. Or your son." He then begins to point left and right, continuing, "Or yours. Or yours," and then, pointing straight into the camera. "Or YOURS!" A graphic reading TELL YOUR CHILDREN is superimposed on him and the movie ends.
Watching this film, I couldn't help but be reminded of all the anti-drug commercials I saw as a kid, like the one where Rod Serling narrated an acid flashback or the one where a pusher whose face was never shown (I always pictured him as looking exactly like Lou Reed) tries to give drugs away ("Dig, everybody! L! S! D!") to a bunch of little kids but is tripped up by a well informed youngster. The main thing that bothers me about this movie, however, is that the kid that IS guilty of a crime, Jimmy, gets off scott free!
I would normally give a rundown on the cast at this point, but other than finding out that Dave O'Brien (Ralph) starred in his own series of short comedies (no doubt due to his performance in this film), there is not one scrap of information to be found about the making of or the "stars" in this movie. I can, however, tell you that this film used to be distributed by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
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