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Scott Marlowe as Ben
Richard Bakalyan as Jackie
Gigi Perreau as Amy
Dickie Jones as Stu
As a companion piece to my earlier review on 'Reefer Madness', here's a nice little 1958 take on the same topic. This was more a Hollywood B-movie than the funky homemade-looking educational film that 'Reefer Madness' was, but its message was the same - that once you succumb to the addictive hard drug marijuana, you're hooked for life and can abandon all hope as you are helplessly compelled to go on an ever-increasing spree of violence and insanity.
Ben is a new kid in a tough high school. We start in a classroom of badly-behaved, rude and dozy 'teenagers' (who all appear to be about 30 years old) headed by a lady teacher who looks like a prim librarian in twinset and pearls. The teacher asks various students questions, all of whom answer really uselessly in a self-consciously stupid and cocky manner - especially Ben, whose answer produces the biggest bellylaughs from the class and the biggest sour-faced frown from Teacher: 'Ben, I'd like to speak to you after class,' she huffs. Having dismissed the class, Miss Prissy Marm sits down with Ben. 'Ben, I know all about your reform school background. It's no go, we know all about how to handle troublemakers. Now sit up straight when I'm talking to you! And take that smirk off your face!' (I expected her to finish that sentence with 'young man', but to my surprise she didn't.)
'Look,' Ben says earnestly, 'how about you and I go out and have a beer, get acquainted, get to know each other?' 'Get out of here!' Miss Prim exclaims in disgust. Well, I dunno, he's rather cute, I think I'd hit that myself. Anyway, he quietly admits defeat and departs. Ben walks out of the school to find his classmates horsing around out front. They all praise him for being such a cool guy, and follow him down the road grinning gormlessly and acting goofy - it seems he's their new idol and role model. He extricates himself from his adoring fans and goes downtown to visit a seedy middle-aged guy in a pinstriped suit. Ben and this unsavoury character discuss the prospect of having Ben peddle drugs to his fellow students.
He goes home, where his lazy slob of a father is sitting in an armchair and asks Ben to go out and get him a six-pack. This causes Ben to lose it and he starts throwing stuff around. 'Get out of here, you bum!' Father shouts. Ben does as he's told and goes roaring off in his hotrod to the local drive-in where all the 30-year-old teenagers hang out. His adoring fans come to flock around him, and his pals talk about how they'd like to pull off some sort of big job that would earn them lots of money: 'Something big - something with imagination'. Ben suddenly grins widely and says 'OK!' and starts his motor. 'Hey, where ya going?' his friend calls. 'To jail!' Ben says gleefully as he peels out.
Why is Ben such a bad boy? It's all because of the demon marijuana, or, as Ben calls, it, 'M'. His tormented exclamations of 'I gotta get some M! I need some M, man!' when later suffering withdrawal symptoms, chart the 'hooked for life' hardcore addiction and mental deterioration caused by the evil weed.
This is an enjoyable bit of hokum, another of those unintentionally hilarious 1950s films that were made to show the sordid effects of drug use and teenage delinquency, but almost certainly made by much older, straightlaced sort of guys who had never had any actual experience of the subject. It just fails utterly miserably on any counts of being either a serious warning or even a serious film.
Because of the subject matter and the amusing 'juvenile delinquent' behaviour, it was probably actually even considered somewhat cool at the time by the teenage audience it was aimed at, but for all the wrong reasons - just as today it's considered funny for all the wrong reasons. Its tagline of 'Seven savage punks on a weekend binge of violence!' must have been quite a box-office draw for the teenagers of the day.
It's a decidedly cheap-looking film, with very standard B-movie cinematography and direction. The acting is pretty awful all round, with the schoolboys coming across like something out of a high school play, although that does make them come across as more natural and true to life, so their amateurishness actually somewhat works in their favour. Ben, however, looks like he was from some particularly hammy school of the 'Method' style of acting that was so popular in the day, with his tortured expressions, histrionics and meaningful pauses.
It was directed by William Witney, who was later responsible for the direction of a great wacky exploitation movie which I actually love and highly recommend, 'Darktown Strutters' (1975), a totally off the wall and half-surreal comedy about the exploits of a black female motorcyle gang. I really think that was his finest directorial moment.
There are no real surprises in the story, and you can pretty well guess early on how everything is likely to turn out. But it's fun watching how much more ridiculously Ben can behave and how much more trouble he can get himself into, and how torturedly and hammily he deals with it all.
But, as well as a good laugh, it's also worth watching as a 1950s time capsule of teenage life, the hangouts, the cars, the 'cool cat' and 'daddy-o' talk. Gorgeous fat 50s cars and cool 50s fashions are always a pleasure to see. All in all, it's definitely a fun time-passer for a rainy afternoon.
Also on Ciao as thereddragon.