Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Exploitation Movies: Narcotic (1933)

The 1930s produced a cornucopia of grindhouse exploitation films (aka "sexploitation" movies), usually disguised as "educational" movies that were ostensible cautionary tales about one social problem or another.

Here's Narcotic from 1933, another one from cheesy schlock director and "King of the Celluloid Gypsies" Dwain Esper.

Full movie:

This is an early film from the notorious Esper. A respected doctor who intends to go down in history instead goes down in flames, the result of ... narcotics. A night smoking opium in Chinatown results in the main character, Dr. William Davis (based on a true story!), heading down that by-now-familiar road to degradation. An inscrutable "Chinaman" named Gee Wu plays an important role in this, while at the same time mouthing mystical "Oriental" fortune-cookie platitudes: "The fool may mouth with ease the words that the thinker has uttered with great effort". BTW, this role is, in the great Hollywood tradition, played by a Caucasian (see, for example, the career of Anna May Wong, who was denied the leading role in The Good Earth apparently because she was "too Chinese" -- the Hayes Office wouldn't allow the producers to show "miscegnation", i.e., a Chinese woman married to a Caucasian!.)

At one point in this disjointed hot mess, our good doctor is shown barking in a carnival, selling his patent "feel-good" medicine out of a tent. Look for the snakes -- in an example of faulty foreshadowing and heavy-handed symbolism, we see a cat being extremely interested in a snake in a glass display case. We see it several times, in fact, and when the snake inevitably escapes we see it devouring whole ... no, not the cat, but another snake!

The money shot: The "dope" party wherein the participants consume, in rapid order, cocaine, morphine, heroin and marijuana. And there's also some brief nudity when the doctor attacks one of the women after the party and rips her bodice! Off!

The doc finally gets his comeuppance (did you think he wouldn't?) by his own hand, but not before he ends up a wasted shell of his former self.

Lessons learned: Don't smoke that first bowl of opium, don't trust "Chinamen" and don't buy patent medicine.

Also released as: Narcotic Racket, Narcotic!, Narcotic: As Interpreted by Dwain Esper.

Further exploration:
Narcotic on the IMDB
Dwain Esper: King of the Celluloid Gypsies -- short documentary about Esper on YouTube.
Exploitation Film on Wikipedia.