New York, 1980: airplanes have replaced cars, numbers have replaced names, pills have replaced food, government-arranged marriages have replaced love, and test tube babies have replaced ...... See full summary »
New York, 1980: airplanes have replaced cars, numbers have replaced names, pills have replaced food, government-arranged marriages have replaced love, and test tube babies have replaced ... well, you get the idea. Scientists revive a man struck by lightning in 1930; he is rechristened "Single O". He is befriended by J-21, who can't marry the girl of his dreams because he isn't "distinguished" enough -- until he is chosen for a 4-month expedition to Mars by a renegade scientist. The Mars J-21, his friend, and stowaway Single O visit is full of scantily clad women doing Busby Berkeley-style dance numbers and worshiping a fat middle-aged man. Written by
Jon Reeves <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Images from this film, showing the elaborate model of a futuristic New York skyscape, are often mistakenly identified as scenes from Metropolis. See more »
Boys, I vouldn't know de old town! Vere is all de automobiles?
Oh, they're in the upper level.
Hardly anyone drives a car now. They all use planes.
Is dat so?
Yeah, I drive a Rosenblatt. J flies a Pinkus for his personal use, but all the airliners are Goldfarbs.
It looks like someone got even with Henry Ford!
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JUST IMAGINE (Fox, 1930), directed by David Butler, goes on record as being first science fiction motion picture of the sound era, in fact, the first science fiction musical, but like many Hollywood firsts, starts off cleverly with originality and potential, but in conclusion, a bitter disappointment. While the story and screenplay could have been lifted from legendary science fiction writers of Jules Verne or H.G. Welles, the credit for this futuristic comedy goes to songwriters B.G. DeSylva, Ray Henderson and Lew Brown, who have previously scored with SUNNY SIDE UP (1929) starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.
The opening minutes start off quite promisingly in documentary style with newsreel footage showing what New York City was like in the year 1880, calm and peaceful, with a pedestrian seen being given the right of way from a horse and buggie driver; then shifting fifty years later to 1930 showing the more modern New York City, more crowded with congestion of automobiles driving down Fifth Avenue at a faster pace with a lone pedestrian trying to cross the street in between the passing cars (so far, no different from the New York of today); concluding with, just imagine, as the title cards indicate, New York City fifty years into the future, 1980, where names are changed to numbers (practically true in that respect in today's society since identification to an individual's name can be traced through Social Security numbers), and means of transportation from buses and automobiles in 1930 replaced by space cars flying through the air (in the similar fashion as in the futuristic 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, THE JETSONS), along with communication not by telephone but through a television transmitter (or picture phone). The central characters in this story are J-21 (John Garrick), an air pilot for a Transatlantic Airliner, and his best friend/ roommate, RT-42 (Frank Albertson). Jack, or better known as J-21, is deeply in love with LN-18 (Maureen O'Sullivan) while RT-42 finds comedic romance with a perky blonde named D-6 (Marjorie White). J-21's marriage to LN-18 has been ruled against by the Tribunal judge (George Irving) in favor of MT-3 (Kenneth Thomson), a much wealthier and more distinguished rival, much to the disappointment of the young couple. Then there is Ole Petersen (El Brendel), who was struck by lightning in 1930 while playing a game of golf, found by a group of scientists who use him as a scientific experiment by reviving him with the use of machines after being dead for fifty years. Unable to adjust to the many changes in the world and having no place to go, J-21 and RT-42 decide have the little man move in with them. Because it is not customary to be addressed by name, Ole decides to rename himself Single Zero. Later, J-21 encounters Z-4 (Hobart Bosworth), a great inventor who hires the young aviator to fly his rocket ship to a place that no man has yet to explore, the planet Mars. J-21 accepts this mission in spite the fact that there may be a possibility that he may never return to Earth, so that he may strengthen out his image during the four month time frame in hope to return to Earth and reclaim LN-18 as his bride. With RT-42 as his co-pilot, the two aviators find a stowaway amongst them, Single Zero. After nearly a month of space travel, the rocket ship finally makes it to its destination by landing on Mars where the trio encounter strange alien beings, many of whom are twins, one good and the other evil. Aside from Single Zero befriending the good and bad giant twins of Loko and Boko (Ivan Linow) and Loo-Loo and Boo-Boo (Joyzelle), which stirs up much confusion, the earthlings find that these aliens also have a talent for dancing. After being on Mars longer than expected, Single-Zero races against time in order to have J-21 pilot the rocketship back to Earth before LN-18 is forced into the dreaded arranged marriage to MT-3.
