Other Versions of this Movie

Sex Madness


This is a typical sex exploitation film from the early 1930s - complete with wild parties, sex out of wedlock, lesbianism, etc. A chorus girl's exposure to the "casting couch" also exposes her to syphilis. Exploitation filmmakers hoped to capitalize on the taboo subjects of venereal disease, sex before marriage, lesbianism, etc. while skirting the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 which forbade a film from containing such content. Films like this would tour the United States for years - mostly being shown in rundown, skid row theaters. This film has been re-edited and re-titled ("Human Wreckage", "They Must Be Told", "Trial Marriage", "About Trial Marriage") many times to attract the same audience to film, to take advantage of a taboo subject which may have gotten press recently or to appease local censors who disapproved of the film's content. You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page. Also, if you are interested in the rich, uniquely American history of exploitation films, there are two excellent books on the subject: "Forbidden Fruit - The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film", Felicia Feaster and Bret Wood, Midnight Marquee Press, 1999. "Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919 - 1959" Eric Schaefer, Duke University Press, 1999

Sex Madness (1938) is an exploitation film directed by Dwain Esper, along the lines of Reefer Madness (1936 film), supposedly to warn teenagers and young adults of the dangers of venereal diseases, specifically syphilis.


This exploitation film belongs to the Social guidance film genre of quasi-documentary narratives, which exhort young adults to follow particular moral and social prescriptions related to sexuality and drug use.
The film centres on Paul Lorenz, a "concerned citizen" alarmed at the spread of venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. However, at a New York burlesque show, several protagonists are more intent on engagement in sexual pleasure, regardless of the subsequent costs. They include Paul's own son Tom, burlesque dancer Sheila Wayne (who has syphilis), and two secretaries, lesbian Peggy and Betty, whom she is trying to seduce. However, one figure is not amongst them- Millicent Hamilton, a ormed former burlesque dancer. Millicent won a beauty contest in her hometown, which led her to New York, but a "casting couch" sexual encounter led her to contract syphilis. Millicent is told by her physician, Dr. Hamilton, that her condition can be cured, but only after slow, and painstaking treatment, and she should reject quack pseudo-cures. Millicent consents to this, eager to return to her home town and marry her boyfriend, Wendell- but will she heed the doctor's warnings? And what will the consequences be if she does not?
Wild parties, lesbianism, and premarital sex are some of the forms of 'madness' portrayed. The educational aspect of the film allowed it to portray a taboo subject which was otherwise forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, and its stricter version imposed by Hollywood studios in July 1934.


The film has fallen into the public domain and can be freely downloaded from the Internet Archive.

See also

  • Cult film
  • Exploitation film
  • List of films in the public domain

Category:1938 films
Category:American social guidance and drug education films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:Sexploitation films
Category:Films directed by Dwain Esper
Category:Films about sexually transmitted diseases

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