Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Compared to “Reefer Madness,” “Cocaine Fiends” (** out of ****) treats its subject matter with more gravity. Mind you, this constitutes a left-handed compliment for “Primrose Path” director William A. O’Connor. Interestingly, the original theatrical title was “The Pace That Kills.” Moreover, this sound-era version is a remake of the 1928 silent original that O’Connor co-helmed with Norton S. Parker. Considering its subject matter, this black & white film never depicts the addicts using narcotics. Once scene occurs in an Asian opium den, and the addict urges an Asian woman to accelerate the process. Prostitution is suggested rather than shown as is the abuse of cocaine. Despite its occasional lapses in coherence, “Cocaine Fiends” is considerably more realistic about its subject matter, and the punishment that the junkies and the dope peddlers receive is not prescribed by judges or courtroom prosecutors.
“Cocaine Fiends” opens with a pretentious prologue. Not only does this prologue serve to establish the tragedy that lurks in this sad crime saga, but it also doubles as a call to action for people to thwart this illicit pastime. “Among the many evils against which our society struggles, one of the most vicious is the traffic in dope. In every community where the menace develops all the force which society can mobilize, including social agencies, doctors, law enforcement officials and government band together to stamp it out. Without such activity, the dope evil would run rampant. Yet it has long been recognized that one other powerful forces is necessary before the struggle can be completely successful. That force is an aroused and educated public awareness. It is the hope of aiding in developing such awareness that this picture has been produced. What happens to Jane Bradford may happen to anyone. There will always be “Jane Bradfords” until you Mr. Citizen, cooperate with the forces now fighting the dope evil to forever stamp it out of our land. The Management.”
In the first scene, Nick the Pusher (Noel Madison of "Missing Girls") and his partner are planning to expand their operation into new territory. Not only does Nick deliver the dope, but he also makes the collections. The local authorities are pursuing them at the outset. Nick gives them the slip and takes refuge at a roadside diner. He poses as “a collector for an oil company.” He assures the restaurant attendant, Jane Bradford (Lois January of “Border Caballero”), that racketeers have been chasing him. Meanwhile, the authorities pull over Nick’s associate and search his car without finding any contraband. Afterward, the cops drive over to the diner. Jane hides Nick in the back while the cops drink beer and discuss the case. Initially, Jane suspects these racketeers may not be criminals, but Nick convinces her otherwise.
Nick suggests Jane come to the city where she can earn more money. Jane explains that her mother and she are paying to put her brother through school. When Jane complains about all the excitement, Nick offers her “the grandest headache medicine in the world” which relieves all of Jane’s pain. Eventually, Jane follows Nick to the city but consents to board with his so-called friends until they wed. Little does poor Jane know that she is being kept in custody. Later, Jane learns from the woman that runs the house where Nick left her that she has been snorting “cocaine.” This revelation occurs less than 10 minutes into the action. Thereafter, Jane changes her name to Lil’ and begins a new chapter in her life.
Jane’s handsome brother Eddie (Dean Benton of “Life Returns”) goes to the city about fourteen months after his sister disappears. When he isn’t searching for Jane, Eddie works as a car hop at the Twin Barrels, a drive-in restaurant, where he meets Fanny. One of his favorite customers is Dorothy Farley (Lois Lindsay of “Gold Diggers in Paris”) who loves to ogle him. Meanwhile, Fanny (Sheila Bromley of “Desert Phantom”) buys some cocaine from Nick and introduces Eddie to it when he complains about fatigue. Later, the boss fires Eddie and Fanny because of their immoral behavior. Eddie suffers from cocaine withdrawal, and Fanny provides him with money for the drug. Initially, Eddie has no idea that he is a hop-head, until their land-lady makes the observation that he looks like "a hop-head." Dorothy shows interest in Nick, but her boyfriend Dan (Charles Delaney of "The Brass Legend"), warns her that Nick belongs to the mob. The biggest surprise in "Cocaine Fiends" is that Dorothy's boyfriend is an undercover cop. Eventually, Nick takes Dorothy hostage. Dorothy offers Jane a $1000 to help her escape. After she watches Eddie die from the narcotic abuse, Jane guns down the treacherous Nick.
“Cocaine Fiends” isn’t as hilarious as “Reefer Madness.” In the most atmospheric scene, O’Connor stages a suicide. Unfortunately, this is a depressing little drugsploitation film. The chief reason for its notoriety today is the use of cocaine as its subject matter. The interesting thing here is that the law never intervenes. Characters administer justice without the intervention of the courts. The evil gangsters die at the hands of the very people that they turned into junkies.