Sex Madness (1938)

“I’m holding him off almost by force.”

So, you’ve seen Reefer Madness and Cocaine Fiends. Now it’s time to shell out some of that hard-earned Monopoly money and buy the companion piece finally released on DVD, Sex Madness. Sex Madness was made in 1938 as the film industry began dealing with the Hays Code of censorship. As a result, in plot terms, bad things happen to people who make bad choices. In the case of Sex Madness this translates to people contracting the ‘social disease’, Syphilis. Sex Madness is the story of innocent country girl, Millicent, who wins a local beauty contest. This goes to her head, and leaving her loving fiance behind, she moves to New York. Unable to find work, she meets a sleazy theatrical manager who sends her away to a weekend party with the admonition that “a girl like you has to unbend a little.” Now suffering from the ‘social disease’ poor Millicent is parading up and down on stage in a cheap burlesque show.

Sex Madness is a campy riot of a film. The worst acting comes from the moral centres of the film (the doctors, the crusaders, etc) who make their shocked and horrified statements as they directly face the cameras. There’s one scene of a ‘wild party’ and several scenes with zombie-like, drooling male burlesque watchers. Burlesque dancing, according to the film’s moral message, not only turns men into sex-crazed beasts, but it even leads to pedophilia and lesbian encounters into the bargain. And the burlesque dancing itself is the most pathetic excuse for entertainment I’ve ever seen. The ‘dance’ numbers are just the uncoordinated girls shoving their scantily dressed rears in the air.

On the down side, the DVD (Alpha) quality is awful. The sound is unclear, and the film skips and jumps. Sex Madness is only 52 minutes long, but the DVD includes two fillers–sex education films–one for males and one for females–from the 60s. With the Hays Code in force, Sex Madness allowed an audience to watch a titillating, scandalous subject under the auspices of education. As a result, the film is high camp, and you’ll either laugh or be bored by this historic piece of filmmaking. Sex Madness, from director Dwain Esper, is a great addition to the aficionado’s film collection.

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