Just Imagine

Year: 1930

Production: Fox

Director: David Butler

Starring: El Brendel, Maureen O'Sullivan, John Garrick, Majorie White, Frank Albertson, Hobart Bosworth

Screenwriter: Ray Henderson, B.G. De Sylva, Lew Brown

113 minutes; B/W

Made before sf, in Hollywood at least, was considered a subject matter only fit for serials and mad-scientist movies, this is a bizarre futuristic musical. Its greatest achievement is undoubtedly the miniature set of New York in 1980 which, built for reported cost of $250,000 is almost as imaginative and lavish as that of Metropolis (1926) and later re-appeared as stock footage in numerous films, notably Buck Rogers (1939). Equally significant, however, the film (one of the flood of musicals that issued forth in the early 1930s after the advent of sound), like so much of Hollywood's sf of the 1930s, was representative, not of the sf writing of the time, but of a much earlier conception of the genre. Accordingly, it mixed intriguing speculation about the future with a melodramatic storyline that was already dated in 1930.

Created by De Sylva, Brown and Henderson as a sequel to their very successful musical Sunnyside Up (1929), the storyline follows the exploits of Brendel. as the man struck by lightning in 1930, when he wakes up in the strange world of 1980. Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras' settings include many items that would become staples of later sf movies - automatic doors, food, substitute pills, tv phones - as well as an odd Martian landscape that looks like the wheatfields of Kansas. Once, however, we've been introduced to this world, the story soon descends into melodrama. Brendel helps Garrick's J-21 (numbers have replaced names in the world of 1980) to prove to the marriage tribunal that he's worthy of the hand of O'Sullivan's LN-18. This he does by accompanying and rescuing J-21 and others in the course of a trip to Mars. The cast, mostly unknowns, are proficient enough but Butler, who'd also directed Sunnyside Up, is unable to animate the material. The film's failure, together with that of the even more bizarre It's Great to Be Alive (1933) did much to turn the major Hollywood studios against sf, a trend that was reinforced when, in the wake of Flash Gordon et al, the genre became associated with serials and comic strips.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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