While much of the story is set in the year 1980, the movie fails to capture the essence of 1980 by looking too much like 1930, ranging from hairstyles, spoken dialogue and methods of singing and dancing, which is forgivable considering the writers didn't have any foresight to what was to be in 1980, yet could have stretched to the imagination of things to come, but who could have imagined in 1930 that by 1980 the world not only had gone through a second World War, has been introduced to a new craze of music called rock & roll or disco; entertainment through watching color television, traveling via jet airliners, as well as having man rocketing to and walking on the moon by 1969 (instead of Mars in 1980 as indicated here). Had this been a story that opened in the year 1980, leading the central characters through an invention such as a time tunnel finding them transferred to the year 1930, JUST IMAGINE would have succeeded by today's standards. However, movie goers of 1930 were more interested as well as amazed by the eye-view structure of 1980 than with 1930. But as it now stands, JUST IMAGINE plays more like a bad 1950s science fiction fantasy spoof that simply falls apart with numerous song interludes and one production number, choreographed by Seymour Felix, set on the planet Mars. Minus these song structures, JUST IMAGINE would give more of an impression as being a predecessor to Universal's 1936 classic chaptered serial of FLASH GORDON, and its 1938 and 1940 sequels, starring Larry "Buster" Crabbe.
The songs and production numbers presented in the order as they appear include: "There's Something About an Old-Fashioned Girl" (sung by John Garrick); "Mother Ought to Tell Their Daughters" (sung by Marjorie White); "I Am Only the Words, You Are Melody" (Sung by John Garrick); "I Am Only the Words, You are Melody" (sung by chorus); "The Drinking Song" (sung by John Garrick and male chorus); "Never Swat a Fly" (sung by Frank Albertson and Marjorie White); "Romance of Elmer Stremingway" (sung by El Brendel); "I Am Only the Words, You Are Melody" (recited by Maureen O'Sullivan); and "The Dance of Victory" (danced by aliens from Mars). Of the handful of songs, "There's Something About an Old-Fashioned Girl" ranks one of the more listenable tunes in spite of its corny structure and John Garrick's style of singing while facing the camera and later envisioning his own idea of numerous old-fashioned girls of his dreams. Frank Albertson and Marjorie White bring life into the story with their peppy "Never Swat a Fly" number which comes comes off as both enjoyable and amusing. It's been reported that this number had been deleted from the final print by the time it reached the theaters in New York City, but as it now stands, has been restored, moving up the standard running time from 102 to 109 minutes.
Maureen O'Sullivan, whose future success in films would be her ten year stay at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1932-1942), where she became immortal as Jane in the six popular "Tarzan" adventures opposite Johnny Weissmuller, was still relatively new to the screen. Her performance in itself is adequate, making her presence here one of the few assets to the story. Acting on the whole is standard for its time, with Kenneth Thomson, in a performance no different from his other film roles, playing the villain out to get another man's girl for himself, is satisfactory. And look quick for Mischa Auer as B-26, who is briefly seen in a couple of scenes, and the homely Vera Lewis as the census taker.
In the late 1970s, there was a question written in the "Question and Answer" Calendar section of the New York Times asking whether JUST IMAGINE will ever be revived theatrically or on television by the year 1980. The reply to that question went on to say that because JUST IMAGINE has failed to stand the test of time, and would have very limited appeal, it would be unlikely to ever seeing this oddity again, especially in the television markets. While it did miss a television showing to commemorate its 50th anniversary, it did have its rediscovery in revival theaters, and eventually aired on several public television stations by the early 1990s. True, JUST IMAGINE does not hold up very well, considering its handful of out-of-date vaudeville routines and musical numbers combined, or the possibility of El Brendel's brand of humor lacking to stir up some chuckles, but this is an oddity worth viewing once mainly for its concept, a look into the future that for now, has past. One true funny moment, however, occurs near the end of the story where Single O in 1980 encounters a bearded old man who identifies himself as his son he left behind in 1930. After the two meet, Single-O sits down and tells the elderly gentleman, "Climb upon my knee, Sonny Boy." (A little inside humor lifted from Al Jolson's classic 1928 film, THE SINGING FOOL, where he introduced the immortal song called "Sonny Boy.")
Of the handful of feature films distributed through the old Fox studio during the early sound era to be presently lost and gone forever, JUST IMAGINE fortunately, has survived. The only thing missing from the now restored copy is the then standard two minute instrumental exit music following the THE END title card. In spite of its reputation, good or bad or indifferent, JUST IMAGINE, which might have benefited with the use of early Technicolor, has become one of Fox's most notable early sound productions. To date, it has never been distributed on either video cassette of DVD. JUST IMAGINE can be seen and studied whenever shown on cable television's Fox Movie Channel. Seeing is believing, and JUST IMAGINE is something to see to be believed. It's not great, never was, never will be, but what a creative idea this was. It's certainly something that modern filmmakers could remake today, minus the musical numbers, to amend the errors made in 1930. Just imagine?
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