Considered THE archetypal sensationalized anti-drug movie, but it’s really an exploitation film made to capitalize on the hot taboo subject of marijuana use.
Like many exploitation films of the time, “Reefer Madness” tried to make a quick buck off of a forbidden subject while skirting the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. The Code forbade the portrayal of immoral acts like drug use.
(The illegal drug traffic must not be portrayed in such a way as to stimulate curiosity concerning the use of, or traffic in, such drugs; nor shall scenes be approved which show the use of illegal drugs, or their effects, in detail.)
The film toured around the country for many years – often being re-edited and re-titled
“Tell Your Children“, “Dope Addict“, “Doped Youth“, “Love Madness“, “The Burning Question“. It was re-discovered in the early 1970s by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and screened again as an example of the government’s demonization of marijuana. NORML may have been confused about the film’s sponsorship since one of the film’s distributors, Dwain Esper, testified to the Arizona Supreme Court that “Reefer Madness” was not a trashy exploitation film but was actually sponsored by the U.S. Government – a convincing lie, but a lie nonetheless.
That being said, the film is still quick enjoyable since it dramatizes the “violent narcotic’s … soul destroying” effects on unwary teens, and their hedonistic exploits enroute to the bottom.
You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page.
Also, if you are interested in the rich, uniquely American history of exploitation films, there are two excellent books on the subject:
“Forbidden Fruit – The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film”, Felicia Feaster and Bret Wood, Midnight Marquee Press, 1999.
“Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919 – 1959” Eric Schaefer, Duke University Press, 1999.
Screenplay: Arthur Hoerl
Original Story: Lawrence Meade
Additional Dialouge: Paul Franklin
Dorothy Short: Mary
Kenneth Craig: Bill
Lillian Miles: Blanche
Dave O’Brien: Ralph
Thelma White: Mae
Carleton Young: Jack
Warren McCollum: Jimmy
Pat Royale: Agnes
Joseph Forte: Dr. Carroll
Harry Harvey Jr.: Junior