Narcotic


57m 1933

Brief Synopsis

As the opening scroll tells us, Narcotic was "presented in the hope that the public may become aware of the terrific struggle to rid the world of drug addiction." The movie itself is a salacious plunge into a world of sordid pleasures. It tells us the story of Dr. William G. Davies, an infamous snake-oil salesman who started his career as a promising medical student. In the opening sequence he saves an unborn baby by performing a cesarean operation after the mother was killed in an automobile accident. Stock medical footage shows a woman's stomach being sliced open like a ripe watermelon and the baby popping out like a jack-in-a-box. But the allure of opium proves too strong for the doctor to resist. After a single night of relaxation in a Chinatown opium den, Davies becomes a slave to drugs. As his medical practice deteriorates, he shifts his attention to "selling medicine by demonstration." He says to his nurse/fiancee, "I can't see anything wrong if my preparation has merit." However, his "preparation" is one of the great quack cure-alls: "Tiger-Fat." Davies soon becomes one of the leading sideshow attractions for a carnival. His success as a carnival huckster initially allows him to run with a fast crowd. In the movie's most shocking episode, Davies and his ritzy friends retire to a hotel room together for a drug party. "We're gonna get lit," says a woman. A buffet of drugs is spread out on a table and each guest takes their drug of choice. "It takes a needle for me to get a bang," says a woman. As each participant indulges, the party quickly turns into an orgy of excesses, one woman hikes up her skirts, another laughs hysterically, a man pontificates, another man becomes paranoid. The movie provides a litany of different reactions to drugs. Ultimately, Davies' drug addiction leaves him gaunt and stooped, living in a hovel with no hope of returning to his previous life.

Film Details

Also Known As
They
Release Date
Jan 1933
Premiere Information
Los Angeles showing: early Mar 1934
Production Company
Hollywood Producers and Distributors
Distribution Company
Dwain Esper
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
57m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,226ft (7 reels)

Synopsis

William G. Davis, a top medical student, arm wrestles a colleague in his dorm room where he relaxes with other students. One of them, G. Woo, speaks of opium as a harmless diversion for Chinese people, but cautions that Westerners, overwhelmed by progress and speed, might make any diversion into a vice. A woman is killed when a speeding roadster smashes into the horsedrawn vegetable cart in which she rides. Davis, at a free clinic, delivers her baby alive through a Caesarian operation, which leads an older colleague to state that Davis will go down in history. Davis is soon overwhelmed in his work. G. Woo visits and encourages him to unburden himself in a diversion. He takes Davis to an opium den, and later, when Davis is worried over a bill for digging a cesspool, he returns to the den to smoke. Davis soon marries his nurse, but he becomes fascinated by the drug and continues to visit the den. After he sees a hawker demonstrate a new glue called "Gooey Mooey," Davis avidly reads a book about selling technique. Worried about his obsession, Davis' wife reads a book about narcotic addiction, and she is greatly upset when she comes across the platitude, "You can take it out of the body, but not out of the mind." When Davis excitedly tells his wife that he wants to sell a new "miracle cure" formula he has developed by hawking it in public, she argues that this would be unethical. Davis, however, goes ahead with his idea, and his wife visits a federal narcotics agent with G. Woo to get help. The agent reveals that drugs always find the weakest part of a person's character to attack, while Woo advises that only the will to be cured will lead to a cure. Davis' wife burns her husband's pipe and other paraphenalia, and Davis is admitted into a hospital. Afterwards, he proclaims to his wife that it will be wonderful to begin again. During an emergency call, Davis is driven by an addicted taxi driver, who collapses after surreptitiously drinking a vial from Davis' medical case. The cab is hit by an uncoming train killing the driver and seriously injuring Davis. To relieve Davis' pain, a doctor prescribes opiates, and Davis' addiction revives. After an argument, his wife leaves him, and Davis joins a traveling freak show hawking his cure-all, "Tiger Fat." With the money he coerces out of his "patients," he and his gang have a "dope" party in a bordello with a number of women, during which participants sniff cocaine and inject heroin. Sometime later, Davis violently awakens one of the half-dressed women and demands "where's the stuff" and "where's the money." When she reminds him that he gave her money to buy clothes, he calls her a "dirty trollop," rips her dress and storms out. Davis goes to the sideshow and demands the money from his cohorts. A brawl ensues, during which various snakes and skunks are freed as their cages are knocked over. One snake devours another. In his apartment, Davis locates some hidden drugs and a gun. He sniffs the drug and lies back remembering scenes from his life. A knock awakens him, and a man enters and rebukes him, calling him a disgrace to society and a mental and moral coward. Alone, Davis talks to himself and to God. He cries and then shoots himself dead.

