Just Imagine

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For the comic book series, see Just Imagine....
Just Imagine
Just Imagine lobby card.jpg
Lobby card
Directed by David Butler
Produced by Buddy G. DeSylva
Starring El Brendel
Maureen O'Sullivan
John Garrick
Marjorie White
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Arthur Kay
Cinematography Ernest Palmer
Edited by Irene Morra
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • November 23, 1930 (1930-11-23)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Just Imagine is a 1930 science fiction musical comedy directed by David Butler. The film is known for its art direction and special effects in its portrayal of New York City in an imagined 1980.


The film starts with a preamble showing life in 1880, where the people believed themselves the "last word in speed". It switches to 1930, with the streets crowded with automobiles and lined with electric lights and telephone wires. It then switches to 1980, where the tenement houses have morphed into 250-story buildings, connected by suspension bridges and multi-lane elevated roads. J-21 sets his airplane on "hover" mode and converses with the beautiful LN-18. He describes how the marriage tribunal had refused to consider J-21's marital filing and applications, and LN-18 is going to be forced to marry the conceited and mean MT-3. J-21 plans to visit LN-18 that night.

RT-42 tries to cheer him up by taking him to see a horde of surgeons experimentally revive a man from 1930, who was struck by lightning while playing golf, and was killed. The man is taken in hand by RT-42 and J-21, where it is revealed that airplanes have replaced cars, numbers have replaced names, pills have replaced food and liquor, and the only legal babies come from vending machines. That night, LN-18 feigns a headache, and her father and the atrocious MT-3 decide to go to "the show" without her. The second they are gone, RT-42 and J-21 appear and woo B-27 and LN-18 respectively. MT-3 and LN-18's father return quite early, as MT-3 was highly suspicious, and RT-42 and J-21 hide. However, the game is foiled by the moronic Single O, the man from 1930, becoming addicted to pill-highballs, getting drunk, and trying to get some more pill-highballs off of J-21.

J-21 is depressed, but is contacted by Z-4, the scientist. He is told that Z-4 has built a "rocket plane" that can carry three men to Mars. After a farewell party on the "air-liner" (dirigible) Pegasus, which J-21 works at, the rocket blasts off, carrying J-21, RT-42, and Single O, who has stowed away for the synthetic rum. Landing on Mars, they are received by the Queen, Looloo ("I'll say she is!") and the King, Loko ("She is not the Queen---he is!") That night, Looloo and Loko take them to see a "show", which is like a Martian opera, where a horde of trained Martian ourang-outangs dance about. They are suddenly attacked by Booboo and Boko, the evil twins of the King and Queen (everyone on Mars is a twin.) They escape in a highly farcical scene, and return to Earth. As one of the first men on another planet, J-21 is permitted to marry LN-18. The film ends with Single O reunited with his aged son, Axel.



Of the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson songs introduced in the film, "Never Swat a Fly" was covered as the classic 1930 recording by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, the 1967 revival by Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, and more recent recordings by Doc Cheatham among others.


The massive, distinctive Art Deco city-scape, for which Just Imagine has come to be best remembered, was built in a former Army balloon hangar by a team of 205 technicians over a five-month period. The giant miniature took cost $168,000 to build and was wired with 15,000 miniature lightbulbs (an additional seventy-four arc lights were used to light the city from above).[1]

Clips of the cityscape from this movie were later used in the Universal serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers; the mock-up Mars spaceship was reused in the former, as Dr. Zarkov's spaceship. Also seen in the first Flash Gordon serial are the strange hand-weapons carried by J21 and RT42 on Mars, which are held under rather than over the fist, and re-used footage of dancing girls cavorting about and on a Martian idol with moving arms.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction by Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras.[2] It stands as the first film of the science fiction genre to be nominated for an Oscar.

Special effects[edit]

The sequence in which the El Brendel character is revived from the dead features the first screen appearance of the spectacular electrical equipment assembled by Kenneth Strickfaden, seen again and more famously in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931).[citation needed] Over fifty special effects shots combining previously photographed backgrounds with live foreground action were accomplished using the Dunning Process.[3] Rear projection technology of the scale and quality required was not available at the time.

The set design in form of glass pictures and miniatures was done by Stephen Goosson, Ralph Hammeras, SPFX-guru Willis O'Brien, and Marcel Delgado (all uncredited).[4]


Mordaunt Hall called the picture "clever", "highly imaginative", and "intriguing" and praised the costumes and set design.[5] Contrary to some accounts, this expensive film was not a box-office flop.[citation needed] However, it was a one-time-only novelty stunt, bolstered by the short-lived popularity of El Brendel. By the time it was released, movie musicals had greatly declined in popularity;[citation needed] nor was there a perceived audience for science fiction,[citation needed] especially at the onset of the Great Depression. As a result[citation needed] major American studios would not back another big budget science fiction film until 1951. There was to be only one other American science-fiction musical in that period, It's Great to Be Alive (1933), which failed at the box-office. Film serials were an exception to this general trend, however. The first Flash Gordon serial from 1936 had an unusually large budget for a serial of the time, and Gene Autry's The Phantom Empire from 1935 can loosely be considered a science fiction musical serial.

Production credits[edit]

  • Art Direction - Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras
  • Set Decoration - Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras
  • Assistant Director - Ad Schaumer
  • Sound Department - Joseph E. Aiken
  • Stager - Seymour Felix
  • Musical director - Arthur Kay
  • Costumes - Alice O'Neil and Dolly Tree
  • Graphics - Post Amazers


  1. ^ Kreuger, Miles ed. The Movie Musical from Vitaphone to 42nd Street as Reported in a Great Fan Magazine (New York: Dover Publications) p 241. ISBN 0-486-23154-2
  2. ^ "NY Times: Just Imagine". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  3. ^ "The International Photographer" December 1930 pg. 40
  4. ^ German 2010 DVD of movie Behemoth, the Sea Monster titled "Das Ungeheuer von Loch Ness": Extras: Willis O'Brien-filmography: card 12 (Just Imagine (1930))
  5. ^ Mordaunt Hall, "Derelict", New York Times, November 22, 1930

External links[edit]