Tuesday, July 29, 2008


This drug propaganda film (aka The Pace That Kills) stands somewhere between REEFER MADNESS and MARIHUANA in overall quality. As an ultra low budget exploitation film it's cheap looking, but it does have a certain narrative heft that the others lack, making it a little too serious (and depressing) to have much camp value. Nick (Noel Madison), wanted for peddling dope to school kids, evades the cops at a roadside diner with the help of Jane (Lois January), a waitress who is dying to leave behind her rural life and live it up in the big city. He slips her some cocaine in the guise of a headache powder and it cheers her right up, so she runs off with him, but quickly realizes that, with no skills or money of her own, she has basically become enslaved to him. Her younger brother Eddie (Dean Benton) comes to town to find her, gets work at a drive-in restaurant, and falls in with friendly Fanny (Sheila Bromley) who turns *him* on to some "headache powder." The two wind up fired, living together in a skid row apartment, and she turns tricks to get him drug money. In a third plot strand, rich girl Dorothy (Lois Lindsay), described as someone who "quests" after men and boys, goes slumming at the Dead Rat night club, is kidnapped by Nick, and discovers that someone in her own family is head of the town's drug business. When Jane finds her brother in a daze in an opium den, she tells him that he can still escape the life, and go back to "the country and sunshine," but that it's different for girls. Indeed, Jane comes to a sad end, though Dorothy, whose boyfriend turns out to be an undercover cop, is saved and cured of her questing.

The acting here is pretty good for a non-studio affair; some of the actors had solid Hollywood careers, if mostly in small, often uncredited roles. Fay Holden, who later played Andy Hardy's mom, has a small role. January, Benton, and Bromley are all quite good and build up non-camp sympathy for their characters. Still, there are a few fun moments; in addition to the lines about "questing" and "sunshine," I got a kick out of Fanny telling Eddie she was going to take him "on a sleigh ride with some snowbirds." The plot stops cold for two fairly dreadful musical numbers at the Dead Rat (a hell of a name for a night club, BTW). We never actually see any cocaine, just little wrapped packets that make folks smile when they've been ingested offscreen. [TCM]

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