Reefer Madness (aka Tell Your Children) is a 1936 government propaganda film demonizing marijuana - to ban hemp which competes with OIL! A hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness all ensue. The film was directed by Louis Gasnier and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors. It was originally financed by a church group and made under the title Tell Your Children.
The film was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. However, soon after the film was shot, it was purchased by producer Dwain Esper, who re-cut the film for distribution on the exploitation film circuit. The film did not gain an audience until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and gained new life as a piece of unintentional comedy among cannabis smokers. Today, it is in the public domain in the United States and is considered a cult film. It inspired a musical satire, which premiered off-Broadway in 2001, and a Showtime film, Reefer Madness, based on the musical.
Short Skits | Obvious Propaganda | Terrible Actors
Mae Coleman (Thelma White) and Jack Perry (Carleton Young), her lover, sell weed. Mae prefers to sell weed to customers her own age, whereas Jack sells the plant to young teenagers. Ralph Wiley (Dave O'Brien), a psychotic ex-college student turned fellow dealer (and addict, according to the film), and Blanche (Lillian Miles) help Jack sell cannabis to young students. Young students Bill Harper (Kenneth Craig) and Jimmy Lane (Warren McCollum) are invited to Mae and Jack's apartment by Blanche and Ralph. Jimmy takes Bill to the party. There, Jack runs out of reefer. Jimmy, who has a car, drives him to pick up some more. Arriving at Jack's boss' "headquarters," he gets out and Jimmy asks him for a cigarette. Jack gives him a joint. Later, when Jack comes back down and gets into the car, Jimmy drives off dangerously, along the way running over a pedestrian with his car, although he survives. Jack agrees to keep Jimmy's name out of the case, providing he agrees to "forget he was ever in Mae's apartment".
Bill begins an affair with Blanche. Mary (Dorothy Short), Jimmy's sister and Bill's girlfriend, goes to Mae's apartment looking for Jimmy, and accepts a joint from Ralph, thinking it to be a normal cigarette. When she refuses Ralph's advances, he tries to rape her. Bill comes out of the bedroom after having sex with Blanche, and hallucinates that Mary strips for Ralph. He attacks Ralph, and as the two are fighting, Jack tries to break it up by hitting Bill with the butt of his gun. The gun goes off and Mary is killed. Jack puts the gun in the hand of an unconscious Bill, and wakes him up. Bill sees the gun in his hand, and is led to believe that he has killed Mary. Bill is sent to prison. The group of dealers lie low for a while in Blanche's apartment while Bill's trial takes place. Ralph, losing his sanity, wants to tell the police who is actually responsible for the death of Mary. The film attributes Ralph's insanity to marijuana use.
Ralph is arrested for Jack's murder. Seeking advice from his boss, Jack is told to shoot Ralph so he keeps his mouth shut. Meanwhile, at the apartment, Blanche offers to play some piano music for Ralph to keep his mind off things. They are both very high, and Ralph tells her to play faster. She increases her playing speed to a downright cartoon-like speed in one of the film's most famous and over-the-top sequences. Jack shows up and Ralph immediately senses that Jack wants to kill him, so he kills Jack by beating him to death. The police arrest Ralph, Mae, and Blanche. Mae talks, and the criminal gang is rounded up. Blanche explains that Bill was innocent, and he is released. Blanche is then held as a material witness for the case against Ralph, but rather than testify against him, Blanche jumps out a window and falls to her death, and Ralph is put in an asylum for the criminally insane "for the rest of his natural life."
The film's story is told in bracketing sequences at a lecture given at a PTA meeting by high school principal, Dr. Alfred Carroll. At the end of the film, he tells the parents he has been talking to that events similar to those he has described are likely to happen again, and then points to random parents in the audience and warns that "the next tragedy may be that of your daughter's... or your son's... or yours, or yours..." before pointing straight at the camera and saying emphatically "...or YOURS!" as the words "TELL YOUR CHILDREN" appear on the screen.