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Tagline: 2 are in jail and the others have blown their minds!

Cool Dialogue: “Anything goes wrong in this crummy town, they blame pot.”

Pizza: NoHo Pizza



I know what you're thinking. I know because it's happened to me, too. "If only there was a movie starring Fabian, Teri Garr and Garry Marshall, and written by game show host Peter Marshall and GET SMART’S Dick 'Hymie the Robot' Gautier."

MARYJANE (1968) is a hard to find film (Showtime aired it so long ago that I have it on a VHS tape) from the American International Pictures library. Unlike most AIP exploitation films, this entry actually attempts to take its subject, the rampant drug use in high school, seriously. Remember, I said attempts.

It all starts with a bloody car crash that kills the driver and a pedestrian. And what’s to blame? Why, Mary Jane, of course, because weed makes people into carefree irresponsible members of society. (I’ve never smoked pot myself, but I don’t need to, because I’m already a carefree irresponsible society member.) Maryjane isn’t just slang for marijuana here, it’s also the name of this very high school’s pot smoking club, a club so badass that they wear dog tags that say ‘Mary Jane’.

But let’s not disturb the school principal and the chief of police, who are puzzled as to where this influx of pot is coming from. Also, please keep your voice down, because they are discussing it during a boy’s funeral. Later, when the principal and police chief meet with the mayor, they agree - marijuana is a gateway to harder stuff. And everyone’s to blame; from the cops who “aren’t doing enough” to the parents who are blind to their kids’ activities.

Teen idol Fabian, perhaps trying to break his squeaky clean image, plays Phil Blake, a can-relate-to-the-students teacher in a pool of old school teachers. He’s new and young, and he teaches art, which of course makes him open-minded. He’s even tried pot, an admission perhaps better left unsaid to the crusty mayor and strict police chief. This won’t be the only thing that gets Phil in trouble. Some things won’t even be his fault. Wrong place, wrong time, no good deed…

Jerry (Michael Morgotta) is the school’s sensitive student. If you make fun of him, he will destroy his own art project. In an effort to find himself, Jerry wants to join the Mary Jane gang, led by smart mouth Jordan Bates (Kevin Coughlin), who gives everyone he talks to a hard time, even his girlfriend. Jerry wants in so badly he’s even made his own Mary Jane dog tag to wear, even though he’s not in the gang. Phil suspects weak-willed Jerry’s path is going the wrong way, so he takes Jerry under his wing, telling him he could use his apartment if he ever needs to get away. Meanwhile, Jordan uses Jerry for his own amusement, making him steal things, ditching him, and ultimately, setting him up to fail big. Gang member Susan (original BAD SEED Patty McCormack, now a grown up brat), defends Jerry, but she’ll acquiesce once Jordan takes the power reins.

Meanwhile, the teachers go bowling, where we learn that Phil has the hots for new teacher Elli (Diane McBain). Later, the two go on a picnic where she confuses him with mixed signals. So Phil backs off. Wow, he’s just so righteous and polite! Fuck!

The mayor, principal and police chief call a meeting where they ask the teachers to spy on the kids. But our Phil will have none of that. “I’m a teacher, not a spy,” he said, around the same time McCoy told Kirk “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Anyway, it’s here that Phil admits he smoked pot once in college, and here where he’s shunned by his peers. Not long after, all hell breaks loose for Phil when the cops find pot in his car which was stolen and re-parked near his apartment. Why he was home painting when the cops arrived at 5am is just hilarious.

You don’t have to be an NYU Film grad to know things will go from bad to worse. But MARYJANE is fun and well worth a watch. And while doing so, keep on the lookout for barely out of her teens Teri Garr (as Terri Garr) and HAPPY DAYS creator Garry Marshall, who plays a gas station attendant. And if you enjoy the music while the gang hassles Marshall as they get gas, feel free to listen to the song GAS HASSLE on the movie’s soundtrack.

