When it comes to hysterical anti-marijuana propaganda, "Reefer Madness" (1936) is the gold standard. But it wasn't Hollywood's only cinematic screed against cannabis. Even though we accept smoking weed in movies today, here are three trailblazing movies about marijuana from the silent era as well as the early years of talkies. If these films prove anything, it's that prohibitionists are way more paranoid than marijuana smokers.
1. "High On The Range" (1929)
Years before "Reefer Madness" brought hysterical misunderstandings of marijuana to mainstream America, audiences were treated to "High on the Range," a silent short film from 1929. The story features Dave, a naive rancher who becomes a murderer after smoking less than a full joint.
But the clip could also be interpreted as a forward-thinking satire of the War on Drugs. Poor Dave is just sitting around having a puff after a hard day's work until his landlord bursts in, says he's going to do something about this darn marihuana [sic] smoking, and attacks Dave, who shoots the landlord in self-defence.
Have a look and tell us which reading you think is more convincing.
2. "Marihuana" (1936)
"Reefer Madness" wasn't the only anti-marijuana movie of 1936 - one year before federal cannabis prohibition became law in America. The film "Marihuana" billed itself as an exposé "divulging heretofore unheard of Orgies of youths' dissipation." In other words, producers pitched the movie on sex appeal and delivered by having a group of partiers skinny dip after smoking "giggle weed." And it's all downhill from there for the main character, who goes from an innocent girl to a calloused cannabis kingpin.
The film climaxes with a montage of headlines capturing the crime spree that police are powerless to stop because there are no laws against marijuana. Oh, did we mention that - as the trailer proudly states - this film was made in cooperation with local, state and federal law enforcers?
Check out the trailer below. (You can watch the whole NSFW movie here.)
3. "Assassin of Youth" (1937)
In "Assassin of Youth," an intrepid reporter infiltrates a small-town marijuana gang by posing as a soda jerk (in what has to be the most adorably 1930s undercover operation ever). The film follows the typical story arc of the good girl who goes bad after smoking "muggles." But it stands out for containing a propaganda film within a propaganda film. To learn about the "dreaded weed" marijuana, the reporter watches a short film called, "The Marijuana Menace."
According to the film-within-a-movie, marijuana comes from the word hashish, which is the root of the word "assassin." The drug was first used by Syrian and Persian warlords who needed to induce people to commit heinous murders on their behalf. And, the announcer adds, the plant is still to blame for "exciting the basest and most criminal tendencies in the minds of its addicts."
Check out the trailer below. (You can watch the full movie here.)
Click here to catch up on what they're actually smoking in your more recent favorite movies about marijuana.
h/t Museum of Drugs