Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Turner Classic Marijuana Movies

TCM is airing marijuana propaganda films in the early morning on Saturday/Sunday, July 16/17. Along with the well-known Reefer Madness (1936) is another film from that year, Marihuana. It stars fresh-faced Harley Wood as Burma, a teenager who feels neglected because her mother dotes on her older sister. ("All I hear is Elaine, Elaine, Elaine," she yells in a Jan Brady moment.)

Burma goes bad when she gets turned on to weed after the requisite older gangster guy invites she and her friends to a party at his beach house. "We tried Tony's giggle water, let's try his giggle weed," they figure, and the party gets racy, with the girls disrobing and skinny dipping in the ocean, squealing all the way. They pay dearly for their fun when one of the girls drowns and Burma gets knocked up.

To earn money so that he can marry her, Burma's boyfriend smuggles dope for the nasty Nick and is killed by the police. Nick helps Burma with her problems while plying her with champagne and turning her into a marijuana peddler who also pushes "C" and "H." Interspersed with headlines like "Wave of Brutal Crime Laid to Marijuana Smoking," the now-corrupt Burma is shown gleefully adorning herself with furs and jewelry. At one point she takes a woman's engagement ring in exchange for a package of heroin, and then concocts a scheme to kidnap her sister's child for ransom. In a plot twist, her past comes crashing down on her in an almost poetic way, a bit unlike the campy, heavy-handed Reefer Madness or She Shoulda Said No—the 1949 film starring Lila Leeds, the actress who'd been arrested for marijuana with Robert Mitchum.

According to IMDB, the script for Marihuana was written by Hildegarde Stadie, who, "despite her wholesome appearance, led a colorful, bizarre and unpredictable life. She was the niece of a patent medicine peddler, and as a little girl, she traveled with him all over the United States, selling their cure-all, Tiger Fat. Part of the presentation involved a pre-teen Hildegarde, appearing fully nude, with a python draped around her shoulders. Though she did not draw upon this particular anecdote, her experience with her uncle greatly influenced her script for Narcotic (1933)."

Harley Wood as Burma in Marihuana
Stadie and her "notorious exploitation filmmaker" husband Dwain Esper made films that "remain so bizarre and prurient that it is hard to imagine a husband and wife with two children producing them." Stadie was 98 when she died in 1993.

Wood went on become a songwriter as Jill Jackson Miller with her husband Sy Miller, penning songs like "Keep in Touch With Your Heavenly Father" and the popular "Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let It Begin With Me").

Also showing on TCM are two short films, "The Terrible Truth" (1951), wherein "a juvenile court judge investigates the tragedy of marijuana addiction," and "Keep Off the Grass" (1969), an educational film in which "the dangers of marijuana are outlined."

No comments: