Cast & Crew
Teen-ager Burma Roberts, in order to defy her sister Elaine, who is doted on by their mother, spends her evenings at beer halls with her boyfriend, Dick Collier. While the couple is out drinking one night, narcotics peddlers Tony and Nick befriend Burma's group of friends, hoping to create a market for heroin. At his beachhouse the next weekend, Tony introduces the unsuspecting girls to marijuana and, in a frenzy of giggles, they undress and run into the ocean in their underwear. One of them, Joan Marsh, swims too far out and is drowned. When the girls return to shore, they discover that she is missing. Burma, meanwhile, is so intoxicated that she becomes sexually aggressive with Dick and they spend time on the beach alone. Following the party, headlines announce Joan's death and the community is outraged. Elaine, in order to protect the reputation of her wealthy fiancé, Morgan Stuart, manages to keep Burma's name out of the scandal. Burma's trouble begins, however, when she learns she is pregnant as a result of her intoxicated behavior at Tony's party and she asks Dick to marry her. Desperate for a job, Dick agrees to meet Tony's drug shipment but is killed during a police raid. Burma then threatens to expose Tony, but he convinces her to stay with him until her baby is born. Following the birth, he puts the baby up for adoption and fashions Burma into Blondie, "queen of the snow peddlers." Soon Burma is a heroin addict. Hoping to procure some of her sister's wealth and determined to make Elaine "suffer the torments of hell," Burma kidnaps the Stuarts' daughter. When she goes to collect the $50,000 ransom, however, Morgan refuses to pay, saying the baby is Elaine's sister's and was adopted when her mother disappeared three years before. Meanwhile, the husband of one of Burma's customers discovers a ring missing and calls the police on "Blondie." When the police search Tony's apartment, they find dope and the Stuart child. When Burma returns home to face her own child, she gives herself an extra dose of heroin and, opening the door, sees Nick and Tony handcuffed and the police waiting. Burma collapses on the floor as she sees her daughter's face for the last time, and marijuana cigarettes fall about her head.
Sex and dope were Esper's pet themes (though he would offer a purported exploration of mental illness with Maniac, in reality a lurid adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"), a topic first explored by the Hollywood independent in Narcotic, the cautionary tale of a once-respectable physician who descends into the nightmare of drug addiction. (To promote his film in grand style, Esper borrowed the mummified body of Wild West outlaw Elmer McCurdy and exhibited the corpse in the lobbies of cinemas showing Narcotic, claiming McCurdy was a victim of drug addiction taken to its inevitable conclusion.) After completing Maniac (subsequently sent into re-release as Sex Maniac), Esper returned to the narcotics theme with Marihuana (1936), aka Marijuana: The Devil's Weed, which he sent out under the aegis of his newly-founded Road Show Attractions. In sympathy with such contemporary drug scare films as Willis Kent's The Pace That Kills (aka The Cocaine Fiends, 1936) and Louis J. Gasnier's Tell Your Children (aka Reefer Madness, 1936), Marihuana tells the sad tale of a good middle class girl (Harley Wood) brought low by unrealistic expectations, lack of gratitude, and an ill-advised introduction to "giggle weed" while at a coed wienie roast.
Scripted by Esper's wife Hildegarde Stadie (the daughter of a patent medicine huckster who had assisted her father in the sale of a curative balm called Tiger Fat), Marihuana set the tone for many anti-drug dramas to follow; the narrative arc, which takes its protagonist from innocence to experimentation to desperation, would vary only slightly in subsequent films, from Otto Preminger's sensitive but sensationalistic The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) to Darren Aronofsky's deceptively retrograde Requiem for a Dream (2000) - as well as in the wealth of made-for-TV movies cranked out by the networks in the 70s and 80s (The People Next Door, Desperate Lives, Cocaine: One Man's Seduction, Not My Kid). Esper enjoyed sufficient success as a societal soothsayer that he purchased exhibition rights to Tell Your Children/Reefer Madness, which he sent back out into theatres from 1937 to 1939. (In 1948, Esper obtained the rights to exhibit Tod Browning's 1932 sideshow shocker Freaks.) More adept at showmanship than at protecting his own copyright, Esper allowed his films to fall into the public domain. Not long before Esper's death in 1982, Reefer Madness and Marihuana were put back into rotation by NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), as part of a national endeavor to de-demonize the recreational use of marijuana.
by Richard Harland Smith
Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959 by Eric Schaefer (Duke University Press, 1999)
Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness: An Illustrated History of Drugs in the Movies by Michael Starks (Ronin Publishing, 2015)
Poverty Row Studios, 1929-1940: An Illustrated History of 55 Independent Film Companies by Michael Pitts (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 2005)
Hooked in Film: Substance Abuse on the Big Screen by John Markert (Scarecrow Press, 2013)
Modern Mummies: The Preservation of the Human Body in the Twentieth Century by Christine Quigley (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 2006)
Although no contemporary reviews were found for this film, records of the New York State Censor Board state that it was rejected for exhibition in New York in December 1936 under the titles Pitfalls of Youth and Sinister Weed. The credits roll in front of drawings of naked women holding marijuana cigarettes surrounded by clouds of marijuana smoke. The foreword states, "For centuries the world has been aware of the narcotic menace. We have complacently watched Asiatic countries attempt to rid themselves of DRUGS CURSE, and attributed their failure to lack of education. We consider ourselves enlightened, and think that never could we succomb to such a fate. But-did you know that-the use of Marihuana is steadily increasing among the youth of this country? Did you know that-the youthful criminal is our greatest problem today? And that-Marihuana gives the user false courage and destroys conscience, thereby making crime alluring, smart? That is the price we are paying for our lack of interest in the narcotic situation. This story is drawn from an actual case history on file in the police records of one of our large cities. Note: MARIHUANA, Hashish of the Orient, is commonly distributed as a doped cigarette. Its most terrifying effect is that it fires the user to extreme cruelty and-" [the film's story is apparently the "foreword's" conclusion]. The viewed print states, "Research with the help of Federal, State and police narcotic officials." The film's later narrative expresses the U.S. federal enforcement's futile attempts to suppress increased marijuana traffic. A modern source lists this film's title as Marijuana, Devil's Weed and gives a release year of 1938. The modern source describes the first reel of this film as consisting of "dancehall mania, sex-laden dope parties emphasized with bobbing breasts and nude beach scenes, and hilarious inhaling." A Mexican film entitled Marihuana, El Monstruo Verde (Marihuana, the Green Monster) was released in June 1936 and is unrelated to this film. The 1950 film Marihuana made in Argentina by Sono Films is also unrelated to this film.
Released in United States 1936
Released in United States March 1977
Released in United States 1936
Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures from UCLA Archives) March 9-27, 1977.)