Just Imagine

From Raspberry World – Volume 3, Issue 1 (June/July 2008)



    Just Imagine you’re a dead person waking up in the future. It’s a wonder-filled time and place. The rampant skyscrapers almost reach to the stars! No traffic problems now, everyone has their own single seat flying machine. All phone communication is accompanied with video screen. (Ooh, don’t leave it on if you’re getting dressed, that would be naughty.) Nutrition comes in a pill and couples can choose their perfect baby when they are ready. Everyone is happy! Everyone except J-21 and LN-18. They are in love, but the State Marriage Tribunal has decreed LN-18 must marry the mighty masculine MT-3.
    Other than that, and it being a male dominated lily-white Caucasian society, with police officers speaking in an Irish brogue, and prohibition still enforced, every one is happy. There are no challenges left. Medicine has triumphed; the atmosphere, land and sea are now all masterfully stewarded by mankind in this beautiful new world to be. So who is this once dead person, soon to be named either 0 or 00, and when is this time to be? Vaudeville comedian El Brendel plays Single Zero, (pronounced Single Oh), coming back to life in the far-flung future of 1980 in the first talkie science fiction film, Just Imagine.
    Just Imagine was made in 1930 by Fox Studios with sound by General Electric. It was the most expensive movie of its time with sets more elaborate than Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The dainty delectable Maureen O’Sullivan is the yummy LN-18 (no wonder she will soon be Tarzan’s mate, Jane) and John Garrick is the well voiced J-21. Well voiced, because the first all talking science fiction film is also a musical! Garrick does 80% of the singing of the mostly forgettable songs by the previously well-regarded DeSilva, Brown, and Henderson. Although midway, there is a naughty luscious duet by J and N’s best friends called “Never Swat a Fly.” Marjorie White and Frank Albertson play the comic friends, RT-42 and D6 respectively, who light up the screen with their chemistry.
    Much of this hard-to-find film is instantly recognizable. The dazzling science lab where the doctors revive Single O was designed and built by Kenneth Strickfadden, soon to be forever famous for James Whale’s Frankenstein. The huge city sets were built in an air dirigible hangar. They were used time and time again in the Flash Gordon serials. Also used were the ray guns (never fired) and the dancing girls with their idol on the planet Mars. The spaceship was the same spaceship Dr. Zarkov claimed to have built. Oh yeah, spaceships and Mars – see outer space is the last frontier to be conquered. Our hero has the opportunity to redeem himself if he returns alive in time from Mars for his appeal with the Wedding Tribunal. So away he goes on a secret mission with his best friend RT-42 and a stowaway!
    This film has great special effects and models! Well, for 1930 that is. Many future film techniques were first used in this film. Some of the costumes are garish and silly, but most are quite well done: dazzling, eye catching, and captivating. There are many skewers of society and satire that still zing almost eighty years later. This is a pre-production code movie; so, there is much flesh, innuendo, and teasing to be relished. Anti-Semitism is humorously mocked, homosexuality is smirked at, and modern couples choose their child from a vending machine. Brendel is spot on while witnessing this wonder when he proclaims, “Give me the good ole days!” Although a prohibition era film, the black market industry of alcoholic pills is prolific. Maybe some things never change. Some film buffs claim this film was a box office flop, but that is an exaggeration. This was the beginning of the Great Depression, money was scarce. Interest in musicals was on the wane at this time but this novelty for its time did work. Brendel was quite popular and many came to see him. He is the top-billed star. People came to see this movie then, but it is a dated quirky curio now. It is fun to see on many levels, but it is also oh-so dated. Just Imagine is worth seeing, worth sharing and worth caring for. Sadly it is much more likely destined for obscurity – now, just imagine that.

– kWRice

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