Sex Madness (1938) (NTSC)

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Due Out for Sale 22-Oct-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Cult Short Film
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1938
Running Time 51:51 (Case: 57)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Dwain Esper
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Vivian McGill
Rose Tapley
Al Rigali
Mark Daniels
Linda Lee Hill
Ruth Edell
Charles Olcott
Ed Redding
Pat Lawrence
Allen Tower
Richard Bengali
W. Blake
Frank Howsen
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $19.95 Music None Given

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 mono (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, it is 1938!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Under the guise of educating the public about the perils of sexual promiscuity, such as sexually transmitted diseases, unmarried mothers, prostitution and homosexuality, filmmakers from the 30s to the 50s sought to get away with raising otherwise forbidden issues in a titillating way, “sexploitation”, as long as there was a message and moral at the end. Gryphon have released a 6 film, 3 DVD collection entitled Horny – Sexplotation Films from the 30’s to the 50’s, which is a fascinating look at how sexual issues were portrayed in films during those three decades.

     However, the first film in the set, 1938’s Sex Madness is definitely not titillating, and anyone expecting a lascivious treat will be disappointed. Sex Madness, directed by Dwain Esper whose credits included How to Undress in Front of your Husband (1937), Marihuana (1936) and The Seventh Commandment (1932) – tagline: "The bitter truth about the younger generation”, here presents what is basically an extended public service announcement that is only marginally a dramatic film.

     Sex Madness (aka Human Wreckage), begins with a text warning that syphilis is “a menace more dangerous than the worst criminal”; it counsels that syphilis can cause a range of illnesses, the death of marriages and deformed babies, and at various times throughout the film distinguished looking men declare such statistics as 1 out of 10 Americans suffer from a “social disease”.

       The plot, such as it is, follows Millicent (Vivian McGill), a young country girl who wins a beauty contest and heads to the big city leaving loving boyfriend Wendel (Stanley Barton) behind. Things don’t work out and effected by drink one night she sleeps with a man and contracts syphilis. Although ill, she later gets work in a burlesque show where she meets the vivacious Sheila (Linda Lee Hill). Acknowledging her disease, Millicent consults a doctor and embarks upon a long series of cures before she is well enough to return to her home, where she secretly continues her treatment with another doctor. When at last she believes herself cured she is able to marry Wendel, but the local doctor was a quack: Millicent is not cured, which has disastrous consequences later for her new born baby and her husband. In a second plotline, promiscuous Sheila and her boyfriend Tom (Pat Lawrence) – his father a notable campaigner for sex education for the young – attend a “swingers” party after which Tom contracts syphilis from Sheila and has to tell his father.

     The interest in Sex Madness is really about how the material is presented, and what it doesn’t say. The dialogue is often declamatory, the acting wooden, the plotlines merely a device upon which to hang the message; that sex outside of marriage destroys lives and is against God’s will. This message is never subtle, and is frequently reinforced by passages from Wagner such as Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine from Gotterdammerung, itself as foreboding a piece of music as you could hear. The only one slightly risqué segment is a burlesque show with scantily clad (for the 1930s) dancers on stage. The film suggests that such shows lead to lesbianism, promiscuity and even an assault on a child, so it is obviously a condemnation. Missing from the film is the more modern message about safe sex – condoms are never mentioned. The only safe sex, for this piece, is sex within marriage.

     Sex Madness is a curiosity; a sex education film from 1938 with a very blunt message. It is not particularly well made, but it is an interesting look at 1930s morality (at least in film terms), and the dangers, and impact, of sexually transmitted diseases, not a subject seen too often on the big screen!

     Sex Madness is included in the 6 film, 3 DVD collection Horny – Sexplotation Films from the 30’s to the 50’s, a box set from Gryphon. The films are: Sex Madness (1938) and The Wild & Wicked (1956) on disc 1 with the additional short film Boys Beware (1961), Damaged Lives (1933) and Gambling with Souls (1936) plus the short film How Much Affection (1957) on disc 2 and Test Tube Babies (1948) and Child Bride (1938) with the short film What Makes a Good Party (1950) on disc 3.

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Transfer Quality


     Sex Madness is presented in a ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. The original ratio was 1.37:1 and certainly at times the cropping is obvious as characters talking are partially out of the frame.

     There are continuous marks through the film, including vertical scratches (such as at 17:42), both positive and negative artefacts, hairs and reel change markers. This is a very soft print, with detail lacking so that at times people are quite indistinct. Blacks are really various shades of gray and shadow detail non-existent; contrast and brightness varied quite considerably and there are also copious examples of macro blocking, (pause the film between 8:22-:32 or any sequence in the burlesque show for an example), plus a couple of missing frames.

     There are no subtitles.

     The summary? This is a 70 year old unrestored print, and it looks it! However, it is by no means unwatchable and I have seen worse prints of films made more recently than 1938. Note that the scores given have been adjusted, as it is not valid to compare this print with those of modern films.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is an English Linear PCM track at 1536 Kbps. It comes with a constant hiss, a few crackles and the occasional drop out and pop. Dialogue is mostly OK, if never totally clear due to the hiss, and in one section starting around 33:30 the conversation between Millicent and Wendel is very difficult to make out. Effects are predictably flat, dull and tinny. There is obviously no surround or sub woofer use.

     There is no-one credited for the score, which does use pieces from Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

     I did not notice any lip synchronization issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras as such, but on the same disc as Sex Madness and The Wild & Wicked is the short film (10:11) Boys Beware (1961). This is an educational film produced with the co-operation of the Inglewood Police Department and Inglewood School District warning boys about the dangers of “sick” homosexuals. It uses a number of case studies to illustrate the predatory behaviour of these “mentally ill” men who prey on unwary boys. Black and white, which does turn slightly yellow at 3:14, with some small artefacts. Sound tinny, but hiss free.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Sex Madness is available in Region 0 US in a “Madness Trilogy” with Reefer Madness (1935); and Cocaine Fiends (1936). The video and audio seem similar.

     I cannot find any record on sales sites of the equivalent of the Horny box set package in any other region.


     Sex Madness is a curiosity; a sex education film from 1938 with a very blunt message. It is not particularly well made, but it is an interesting look at a 1930s (film) viewpoint on the dangers, and impact, of sexually transmitted diseases, not a subject seen too often on the big screen!

     The video is not as bad as one could expect from a 70 year old unrestored black and white, non-mainstream film, the audio is rather worse off.

     Sex Madness is included in the 6 film, 3 DVD collection Horny, a box set of sexploitation tales from the 1930s to 1950s from Gryphon for a RRP of $19.95. The films taken together are a fascinating window on how sexual issues were portrayed in films during those three decades.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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