director Dwain Esper
Watch Marihuana and mainline Exploitation from the Godfather of the genre, Dwain Esper. I discovered Esper, myself, about 10 years ago, watching his maniac Maniac (1934), which I do truly believe must be his trash masterpiece. Marihuana is his own production, made after he picked up Louis J. Gasnier’s Tell Your Children and re-branded it the now classic Reefer Madness (1936).
Not a ton is known about Esper, though there is a good article about him on Grindhouse Therapy that I recommend. He and his wife, Hildegarde Stadie, whom wrote and collaborated on his films, came from the carnival background (which a lot of great Exploitation filmmakers would as well in the future), made his films outside of the influence of the film code, traveled around and showed his films alongside burlesques in tents around the U.S.
His stuff is often as outrageous as anything that would come 20-30 years later, though often shrouded in the guise of being Instructional and for the public good, rather than just out and out sleazy and titillating as they were. This was the 1930’s and this stuff makes pre-code films looks awful tame.
Marihuana tells the tale of teenager Burma Roberts (Harley Wood) who goes to one booze and weed party and comes out with a drowned friend, hooked on Mary Jane, and knocked up to boot. The wayward path leads her boyfriend to get shot down by the cops and her to become a needle-abusing drug queen. Not bad for 57 minutes!
Esper’s Marihuana is nowhere as outrageous and shocking as Maniac and while arguably “better” than Reefer Madness, maybe less so in its innate inanity and camp. Because it’s not quite as pure camp as Reefer Madness, though it’s got gratuitous nudity thrown in for good measure. Maybe it’s a little grittier and noirish, too.
I’ll tell you this much: Dwain Esper is the godfather of Exploitation, a true trailblazer of sleaze and trash and deserves far more recognition than he’s gotten.