Just Imagine (1930)

“If you make this trip successfully, you’ll be the most distinguished person in the world!”

Just Imagine Poster

Synopsis:
In 1980, a young man named J-21 (John Garrick) is unable to marry his girlfriend, LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan), because another man (Kenneth Thomson) has been voted a better candidate. In order to distinguish himself as worthy of LN-18’s hand, J-21 travels on a historic flight to Mars with his friend RT-42 (Frank Albertson) and a man from 1930 who has been brought back to life (El Brendel).

Genres:

Review:
This early sci-fi oddity tries to cram as much as possible into its overlong 109 minutes — including a love triangle, music and dance sequences, aliens, a space voyage, time travel, a race against time, a courtroom drama, and lame comedy (courtesy of the insufferable pseudo-Swedish comedian, El Brendel). The most effective elements of Just Imagine are its futuristic sets (which are reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), and the glimpse it provides of a hypothetical future society in which both food and drink come in the form of pills, letters and numbers have replaced names, individuals jet around in private planes, and eligibility for marriage is determined by a court.

Much less effective are the tedious musical interludes, which seem like they belong in a different film entirely. At a certain point, Brendel sings a song during which he frantically puts on a series of different hats while mimicking various characters — it’s mildly creative, but so out of place! With that said, the Busby Berkeley-inspired dance sequences on Mars (not to mention the Martians’ outlandish costumes) are just surreal enough to be campily hypnotic. And you’ve got to give director David Butler credit for taking on such an enormously overinflated script — though one can’t help wishing it had been trimmed back to a slightly more manageable (and enjoyable) size.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The lavish art deco sets and over-the-top Busby Berkeley-esque dance sequences on Mars
    Busby
  • An intriguing vision of what 1980 might have looked like, from a 1930s perspective
    New York
  • A bizarre, if not entirely successful, pastiche of nearly every possible movie genre — including comedy, science fiction, romance, and musical

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as a truly surreal cinematic hybrid.

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One Response to “Just Imagine (1930)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    In spite of its ‘worth’ as a novelty item, ‘JI’ is a real chore to get through. As noted, it is way too long, and also painfully unfunny and lacking in genuine entertainment value.

    The first half is bad enough – but then we’re taken to Mars, where the script’s ultimate pointlessness rules. Here, we’re thrown into real Ed Wood territory featuring ‘Martians’ who resemble a kind of jungle tribe, only grunt to communicate and, in part, would perhaps inspire ‘Cat Women of the Moon’ and ‘Queen of Outer Space’.

    Halfway-through, the film suddenly segues into a kind of musical revue. Two of the numbers here are slightly memorable: ‘Never Swat a Fly’ – performed with some vigor by Albertson and Marjorie White – and ‘Drink’, which is, of course, a rousing drinking song that is surprisingly well done (and perhaps served as inspiration for part of Liza Minnelli’s musical medley near the end of ‘New York, New York’).

    Good luck making it to the end of this general snoozer.

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