Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Exploitation Movies: The Cocaine Fiends/The Pace That Kills (1935)

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.

Today we have The Cocaine Fiends, originally released under the title The Pace That Kills, another morality tale involving dope and at-risk youth (are there any other kind in these movies?).

Full movie:

Pretty but innocent (aren't they all?) Joan Bradford works at her mother's restaurant on a busy highway in the country. A traveling salesman/dope pusher stops by while he's on the lam from the cops and offers her a "headache powder". You can figure out right there where this is going, and it doesn't disappoint that expectation.

Joan falls in love with the guy and heads for the bright lights of the big city, keeps taking those headache powders, and eventually becomes Lil, a "gangster's moll". In the meantime, Joan's even-more-innocent younger brother is working as a carhop(!) at a drive-in restaurant (the iconic Twin Barrels in Los Angeles*) with a blonde girl co-worker who introduces him to some "pick-me-ups" in the form of that now infamous headache powder.

Things go along and we watch intercuts between the sad mother back in "the country", waiting in vain for a letter from her wayward children, and the brother and sister, each of whom is in the thrall of addiction independently of the other. Some stretched-out spiraling-the-drain stuff occurs, the brother's blonde girlfriend from the drive-in, looking especially haggard, becomes a streetwalker to supply his raging habit (now he's evidently shooting up), she eventually commits suicide after she gets pregnant and he says he never loved her, and finally there's a "surprising" plot twist at the end.

Oh, and a couple of people do end up happily ever after, a rich girl we see slumming at -- and kidnapped from -- the Dead Rat Cafe, who can't understand why she isn't acceptable in "society" (there's a reason for that, having to do with that plot twist) and her beau/watcher/protector, who is actually a lieutenant in charge of the vice squad who is working "undercover".

About the only high point here is that Dead Rat Cafe, situated on a sleazy non-descript alley in the "bad part of town". As we hear early on, when girls end up there it's the end of the road for them. But when we finally get to actually see inside the Dead Rat, it turns out that it is a swanky-looking nightclub with a live band and a floor show! Two of the floor-show singers actually get to sing, which kind of makes this a musical. Sadly, they aren't very good singers,which is, I presume, how they ended up in this dog of a movie.

The money shot: There isn't one. The sex is all implied, there's no nudity, and while there are plenty of drugs -- cocaine and opium -- we never see anyone actually using -- the camera would cut away to a reaction shot instead. The raciest thing about this movie is the original poster:

If, based on that poster, I'd gone to see this movie in a theater, I'd demand my money back.

Lessons learned: Don't take that first "headache powder" if someone offers it to you, not even a beautiful blonde, stay away from the city if you are from the country, and don't trust anybody...

Directed by: William A. O'Connor.

Also known as The Pace That Kills (original title).

More reading:
The Pace That Kills on the IMDB

* The Twin Barrels drive-in was legendary to the generation that came of age when "cruising" was a thing. For those not in the know, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, kids in hot-rod cars would spend a whole night cruising "the strip", from one drive-in to another, for no particular reason, other than to see and be seen and show off their cars. This social milieu was captured perfectly in the coming-of-age movie of my generation, American Graffiti.
Given its legendary status, it's kind of surprising that I couldn't find much on the Interwebs about the Twin Barrels except that matchbook cover.