Reefer Madness (1936)

reefermadness_1Reefer Madness (1936)
AKA Tell Your Children, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness, The Burning Question

Starring Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles, Dave O’Brien, Thelma White, Carleton Young, Warren McCollum, Patricia Royale, Joseph Forte, Harry Harvey Jr.

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier

Expectations: Low.


When a movie remains in the cultural consciousness for as long as Reefer Madness has, you expect it to be of a certain quality. But Reefer Madness is the type of movie that would be rotting on the back shelves of some forgotten fruit cellar if it weren’t for its reputation. It was originally titled Tell Your Children and produced as an educational film for a church group, but its legend was set in stone when a producer named Dwain Esper bought the rights in the late ’30s, re-cut the film and re-titled it Reefer Madness. He then unleashed it on the exploitation circuit where it flourished.

Reefer Madness begins much like you would think an educational film produced by a church group would begin: with lengthy texts warning of the dangerous, deceitful nature of this new drug menace called Marihuana (as it’s spelled in the film), followed by a man giving a lecture on the same content to a group of churchgoers. Eventually, this gives way to the story of the film, a cautionary tale about the dangers of the drug working its way into the lives of even the most promising of teenagers! As the lecturer relates this tale to his rapt audience, the picture fades from the church hall to the city streets, and we experience the story first-hand.

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Swing Time (1936)

swingtime_5Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, Betty Furness, Georges Metaxa

Directed by George Stevens

Expectations: Very high.


In the case of Swing Time, it would be very appropriate to say, “They just don’t make them like that anymore.” This common phrase is often clouded in rampant nostalgia, but here it is a true statement; they simply don’t make films like this anymore. Films this charming have gone the way of the dodo long ago, but what’s interesting is that the base structure of the plot is still thriving in today’s romantic comedies. Apparently, they do still make some movies kinda like this, but just without all the parts that make Swing Time stand out and dance its way around the crowd of other similarly plotted films.

Swing Time opens as Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire) has decided to leave show business to settle down and get married. He talked his troupe into performing in his hometown, and apparently he got nostalgic and wanted to re-root himself there. Lucky’s performing buddies don’t think too much of the idea, though, so they do everything they can to thwart his attempts at leaving them. It works, and it sets in motion the main plot of the film, causing Lucky to eventually meet up with the beautiful dance instructor Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers).

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Hats Off (1936)

hatsoff_1Starring Mae Clarke, John Payne, Helen Lynd, Luis Alberni, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Franklin Pangborn, Robert Middlemass, George Irving, Clarence Wilson

Directed by Boris Petroff

Expectations: Low.


When I first discovered classic films, I agreed with the sentiment that “They just don’t make them like they used to.” Over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not necessarily that films were better in the past, but that it’s only the top-level works that survive the passage of time. That took me a long time to come around to, but Hats Off is a perfect example of this principle. Of course, it wasn’t made with this intent, but viewing it over 75 years after its production definitely adds a different flavor.

Hats Off is centered around twin cities in Texas, Hempstead and Bradfield. Both towns are building large expositions, which are like small versions of a world’s fair type of event. Each town is racing to get their expo open first, and not only that, but to have them open with the biggest bang. To get this job done, both towns employ a press agent to get their expo into the newspapers. Oh, and this is a musical so there’s quite a few musical breaks throughout.

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Things to Come (1936)

thingstocome_1Starring Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke, Maurice Braddell, Sophie Stewart, Derrick De Marney, Ann Todd, Pearl Argyle, Kenneth Villiers

Directed by William Cameron Menzies

Expectations: Moderately high.


[There are spoilers for the ending and stuff like that in Paragraph 4 & 5. Sorry.]

Things to Come feels like the 2001: A Space Odyssey of its day. The film brings speculative fiction to life through thoughtful, imaginative ideas, instead of the ray guns and aliens that Hollywood usually likes to define science fiction by. Things to Come also doesn’t follow a traditional narrative, instead it plays almost like a dramatized history lesson of a possible future (complete with fantastic montages to cover broad gaps in time). There are characters who appear throughout the film, but I found that following their personal stories wasn’t necessary or all that interesting. They were by far the weak link, as I was much more intrigued by the broad struggles of the world presented in the film, and what the characters’ actions meant to human civilization as a whole.

Yes, Things to Come — a film made 77 years ago and less than 10 years after the introduction of sound to cinema — is such an ambitious film that it contains thoughtful social commentary; wild, imaginative fantasy; and groundbreaking production design. The fact that this isn’t the first film to do such things is a testament to our ability as humans to imagine, design and think our way around our limitations. But this also proves one of the film’s prescient thoughts, delivered to us by an elderly grandfather early in the film. He examines an “advanced” 1940s toy and scoffs, wondering if the children would be better off with the simple wooden toys of his era. Convenience and technology are nice when you’ve earned it, but they shouldn’t immediately overwrite the old ways.

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