Recently while browsing through the shelves of my local charity shop I discovered a dozen classic bad cinema DVDs for $3 each. They all seem to have belonged to the same collection - presumably some other afficiando of bad cinema in this city lost his nerve and gave away his collection. Either that, or he died during a particularly excruciating Ed Wood film and nobody bought his DVDs at the estate sale.
Still, his loss was my gain, if indeed one can call movies like 'Circus of Fear' and 'Revolt of the Zombies' "gain", and on Saturday night JC, The Flatmate and I watched the first of these DVDs, 1936's 'The Cocaine Fiends
Me: Hey all they needed was an 'r' and we could have been watching 'The Cocaine Friends'!
Me: It'd be the story of a group of happy little forest critters who run around having fun! Very, very fast! For 30 hours straight!
Sadly, 'The Cocaine Fiends' is the far more prosaic story of a rural waitress, Jane, who gets tricked into taking a so-called "headache powder" by a gangster who comes into her restaurant. Jane's a sweet, naive girl, which may explain why she's willing to snort an unspecified white powder up her nose when it's offered to her by a complete stranger. In a later decade she might just as easily have joined the Moonies or sent her lifesavings to Nigeria. At least in ‘The Cocaine Fiends’ she gets a couple of belts of blow for her trouble.
Having enjoyed the effects of the "headache powder", which appears to do nothing more sensational than make her fractionally perkier, Jane is beguiled by the smooth gangster. Soon she's run away to the city, where she thinks she'll marry him and live a long, prosperous, headache-free life. Of course he has no intention of marrying her, and by the time she's worked this out she's hooked on the happy dust. To hide her shame she changes her name to Lil and attempts to make a career out of being a gangster's moll.
Meanwhile her brother, Eddie, has come to the city with the twin aims of finding his sister and getting a good job. He's not very successful at either, as he fails to recognise his sister when she crosses his path at the diner where he works. He’s the archetype of the 1930s clean cut young man, at least until his coworker Fanny offers him a little pick me up. Fanny is obviously making a lot more in tips than he is, as she can afford to buy "dope" and give it away like it was candy.
Fanny: Tonight I'm gonna take you on a sleigh ride with some snow birds.
Eddie: Sleigh ride? Snow birds? In summer?
Fanny: Gee, you ARE dumb!
Me: He may be dumb, sweetheart, but at least he's not a grown woman wearing a bellhop costume.
Soon enough Eddie too is a jittery hophead, obsessed with nothing more than his next fix. When he and Fanny are fired for their poor work performance, they end up in a dowdy boarding house, perpetually strung out and incapable of holding down a job. Eventually Fanny realises that there’s only one avenue of employment for a junkie, and hits the streets for a lucrative career as a crack whore.
Eventually Fanny falls pregnant, and Eddie callously rejects her because his only love is the White Lady. With his rejection Fanny realises that hey, she's an unmarried pregnant drug-addicted hooker, and sensibly gasses herself in their room when Eddie goes out for his fix.
It’s at this point that Jane and Eddie are reunited, and Jane decides to find a way to get Eddie home.
Jane: You must get away. Back to the country and sunshine. It isn’t too late for you.
Eddie: Yes. Yes, yes, we’ll go home now.
Jane: No. No, it’s too late for me. Girls can’t come back.
Me (as Jane): Girls have to stay in the city. To be near the shoe stores.
Which brings me to one of the central problems with ‘The Cocaine Fiends’. Throughout the film, one might wonder why Jane and Eddie don't hightail it back to Mudflaps Arkansas, or whatever lunk headed town it was they came from. However it seems that the shame to their family would be too great. Unfortunately all that the modern viewer will take from this is that shame, rather than coke, is the problem.
I wonder if they ever made a sequel called ‘The Shame Fiends’? About some young people who are hooked on shame, and yet it turns out that snorting coke is their biggest problem?
Probably not. I guess it’s never too late, though. Excuse me while I go phone Paris Hilton’s agent.