Marijuana: The Green MonsterBy: Rafael Aviña
Since his arrival in Mexico, Yopes Bohr Elzer, better known as José “Che” Bohr, dedicated himself to the creation of a new cinematic style: films about gangsters, police and crime with musical and comic touches that, as time went on, became darker and more sinister. Born in Bonn, Germany in 1901, Bohr died in Oslo, Norway, in 1994 and, throughout his career, brought something of his adventurous life to the big screen. His family left Germany to settle in Constantinople before quickly setting off for Argentina, and then Chile. There, he worked as an accountant, for a maritime company, and as a pianist in a movie theatre.
At 18 he began producing newsreel films, also directing a comedy short. At 19, he wrote, directed and starred in the short film Mi noche alegre o Las parafinas, which was an attempt to imitate the cinema of Charlie Chaplin. Soon after, he created the production companies Bohr and Radonich Magallanes Film Company, and Bohr & Ivanovic Patagonian Film Company, under which he made a number of films of varying genres. Towards 1925 he travelled to Brazil and Uruguay, returning to Argentina to work as a photographer on newsreel films, then as a composer, singer and dancer in radio and theatre in Buenos Aires. At the end of the 1920s he tried his luck in New York as a singer, dancer and actor in the Hispanic films that were starting to be made as Spanish-speaking copies of their English counterparts, starring in: Sombras de gloria (Shadows of Glory, 1929, Andrew L. Stone), Así es la vida (Such is Life, 1930) and Hollywood, ciudad de ensueño (Hollywood, City of Dreams 1931, both directed by George Crone).
He arrived in Mexico at the beginning of the 1930s and found work starring in, editing, scoring and co-directing La sangre manda (1933) with Raphael J. Sevilla. The film was written by the journalist Carlos Noriega Hope, with dialogue by Eva Limiñana “La Duquesa Olga“, who would go on to become his closest accomplice, as well as his wife. After La sangre manda he made Who Killed Eva (1934), Luponini from Chicago (1935) and Marijuana, The Green Monster (1936), assisted by a very young Roberto Gavaldón. That last film opens with the following credit: “Producciones Duquesa Olga is honoured to dedicate this film to the active and efficient Mexican Police Force, which this production considers as the most faithful demonstration of modern policing”.
From its very title, Marijuana, The Green Monster, became an instant cult classic in Mexican cinema. With an aesthetic similar to the soon-to-be-reviled Ed Wood, the film follows the vicissitudes of a group of marijuana traffickers and their victims in a highly entertaining narcotic adventure tale. Raúl Devoto (played by Bohr himself, who was also the film’s screenwriter and editor), son of a doctor (Alberto Martí), works with the police to combat drug addiction and the distribution of marijuana, only to be kidnapped by a group of drug dealers: Antonio (René Cardona), “El Indio” (a young Emilio Fernández) and a young couple who have fallen into the clutches of a vice that “destroys the soul of its victims” – Irene and Carlos (Lupita Tovar and Barry Norton). El Indio is shot dead by police at the border, but not before he has turned Raúl into an addict, who will take his place as ‘jefe’ of the “Green Monster” gang. Raul goes insane, throwing a man from a plane in which they are transporting marijuana, later dying himself in a plane crash.
It is an unnerving film (for instance, the games that the Commander Ángel T. Sala plays with lights to interrogate narcos), with bold, fluid camera movements and a phantasmagorical storyline that anticipates ideas about the trafficking of illegal substances that Alejandro Galindo would later explore in While Mexico Sleeps (1938). The film opens with scenes of men and women smoking marijuana, while newspaper headlines inform of the arrival of the drug to the United States and later to Mexico, while the Police Chief (David Valle González) says: “For this reason, the Police Force of this city has declared War on these people, the destroyers of the moral health of our people”.
A woman trafficker who has been driven insane by the drug is given a compound of peyotin and marijuana in order to study its harmful effects, while Dr. Devoto says things like: “The murderer kills the flesh… these people kill the spirit”. The film also features Sara García as a deaf cook, Manuel Noriega, Arturo Manrique “Panseco”, Consuelo Segarra, Roberto Cantú Robert (future director of the Cinema Reporter magazine), Clifford Carr, Max Langler and Victor Junco.
“Che” Bohr’s film was released in 1936, the same year as the highly successful, delirious, moralistic melodramas: Marijuana. Assassin of Youth / Marijuana, by Dwain Esper and Reefer Madness. Tell Your Children, by Louis J. Gasnier. The first film tells the story of a young woman who gets pregnant after smoking marijuana and goes on to become a dealer. The second is a propaganda-style exploitation story, excessive and laughable, about a group of young people who are driven insane after consuming marijuana.