Thursday, 4 September 2008

She Shoulda Said No (1949)

She Shoulda Said No (AKA Killer Weed) is perhaps best known for the fact that its young female star Lila Leeds had been busted for marijuana possession the year before. Along with a Hollywood actor by the name of Robert Mitchum. They both served time in the county jail. After her release Lila Leeds decided to cash in on her notoriety by making this lurid exploitation pit-boiler about the evils of drugs.

Leeds plays a nice young girl who is working hard to put her incredibly dorky kid brother through college. Things are going swell until she meets an evil dope pusher, who convinces her that she needs to learn to relax, and that just one puff of a reefer can’t possibly hurt her. She soon learns how wrong she was, and he seduces her as well as turning her into a dope fiend. She is sucked into a nightmare world of parties, fun, sex, money, swanky apartments, flash cars and beautiful clothes. Some of these innocent kids get so “turned on” by the drugs that they start laughing and dancing. But luckily the police are doing their job, and they save her from this horror by arresting her and throwing in jail.

The movie then switches to being an equally lurid crime B-movie as the cops hunt down the kingpins behind this hideous plot to introduce America’s teenagers to fun and excitement.

It’s a fairly typical example of the classic American exploitation movie, made outside the studio system and therefore not subject to the restrictions of the Production Code. These movies were the Jerry Springer Show of their day. While putting a moralistic gloss on the depravity (well depravity by the standards of the time) of the subject matter they raked in the dollars with their outrageous sensationalism and aura of wickedness. And with taglines such as the one for this film - How Bad Can a Good Girl Get?

These movies played in small theatres, and were often “roadshowed” - being taken from town to town, sometimes screened in tents, with the exhibitors often possessing several versions of each movie of varying degrees of luridness, with tame versions to show the local authorities to reassure them that these were actually serious educational films and not dirty movies! She Shoulda Said No is lacking in sex, but the wild drug parties would undoubtedly have thrilled audiences at the time.

The exploitation movies were a constant irritant to the nation’s moral watchdogs, and an annoyance to the studio bosses who were outraged that somebody besides them should be making money out of movies. Modern audiences (judging by comments on the IMDb) often make the mistake of thinking that these movies really were intended to be taken seriously as moral warnings, or that they had some kind of official government backing. In fact they were mostly produced by people who’d started out as carnival hucksters and their entire operations were marginally legal at best and they spent a good deal of their time trying to keep one step ahead of local law enforcement agencies. They were true underground movies.

And they’re a good deal of fun.

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