Everyday is Christmas at Cinema Retro, at least in terms of mail delivery. We get all sorts of quirky DVD screeners from niche-market labels. Some are grotesque home-made horror flicks that we generally ignore but others have real entertainment value for lovers of anything retro. Apprehensive Films (we love the name!) is a small DVD distribution company that has released 420 Triple Feature that is comprised of three vintage public service announcement short films designed to warn teenagers about the dangers of pot. The fact that the master prints look like they were run through a blender only adds to the appeal of this package, along with the groovy psychedelic packaging. Short # 1 is a 1969 gem titled Keep Off the Grass (get the dual meaning?) A housewife is doing a routine cleaning when she discovers her teenage son's stash of reefers. Dad is quickly brought in to straighten out junior, who inexplicably must be the only American teenager to look as old as his father. Dad tries to get down with junior by addressing his protestations that adults indulge in cigarettes and booze. However, he comes across like Jack Webb in one of those episodes of Dragnet '67, in which his attempts to identify with young people come across as unintentionally hilarious. As junior makes the rounds to visit his fellow pot smokers, he begins to see the errors of their ways as he observes fellow teenagers laughing wildly and making out passionately. (These scenes probably recruited teenagers to the drug scene.) Eventually, of course, dad's words come to haunt him, as he appears in a dreamlike state that reminds one of Brando as Jor-El. Soon, junior is noticing how his pot-smoking friends have become slackers and beggars. He also gets some info from a helpful member of the LAPD that makes him realize that a boy's best friends are mom and dad. Before long, he's washing dad's car while the old man loads it up to go golfing. Once again, conformity triumphs.
The second installment is a 1951 short imaginatively titled Drug Addiction. In this slice-of-life B&W cautionary tale, a teenager with a doting single mother is lured into trying pot. Before you can say "Timothy Leary!", he's graduated to snorting and shooting heroin. Soon, he's dealing junk just to make enough money to pay his heartless supplier. His appearance suffers, he can't hold a job, he begins to steal and he ingests glass from drinking from broken Coke bottles. (The latter occurs when he's still in the pot stage!) The film is packed with unintentional laughs but the greatest example of child abuse is dispensed by the actress who plays his mother, in what might well be the worst performance committed to film in the 1950s.
Rounding things out is the equally imaginatively-titled Marijuana, a 1968 short hosted by Sonny Bono, who is clad in guru gear and appears to be stoned himself. This one strives for a bit more realism, as the teenagers actually look and sound somewhat normal as they are busted by police at a pot party. They scream the standard objections that are still heard today, pointing out that there are many other more harmful substances than marijuana. Bono tries to avoid overtly lecturing kids by presenting both sides of the issue, but since it's pretty clear the United Pot Growers of America did not fund this movie, the evidence is stacked in favor of keeping the drug criminalized. While Bono says there is no evidence that pot smoking causes kids to go insane, he sticks with the old fear that it provides a stepping stone to harder drugs. Of the three shorts, this is the least hokey but it still provides plenty of nostalgic giggles.
The DVD also includes trailers for such niche market releases as Hardware Wars, the acclaimed Star Wars remake that utilizes kitchen appliances, along with trailers for a Asian kung fu series starring handicapped martial arts experts (one has "fins" for arms and the other has no legs. We're not making this up, folks). As for the bizarre title, Amazon tells us "420 is an internationally recognized holiday and daily excuse for Stoners, Pot Heads and even the recreational marijuana user to light up, toke up and blaze a blunt on their way to the euphoric High-Way of mental freedom. Or is it an evil path to mental anguish, despair, desperation, crime and even death? The 420 Triple Feature takes on a trip down memory lane with some of the best, most idiotic, hilarious and downright absurd ""educational"" films on the subject of marijuana use." So there.
The 420 Triple Feature serves as a reminder of those Cold War shorts with titles like Duck and Cover! that we love to watch today. We hope they have plenty of others in the archives of Apprehensive Films.