The year is 1980. People no longer have names, just numbers. J-21 (John Garrick) is in love with LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan). They park their hover planes to have a moment to talk. J-21 has petitioned the court to marry LN-18. MT-3 (Kenneth Thomson) has also petitioned to marry LN-18. The tribunal has decided that LN-18 will marry MT-3 since he has a better standing in the community. J-21 can appeal the court’s decision but unless he can do something that the court sees as worth while he is out of luck.
J-21’s roommate RT-42 (John Garrick) tries to cheer him up by taking him to an experiment that his girlfriend D-6 (Marjorie White), a nurse, will be participating in. The surgeons will be bringing back to life a man who died fifty years ago on the golf course when he was struck by lightning. The experiment is a success. To get acclimated to this new time the man, whose name is Peterson (El Brendel), decides that his number should be Single 0.
J-21 and RT-42 take Single 0 to see the sights of New York City. Much has changed since 1930. People don’t drive cars any more, they drive planes. They get food in pill form and babies are selected from a vending machine. Prohibition is still going on in 1980 but bootleg pills are available.
That night J-21, RT-42 and D-6 go to see LN-18 in secret. She tells MT-3 she has a headache to stay home. MT-3 realizes something is up so he returns early. Caught where he’s not suppose to be LN-18 is forced to send J-21 away. Depressed J-21 goes walking and ends up on a bridge. He is approached by a dark man, B-36 (Mischa Auer) who thinks he is going to jump. The man brings him to the famous inventor Z-4 (Hobart Bosworth).
Z-4 enlists J-21 to pilot a rocket plane to Mars. J-21 hopes that if he can go to Mars and return he will then have done something to make himself distinguished enough to be able to marry LN-18. But he must accomplish all this before September 1, 1980, the date his appeal is up. When RT-42 and Single 0 find out about the trip, they insist on going with him. Strange adventures galore await them on Mars.
“Just Imagine” was released in 1930 and was directed by David Butler. It is a fantasy/comedy/musical pre-code film. It won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. It is a rather obscure film. I don’t think it’s ever had a VHS or DVD release.
The future to those of 1930 was full of possibilities. Unfortunately they got most of it wrong. We still don’t have flying cars, or numbers for names. Out food doesn’t come in a pill and babies are still made the old fashioned way. We also don’t have courts that decide who marries who based on their accomplishments. We still have art deco but it’s not the style of the future and Mars doesn’t have dancing girls. One thing we do have is video phones in the form of zoom. I guess they go one thing right.
As for the characters, the comic relief is in the form of an old Swedish vaudevillian comedian named El Brendel. For the most part he is only slightly annoying and there are times when he comes out with an amusing double entendre or racy aside. Since this is a pre-code movie his little innuendos add a bit of light to the often drab dialogue.
As for the absolute delight of the film it is D-6 played by Marjorie White. She is a tiny firecracker that sparkles a lot more than you’d expect. Watching her dance about the screen is like watching liquid laughter. RT-42 as her boyfriend is irritating but you’re willing to let that slide since D-6 loves him to pieces. Everyone else is a little on the wooden side but that wouldn’t be so bad if they only didn’t sing.
Did I mention this is also a musical? As far as musicals are concerned it sucks. As far as comedies are concerned it’s meh. As far as science fiction stories are concerned it’s actually kinda on the fun side. It’s definitely worth a watch.
The flashing lights and whirly gismos used in the operation sequence belonged to Kenneth Strickfaden. He was an electrician and set designer who created all those special effects. They were used again for the resurrection sequence for “Frankenstein” 1931. The Mars space plane created by Z-4 was later used in the Flash Gordon serials.