Rixflix A to Z: Assassin of Youth (1937)

Director: Elmer Clifton // BCM Roadshow Prod.; 1:20; b/w
Cast Notables: Luana Walters (Joan Barrie), Arthur Gardner (Art Brighton), Michael Owen, Fay McKenzie, Dorothy Short
Cinema 4 Rating: 3

Early on in this propaganda film about the horrors of marijuana, some adults watch another propaganda film about the horrors of marijuana. This idea blows my mind more far more than marijuana ever has. (All its ever done for me is give me headaches and nausea.) The narrator of the film-within-the-film gives us a flurry of reasons why "the weed" is bad for our youth, and then closes his talk with this phrase: "But I'm afraid my words will not impress you."

Well, frankly, no. They do not impress me; not when your words are as stilted and full of lies and bad science and history. (His obvious discomfort and vocal stiffness in front of the camera also do not help his cause.) And the movie in which these people are watching your movie does not impress me, either. This sort of roadshow propaganda flick, which traveled from town to town back in the day, alerting the Chicken Little-public of the horrors that will surely befall their children if these various evils continue unchecked, really depended on delivering the kind of goods that normal studio films were not allowed to show (unless your last name was DeMille): sex, drugs, nudity -- the stuff that makes life worth shortening it for. Kids get the drugs, kids take the drugs, kids throw wild parties -- the next thing you know, Mary is knocked up or raped or both, and Billy is shot or raped or both. Teenagers go skinny-dipping, and then someone will foolishly try to drive a car and run over Billy, who is staggering home after being raped and shot.

I'm goofing, of course, but this film would have benefited by any of this happening within its not very provocative interior. Yeah, someone is run over by a pot-smoking kid early on, but it only sets up the story. Yeah, there is a stripping scene on a beach, but it is lit so dark that it merely becomes a shadowy tease. There is some suggestion of moral wrongs being committed, but no one actually murders anyone, and the entire plot revolves around the heroine's drug-dealing cousin trying to ruin her reputation so that the cousin will get a huge inheritance. So, it's not the marijuana that's causing the problems, but actually jealousy and greed? Holy Casual Drug Use, Batman!! The pot here is merely an innocent bystander in the true crime involved in the film.

Other films in this genre, like the more famous Reefer Madness or Marijuana: the Weed with Roots in Hell, deliver the goods. Evil stuff happens once everyone lights up, and consequences are faced. This movie has a happy ending straight out of any 30s or 40s family comedy; the feeling of the film is almost "Andy Hardy Cops A Light Buzz", once you add in the comic relief scenes with the town gossip, store clerk and judge that are laced throughout its running time. Its other defining aspect is its competence as a film; its production values are much higher than others of its ilk, and there is some actual acting going on in certain scenes.

It actually holds up in its archaic way as a light drama, but who is here for those sort of thrills? The point of viewing these sort of films today is to see filmmakers getting around the Hays Code because of some supposed "moral" fortitude that will compel "concerned" citizens to sit in the dark and see their most prurient fantasies on a movie screen, albeit as a warning against such behavior. The best (read: worst) of this lot, like the aforementioned films, at least feel dirty and grimy, like something filmed on the sly, even if they are as full of shit as this film. Assassin of Youth only toys with this concept of a vigilante peepshow, preferring instead to truly walk the straight and narrow, and as a cleaner, shinier version of the type of film it aspires to be.

And that, my friends, is some "dud" bud...

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