Marihuana (1936)


(director: Dwain Esper; screenwriters: Rex Elgin/Hildegarde Stadie/story by Hildegarde; cinematographer: Roland Price; editor: Carl Himm; cast: Harley Wood (Burma Roberts), Hugh McArthur (Dick Collier), Pat Carlyle (‘Nicki’ Romero), Paul Ellis (Tony Santello), Dorothy Dehn (Elaine Roberts Stewart), Richard Erskine (Morgan Stewart), Juanita Crosland (Mrs. Roberts), Gloria Brown (Gloria, The Child); Runtime: 57; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dwain Esper/Hildegarde Stadie; Image Entertainment; 1936)
“A morbid 1930’s drug scare propaganda film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A morbid 1930’s drug scare propaganda film that tells of the horrors of marijuana that was unbelievably based on a real case study. It comes with an opening crawl noting there’s an alarming steady increase among youth in the use of marihuana. It also tells us in all seriousness that taking the drug will bring on “extreme cruelty” and is a “license” for bad behavior. Producer and director Dwain Esper (“Sex Madness”/”Maniac”/”Curse of the Ubangi”) spins an unintentionally funny and absurdly campy take on the drug scene that has little to do with reality. The faux-documentary styled exploitation melodrama is a companion piece to Reefer Madness, but not as funny.

High school student Burma Roberts (Harley Wood) tells her clueless mother she’s over her girlfriend Jo Ann’s house doing homework when she’s instead out drinking in a bar with her naive boyfriend Dick Collier (Hugh McArthur) and with Jo Ann and her date. At the beer hall Burma attracts the attention of sleazy narcotics peddlers Tony (Paul Ellis) and Nicki (Pat Carlyle). They invite the foursome to Nicki’s beachhouse bash for a weekend weenie-roast, where the unsuspecting girls sample plenty of booze and “funny cigarettes” (marijuana) and undress down to their undies to go for an ocean swim. Jo Ann accidentally drowns. Meanwhile, on the beach, the high Burma goes down on Dick for the first time. When the community learns of the teen’s death in the newspapers, Burma’s older and more stable sister Elaine (Dorothy Dehn) manages to keep her sister’s name out of the newspapers because she’s engaged to wealthy socialite Morgan Stewart (Richard Erskine) and doesn’t want to mess that up with a scandal.

Burma learns she’s pregnant and asks the impoverished Dick to marry her. Desperate for a job, Dick unwisely works for Tony collecting his drug shipment on the dock but is killed during a police raid. Tony then talks the anxiety-ridden Burma into giving birth to the baby in a half-way house and putting the baby up for adoption. Under his bad influence, Burma morphs into Blondie, the “queen of the snow peddlers,” and she becomes a drug dealer and a heroin addict.

Three years pass and envious of her now married sister, Burma kidnaps the Stewarts’ daughter Gloria and demands from Morgan $50,000 in ransom to return the child. However, Morgan, not seeing who he is talking to, refuses to pay and tells her the baby is Elaine’s sister’s and was adopted when her mother first disappeared. Meanwhile the cops, acting on a complaint by a john, raid her apartment and find Tony and Nicki with a cache of dope and that they are keeping there the kidnapped toddler. When Burma comes back to the apartment she shares with Tony, she dies from an overdose after shooting up in her leg.