Film Details

Also Known As
They
Release Date
Jan 1933
Premiere Information
Los Angeles showing: early Mar 1934
Production Company
Hollywood Producers and Distributors
Distribution Company
Dwain Esper
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
57m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,226ft (7 reels)

Quotes

Ladies! Let's not get vulgar, yet.
- Davies
That was punk!
- Party Guest
What of it? This is a festive occasion.
- Davies
The marihuana cigarettes are mine.
- Davies' Date
Well, don't smoke too many, or you might get The Ding.
- Party Guest
But my husband has will power!
- Mrs. Davies
Yes. Mr Davies has great will power!
- Gee Wu
Don't worry. I'm not gonna shoot the main line if I know what I'm doing!
- Party Guest

Trivia

An actual heroin injection occurs in this film, with a close-up of true-to-life "main-lining".

The suicide note seen at the beginning of the film is adressed to "Dwain," apparently the film's producer and director Dwain Esper.

Cameo(Hildegarde Stadie): the film's author appears as an extra, seated in Davies' waiting room.

Writer Hildegarde Stadie based the script on true events. She had gone on tour with a great uncle as a little girl when he worked the medicine show circuit selling the elixir Tiger Fat. The film is actually considered to be a very accurate and unexaggerated retelling of his life.

Notes

The working title of this film was They. The running time listed above was calculated from the footage given in NYSA records. The opening credits contain the following announcement: "This picture is presented in the hope that the public May become aware of the terrific struggle to rid the world of drug addiction....We sincerely dedicate this picture to those who have worked with unceasing effort and given freely of their time to this cause: The Prevention of Drug Addiction." The film then opens with a letter dated November 10, 1931 and signed "Will" which reads, "Dwain [presumably producer Dwain Esper]-It's 4 o'clock. Dawn is here, the devil's trumpets are bellowing. 'You can take it out of the body, but you can't get it out of the mind ...' but I have found a way."
       This was Dwain Esper's second film. According to a Film Daily news item, the film had been in preparation for eight months before shooting began, and Esper formed his own releasing organization for the film. In a brief for an appeal to a rejection of an application for a license to exhibit the film in New York State, producer Hildagarde Esper stated that in the production of the film, she "had the cooperation and active assistance of police officials in the Los Angeles Police Department one of whom actually furnished her with the drug paraphernalia" and that she "also received the active support and cooperation of officers of the federal government connected with the narcotic division." No further information concerning these claims has been located. In Dwain Esper's obituary in 1982, Variety noted that because his films were so controversial, "he handled them himself, taking prints from town to town and promoting them with sensational ads and displays."
       This film includes clips from other films, including footage of a roadster crashing into a vegetable wagon that originally appeared in the 1924 Thomas H. Ince Corp. production Broken Laws, which was produced by Mrs. Wallace Reid, a crusader against drug addiction (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0628). No reviews for Narcotic have been located. It was rejected for exhibition in the state of New York on October 6, 1933 for the following reasons, according to correspondence at NYSA: "Indecent, immoral, will tend to corrupt morals and incite to crime." Hildagarde Esper applied for a re-examination on October 9, 1933, stating that the film "is decent, moral and instead of corrupting, it uplifts morals, and instead of inciting to crime its tendency is to prevent it." The rejection was sustained on 10 Oct, and Esper appealed to the Commissioner of Education, claiming that the film "tends to discourage the use of illicit narcotic drugs" and citing as precedents for scenes to which objection was taken, supposedly similar scenes from films such as Footlight Parade, Scarface, The Story of Temple Drake, The Power and the Glory and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which were approved for showing in the state. On December 13, 1933, the appeal was dismissed.
       According to a March 5, 1934 Motion Picture Daily news item, Hays Office officials in Hollywood wired a complaint to the New York office stating that salacious advertising copy for the film, which was then showing in Los Angeles, had appeared in Los Angeles newspapers and was in direct violation of the production and advertising code. No further information concerning the complaint has been located. A May 1934 Motion Picture Daily news item described the film as a "frank exposition of the drug traffic 'for adults only.'" Because of protests from the Merchants' Association and the Women's City Club, the theater that was exhibiting the film in Kansas City was forced to "tone down" its public displays. The film was granted a certificate in that city only after "an extensive 'cleaning.'"

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1999

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1999