1930 was only three years after the pioneering of sound cinema and the medium was still in a transitional state. Filmmakers were taking their lead from other sound forms radio and particularly Vaudeville. Just Imagines producers-writers-musicians, Lew Brown, G.G. DeSylva and Ray Henderson, had come from enormous success as a song-writing team for various Broadway shows, before they made their screen debut with the smash hit Sunny Side Up (1929). It is the stage musical tradition that Just Imagine owes its origins to rather than any purist science-fiction form. Indeed, Just Imagine is fairly much Metropolis (1927) reimagined as a Broadway musical.
The film has a trippy futurism this was the era of futurist world expos and the boom in skyscraper building and where Henry Ford had revolutionised the concept of the production line automobile. Just Imagine embraces a concept of modernism, of industrialism and automation for that matter, it embraces the future and the thought of technological change far more than Metropolis does. Understandably, there is a jokey 1930s cosiness to this vision of the future one that makes fun of automation and Prohibition food comes in pill form, manufacturing lines now makes planes instead of automobiles (there are even gags about Henry Fords notorious anti-Semitism in the future, all cars have Jewish names), while even babies come out of slot machines. The jokes are lame, some of the puns excruciating (although surprisingly for the era, the film manages to get away with a number of gay jokes). The plot holding it all together is entirely trivial. In terms of science-fiction, little thought is given to the realistic construction of the future for example, a society where letters and numbers are used instead of names could only have a total population of less than 3000.
For all its silliness, Just Imagine has been lavishly made. The films effects and Art Deco sets are certainly impressive with some quarter-of-a-million dollars, a whopping sum for the day, spent to build a dazzling city model that took up an entire zeppelin hangar. The Martian sequences contain some fascinatingly oversized dance routines, while the Martian costumes have a bizarreness that has to be seen to be believed.
The comic lead El Brendel was a stand-up performer who toured during the era with a purportedly excruciatingly bad Swedish accent routine. Here Brendel gives a performance of infuriating witlessness. The most notable name among the rest of the cast is Maureen OSullivan, two years before she gained immortality as Jane in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and sequels and later as the mother of Mia Farrow.
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