One measure of an icon's cultural reach is the extent to which it's referenced by folks who have no firsthand experience of it. Reefer Madness, directed by Louis Gasnier, is an iconic piece of American pop culture that has supplied punch-lines and riffs for folks who've never actually seen it.

Originally intended to be a hard-hitting propaganda film warning of the assorted dangers of marijuana usage, the film's hilariously overwrought depictions of the consequences of smoking pot are mapped through the intertwined stories of ill-fated young lovers Mary and Bill, Mary's brother Jimmy, and a couple of drug dealers who hawk their wares to high school kids. Quicker than you can say puff-puff-pass, the kids are swept up in a torrent of bad jazz, cheap booze, sleazy men, easy women and pork-based acting.

If you've never seen the film before, rest assured; it lives up (down) to its legend. Aside from the actors behaving more like they've ingested trunk loads of meth or crack than weed, one of the funniest things about the film is the fact that none of the actors actually knows (or was willing to show) how to smoke it; at best, the most any character would be able to get would be a contact high from their own joint.

To commemorate the film's 75th anniversary (and to celebrate 4/20, the unofficial holiday for real-life reefer addicts to honor their chosen pastime), Reefer Madness, Walking Shadows distribution is hosting two screenings and a party tonight. The $9 admission fee includes a free Reefer Madness DVD, whose bonus items include over two hours of other vintage anti-pot propaganda films and PSAs. Screenings are at 4:20 and 8:20 PM at the Vine Theater; 6321 Hollywood Blvd. Purchase tickets here.

LA Weekly