Reefer Madness (1936) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Cautionary tale features a fictionalized take on the use of marijuana. A trio of drug dealers lead innocent teenagers to become addicted to "reefer" cigarettes by holding wild parties with jazz music.

  • Film that relates the story, as told by high school principal Dr. Carroll to parents at a PTA meeting, of the scourge of marijuana. The tale revolves around Mae and Jack, accomplices in the distribution of marijuana, who manage to entice the local high school kids to stop by Mae's apartment to smoke reefer. The lives of all who are involved with this menace are inevitably shattered. One man becomes so addicted to the killer weed that the guilt over framing a teen for murder causes a judge to order him to be committed for life to a mental hospital. Dr. Carroll closes by advising us to not incur the same tragedy.

  • The authorities are concerned over rampant narcotic use overtaking the community. They are especially worried about marijuana, both because it grows wild and thus is difficult to control, but also because of its effect, which includes possible insanity leading to dangerous behavior. One of those concerned is high school principal Dr. Alfred Carroll, who doesn't like what it is doing to the students at his school. Meanwhile, Jack Perry and Mae Coleman are marijuana pushers, they who host marijuana parties on behalf of their boss. Mae prefers to push to adults whereas Jack has no problem getting teenagers hooked. Good kids and high school sweethearts Bill Harper and Mary Lane have no idea of the nature of the parties in Mae's apartment, although some in their social circle, including Mary's brother, Jimmy Lane, often frequent those parties. A series of events leads to both Bill then Mary going to Mae's apartment, which in turn results in two tragic events, both the result of marijuana use. The lives of those involved, both the guilty and the innocent, are forever altered, because of the scourge called marijuana.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Parents are lectured about the dangers of their children using marijuana with a cautionary tale of what happened to once-innocent kids became addicted to the drug: their mind alterations lead to a car accident, a shooting, and an innocent boy being brought to trial.


    Synopsis written by KrystelClaire:

    A long written essay against marijuana.

    Newspaper reels and first pages telling of how the police is tackling the issue of the marijuana war. In one of them, there is an advertisement telling parents to attend Alfred Carroll (Josef Forte)'s lecture at the School-Parents Association in Truman high school auditorium. He mentions that marijuana was grown in a tenement court in New York.

    Cut to Mae (Thelma White) who is woken up rudely by Pete Daley (Richard Alexander) who wants to lure kids into criminality. Three friends separate. Ralph (Dave O'Brien) points to some attractive young women. The girl Ralph wants most is Jimmy Harper (Warren McCullom)'s sister. Bill (Kenneth Craig) thinks she's interested as well. They go to a jazz place, where Mae sits uncomfortably as she knows that the real objective is to lure kids into drugs. The audience can see Ralph smoking like crazy in a separate room. The say goodbye to Joe (Lester Dorr), the bartender.

    Mary (Dorothy Short) takes Jimmy home, where Mrs Lane (Mary MacLaren) is happy to see them performing Shakespeare in a ridiculous way. When they kiss, she intervenes. Jimmy says goodbye and falls into a fountain garden. Junior (Bob Burns) laughs about Jimmy having a girlfriend.

    Ralph and Jimmy go partying. Mae distributes marijuana cigarettes - her husband is delighted that he already has a new kid in the bag: Jimmy. Mary encourages Jimmy to smoke. Ralphs laughs like a maniac: he knows he's succeeded. He goes to see Jack (Carleton Young), who thinks that kids are the best prey - now we would consider young adults, he doesn't mean children. Jimmy drives while high on dope. He scares Jack with his reckless driving and runs over a man.

    When Jimmy arrives home, it's dinner time. He is shocked, and tired, and his sister notices, but not his mother. Mr Wayne (Edward Earle) thinks that there marijuana is not as dangerous as other drugs, in spite of Mr Carroll's insistence.

    Jimmy's grades are much worse. Dr Carroll tries to make him confide on him, but Jimmy says that he's worried about a home problem, and just leaves. Mary doesn't play tennis. Jimmy dances at Mae's while he's high. Jimmy makes love to a girl while Ralph laughs like a maniac.

    The police questions Jimmy's sister if she used her car on the 29th. Mary lies to protect him. Joe gives Mary the address where Jimmy is. Mary sits to wait for Jimmy, and Mae's husband offers her a marijuana cigarette, which she smokes without realising it's not tobacco she's using. Mary starts laughing for no reason. Mary rejects Pete Daley), but Jimmy, completely doped, at first believes that they are making love. When he intervenes, there is a fight between Ralph and Jimmy. In the ensuing fight, the gun which Ralph uses goes off and kills Mary. Ralph dusts the gun off and puts it into Jimmy's hand, who's still doped. When they wake him up, they make him believe that he killed Mary.

    Jack prepares an alibi for himself. Carroll declares in front to the judge and jury that he's seen Jimmy very much changed, and that marijuana was to blame. The Judge (Edward LeSaint) presides. The jurors (Marin Sais, Phil Dunham) stare at the declarations in shock. Blanche (Lillian Milles) feels sorry for Jimmy, but Jack tells her to shut up.

    The prosecuting attorney (William Royle) blames marijuana as the cause of the murder. Jimmy is in shock. One of the jurors thinks that Jimmy may have been insane, but the foreman (Frank O'Connor) makes a case for all the opposite: they want to hang Jimmy Harper as soon as possible, even seeing a hanging rope noose in the lightbulb cord. Henry Harper (Edmund Mortimer) isn't able to console his wife.

    Bill wants to see Jack: he's having strong withdrawal symptoms. He chain smokes. Bill kills Jack. While Mae screams, but Bill's girlfriend laughs like a maniac.

    The police arrests all the gang. Blanche says that Jimmy didn't kill anybody. It was Jack, and she stayed silent.

    Instead of going to jail, Blanche commits suicide jumping from a window. The Judge declares Jimmy to be non-guilty. The Harpers hug Jimmy. Ralph is delirious because of marijuana.


    He says that anybody's children may be the next open. He points to the camera (and the audience).

    The end

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