Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
      ( 12/20/2005 08:21:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IT'S OUR GROOVY BUDDY, GUYS!" – In the annals of unintentionally campy anti-drug flicks, none stands as high as the notorious Reefer Madness (it even inspired its own musical), but for sheer sixties era dopiness, the 1968 AIP feature, Maryjane, is a pretty special experience in itself. Written by Peter "Hollywood Squares" Marshall & Dick Gautier (who writes himself a priceless cameo), the film is a risibly inept piece of period fear-mongering. Had a chance to re-watch this baby on Flix recently without the advantage of any mind-altering substances, and I think I'm a much better person for it. Thanks to your, Mssrs. Marshall & Gautier – and director Maury Dexter, too – for leading the charge in the War on Drugs!

The movie opens with a scene that right away tells us Where It's At: a driver's eye view of a car racing through a residential neighborhood, the sound of a boy & girl giggling on the soundtrack and occasional wafts of smoke blowing across the screen. We heedlessly speed through this quiet community, drive through a tunnel, come out onto an oncoming "Y" intersection when - hokey smokes! – right in the middle of the road is a pedestrian. The car swerves to the right . . . and through the magic of film (or stock footage) it's suddenly driving off a mountain road! Cut to shots of a young boy and girl lying in the road, blood all over the pavement, as the cops pluck a still-smokin' joint from within the broken windshield glass. Do we need to know anything more about the evils of this Vile Weed?

Why, yes, we do, because after a funeral (where high school principal, town mayor and police chief are shown attempting to shift the responsibility for the sudden epidemic of drug-related deaths that have hit the fair burg of Oakdale), the movie takes us to Oakdale High School, where young & idealistic art teacher Phil Blake (Fabian) is attempting to do the caring teacher thing with a "sensitive" young student named Jerry Blackburn (Michael Margotta). Jerry is a social outcast who's dying to become a part of the in-crowd, a high school gang called the Maryjanes led by clean-cut footballer and dope pusher Jordan Bates (Kevin Coughlin). But Jerry is so uncool that even the class Fat Kid gets let in the gang ahead of him.

Blake attempts to save Jerry from the path of self-destruction, but, c'mon, those cool kids (which includes a very young Teri Garr) are obviously having so much fun. Dexter gives us several choice scenes of the Maryjanes running wild in the community: smokin' dope and makin' out in the park to the soft psychedelic cocktail jazz stylings of Mike Curb, harassing a pump jockey (an also-very-young Garry Marshall) at the local Texaco, shoplifting and dumping soap into a local city fountain. In the movie's most oh-wow! scene, the Maryjanes break into an amusement park at night, commandeer the unmoving bumper cars and merry-go-round horses hallucinate that the rides are moving. That's some pretty amazing weed they're tokin'!

And poor Blake soon has troubles of his own. Unsuccessfully attempting to woo a blond history teacher named Ellie Holden (Diane McBain) – whose last name should provide a clue as to her role in the small-town drug chain – he also manages to get on the bad side of town authorities when he admits during a teacher meeting that he once smoked dope in college! Blake is himself accused of being a drug dealer after Jerry "borrows" his car to meet up with the gang at the amusement park and a bag of pot is found in the vehicle. Our hero spends the night in the tank with a very manic Dick Gautier, who is either playing an inept undercover narc or a brain-damaged beatnik (I can't determine which), and a strung-out heroin addict. The latter hangs himself in the night; the former does a quick comic bit, never to be seen in the cell again.

Like any good cautionary exploitation film, Maryjane has its share of didactic scenes where concerned adults stand around and discuss the issue. ("Big-time scientists say no . . . but statistics show that every hard-core addict started out with marijuana!" "The kids turn on . . . and the parents turn off!") But though the movie has more than its share of bright young with-it actors and future filmmakers (There's Carl Gottleib! There's Floyd "American Hot Wax" Mutrux! There's Joe E. Ross?!?!), you'd be better off watching a Cheech 'N' Chong movie for an accurate depiction of the pothead experience. Main thing these kids do to play stoned is giggle a lot – and drive their cars reeaal fast. Not a single one gets the munchies or dopily philosophical . . .

Unlike many low-budget cautionaries, however, Maryjane doesn't end unhappily for all concerned. Arrogant group leader Jordan Bates gets his comeuppance, of course, at the hands of some muscular Bay City rollers he's burned in his dope dealings – but, though we're led to expect it, Jerry the Sensitive Outcast doesn't make like the kid on the ledge in that Spider-Man anti-dope story. Far as we can tell, teacher Blake's career as an art instructor is still in the toilet, but there's no doubt in my mind that he deserves it. Who, after all, can trust a guy who once did a doobie in college, ferdawdsakes?
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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