There are a few (too many) twists at the end, but for a movie like this, they’re actually kind of satisfying. As I mentioned, MARYJANE tries harder than most exploitation films. It’s shot really well, with forethought rarely seen in movies such as these. There are shots through sprinklers, through tires in racks and even pullouts from gargoyles (!), as well as some really creative smashcuts. One scene has the gang partying in a closed amusement park, getting the kind of high only actors in movies get. But it’s a cool scene nonetheless, as they hang in the bumper cars and on the merry-go-round. Director Maury Dexter (whose first job was acting in a Three Stooges short, so we love him) employs canted angles and a distorted imagery of the rides to a far out effect, while the score, by Mike Curb and Lawrence Brown, plays a prog-edelic mix.

Picture 592

When I was in high school, you could tell the stoners from miles away; the way they dressed, looked, behaved, shuffled and smelled. But in the 60s, right before things got looser, kids still obeyed dress codes in schools. So the potheads in MARYJANE look like clean cut Eddie Haskells. It’s just funny. Which brings me to my next point. Just because you’re trying to make an exploitation film with some gravitas, it’s still an exploitation film, which means - unintentional humor! Yay! Of course there are inadvertently funny moments, like when three guys ask the hot teacher if she’d like to make it a foursome (they meant a boat trip). But it’s always the unintentional stuff and clichés that are the funniest. Like the big drug dealer, who could have played the same role in a Cheech and Chong movie.

Screen shot
Speaking of funny moments, there’s a scene where Jordan makes Jerry prove himself worthy of Mary Jane status by shoplifting. It was like a game show! “Gotta get five things totaling $20.” But this makes sense, as HOLLYWOOD SQUARES game show host Peter Marshall wrote the movie (along with Dexter and Dick Gautier)! By the way, Gautier is hysterical in an uncredited role as a prisoner in the holding cell with Phil.

Also interesting, this was casting director Fred Roos’s first movie. Four year later, he was casting THE GODFATHER. He’d soon graduate to producer, and has since worked on nearly every Coppola (Francis and Sofia) film. On a sadder note, Kevin Coughlin was killed in a hit and run in 1976, while washing his car at 2am on Ventura and Whitsett in Studio City, walking distance from RMC Headquarters.

It was an incredible coincidence that right before the Random Movie Generator selected MARYJANE tonight, we watched these ephemeral films, one about high school kids and pot:


WILD AT THE WHEEL – Both MARYJANE and WILD AT THE WHEEL begin with a teen crashing his car. Though in this case it has to do with reckless driving, the short we watched after this (see below) has to do with drugs, including marijuana.

newspaper-The Terrible Truth
Another Sid Davis presentation (he did a ton of these films, many of which we’ve seen at RMC). This one, from 1970 (dig those bellbottoms and that Pioneer cassette deck), has blood and dead teens, like Tom Robinson, 19, a/k/a Speedy. We learn about Dead Tom by visiting his friends, family and workplace. Oddly, the moral is less acute than the usual “don’t drink and drive” stuff. This one tells us there are many reasons kids drive recklessly. One may be that speeding might make us feel better because of all of our other shortcomings. Or a misdirected attempt to show superiority. (“There may have been others. If there were, he took them with him.”)

THE TERRIBLE TRUTH (1951) Sid Davis again, but an earlier one, from 1951. Here, an actual L.A. Juvenile Court judge appears as himself. The government has two hospitals just to treat addicts. With flowery writing like: “They just got their teenaged daughter back from a six month nightmare that even Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t have improved on.” Daughter Phyllis tells us, in VO, “I guess I knew about reefers, that’s marijuana, ever since junior high…” “They both smoke pot, that’s jive talk for marijuana.” Other fun lines: “In the United States of America, 20th century. Unbelievable, isn’t it, that such things can happen.” “Some say the Reds are promoting dope traffic in the United States to undermine national morale.” Wow, I guess I’m an ephemeral film VO addict.

THE TROUBLE MAKER (1959) – What happens when a high school student spreads gossip? Well, they post pics on Facebook and then the person has to switch schools. But if you wanted to be an asshole before there was social media, you had to do it in person. Take Mel, who spreads “guff” around like crazy…about the quarterback, and about Susan. “In almost every group, you find one.” This short was made by Centron Films, run by Herk Harvey, who would make the classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS in 1962.

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