Oct 24, 2013

Reefer Madness

I've shown many classes the 1936 film Reefer Madness.  It was originally released as Tell Your Children, a cautionary tale about the dangers of marijuana.  But it was so off-the-wall, with atrocious acting and a ridiculous plot, that it was placed on the exploitation-film circuit, and later rediscovered by the 1970s college student crowd.

There's a strong gay subtext: drug dealer Ralph (Dave O'Brien) sees high schooler Jimmy (Warren McCollum), murmurs "Nice!", and practically licks his lips in anticipation.  Wrangling an introduction, he says "Nice to meet youuuuuu!" with a lascivious leer, then invites Jimmy to the soda shop, where he will try to get him hooked on the psychosis-inducing weed in a parallel to how gay men were accused of recruiting boys.

In 1998, Reefer Madness: The Musical appeared off-Broadway, eliminating the redundant characters and upping the camp.  Christian Campbell (left) played Jimmy, lured from his "wholesome" heterosexual chastity by drug dealer Jack (Robert Torti, top photo) and cohort Ralph (John Kassir).  In addition to the gay subtext, there was a lot of beefcake, with the super-muscular Jimmy stripped down to his underwear and a chorus of semi-nude male and female devils.

The musical is a bit too racy for the high school drama club crowd, but it has made some impact in colleges and community theaters.

The film version, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005), star Christian Campbell as Jimmy, Steven Weber as Jack, and Robert Torti as Jesus.  It adds some characters, such as John Mann as Satan, ups the gay subtext by removing all pronouns from the seduction scenes, and adds an explicit connection between the anti-marijuana crusade of the 1930s with bigoted attacks on gays and lesbians:

And once the reefer has been destroyed
We'll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud
And sex depicted on celluloid
And communists and queens!
When danger's near, exploit their fear
The end will justify the means!

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