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Propaganda to Cult Classic

Reefer Madness 1936
Reefer Madness
         From Propaganda to Cult Classic
The 1936 film "Reefer Madness," originally titled "Tell Your Children," is a notorious piece of cinema for its over-the-top portrayal of marijuana use and its
consequences. While intended as a serious anti-drug propaganda film, it has become an unintentional camp classic and a satirical symbol of the misinformation surrounding cannabis.


The film takes us to wholesome middle America, where a group of high school students are lured by pushers into the world of "reefer" cigarettes. Led by the nefarious Ralph and Luce, these dealers introduce seemingly harmless teenagers like Jimmy Lane, his sister Mary, and her boyfriend Bill to marijuana. What follows is a descent into a nightmarish world of addiction, violence, and insanity.

Jimmy quickly becomes a crazed murderer fueled by hallucinations after smoking a single cigarette. Bill descends into violence and robbery, eventually attempting to rape his own girlfriend under the influence. Mary, meanwhile, falls victim to hallucinations and delusion, ultimately succumbing to the drug's deadly grip.

Exaggerated Depictions:

The film's portrayal of marijuana is wildly exaggerated and inaccurate. "Reefer Madness" depicts users experiencing instant addiction, hallucinations, uncontrollable rage, and even spontaneous combustion. These unrealistic and sensationalised effects were designed to shock and scare audiences but have since fueled criticism and mockery.

Impact and Legacy:

Despite its initial intentions, "Reefer Madness" was largely unsuccessful upon release. However, it found new life in the 1970's as a camp classic among counterculture audiences. Its outrageous depictions and melodramatic storytelling became unintentional humour, exposing the film's blatant misinformation and propaganda techniques.

Today, "Reefer Madness" stands as a historical artefact, offering a glimpse into the anxieties and prejudices surrounding marijuana during the early 20th century. Its enduring popularity serves as a reminder of the power of satire and the dangers of fear-mongering propaganda.

Additional Points:

The film was made with funding from the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America.
"Reefer Madness" has been parodied and referenced in numerous films, television shows, and music videos.

The film is now in the public domain. (Yes, you can view it here!)

It's important to note that the film's portrayal of marijuana is inaccurate and misleading. The scientific community does not recognise the claims made in the film, and research has shown that marijuana does not have the harmful effects depicted.

Screenplay: Arthur Hoerl
Original Story: Lawrence Meade
Additional Dialogue: 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

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