Sadly, the colorized reissue of this 1938 antipot propaganda film (on disc April 20) doesn't include the one bonus feature that would make it a genuine Sensurround experience. Though there's nary a joint tucked away in the box, the DVD's inspired commentary tracks—indispensable if you don't want to nod off midfilm— are reason enough to give this misguided cautionary tale another look. Originally titled Tell Your Children, Madness chronicles the short lives and fast times of a handful of high schoolers (actually thirtysomething actors in sweater vests and schoolgirl skirts) seduced by the "demon weed." Early on, we watch as innocent Ralph is roped into the weed-selling operation of a bourgeois couple, Mae and Jack. The tokin' trio's aggressive recruitment of the aforementioned "teens" sets off a chain reaction of manslaughter, attempted rape, third-degree murder, and spectacularly bad dancing, all glimpsed through a constant, multihued wall of marijuana smoke.
Thank the people at Legend Films for the colorful puffs; they had the surprisingly tough (and unsurprisingly fun) job of adding vibrant, over-the-top shades of John Waters–worthy color to a classic piece of Americana, heretofore seen only in black–and-white. The colorizing team contributes an instructive, hilariously laid-back commentary track; during a dull scene, they audibly uncork a bottle of wine. For pure laff value, it almost rivals the alternate track featuring former Mystery Science 3000 host Mike Nelson; his wisecracks punctuate the very real boredom of watching a film whose production values and acting lie just south of your average junior-high play.
Skip the other extras, which include a droningly preachy short, Grandpa's Marijuana Handbook. An earnest stoner with senior-citizen cred, Grandpa is more than happy to rave about his 37-year habit, but I'd choose Nelson's wonky satire over the old man's plodding pedantry any day.
IF YOU WANT a sterling example of leadership, however, look no farther than Capt. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, with various extras but no commentaries. Also out April 20, Eddie Murphy frightens no one in The Haunted Mansion; Fox is releasing some subpar old Marilyn Monroe pictures, including Let's Make It Legal; and A League of Their Own is back with commentary by director Penny Marshall.