Tawdry. Trashy. Torn from the Tabloid Headlines. Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, The Devil’s Sleep, blows the lid off the underworld of pill-popping in the 1940s. It’s the missing link between the hopped-up cautionary drug tales of the 1930s — Reefer Madness and Cocaine Fiends — and the hot-rodding juvenile delinquency melodramas that were all the rage in the 1950s.
Ex-con Humberto Scalli, distinguishable by his greasy, pencil-thin moustache, has cornered the prescription drug racket, pandering to the rich, fat dames who frequent his health spa and gym, the Diana Health Club. Now, to expand his market, he’s throwing wild parties aiming to induce naive teens to experiment with bennies, dexxies, goofies and other mind-bending pills.
A crusading lady judge vows to shut him down, but Scali snaps a nude photo of her daughter, using this blackmail dodge to stop the investigation dead in its tracks. Undercover agents will need to get involved to crack the case, and they do go “undercover” in a cheesy picture that was quite risque for 1949, although relatively tame by today’s standards.
The Devil’s Sleep has some quirky casting. Charlie Chaplin’s ex-wife Lita Grey plays the judge, and silent comedian Harold Lloyd’s wife, Mildred Davis, has an unflattering turn as one of the patrons at the fat farm. Robert Mitchum’s brother, John, also shows up as a doctor. Despite this roster of “star names,” the acting is uniformly abysmal, including the grindhouse performance by Timothy Farrell of Glen or Glenda fame as the sleazy Scalli. The dialogue is equally inane and ludicrous.
Why watch then? In the words of one aficionado of this cult cheapie, “Its exploitation efforts are commendable. Women seem to strip down as much as possible at every given opportunity…It’s heroically bad acting is a delight to see, with some characters clearly reading their lines off bits of paper.” Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie straight from the vaults of YouTube.