Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Movie: Just Imagine (1930)

The things you find on TV in the dead of night. There amidst the infomercials I discovered, on the Fox Movie Channel, a science fiction musical from the team of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, who gave us “Sweet Georgia Brown.” It’s set in a future when people have numbers instead of names, commuting is done via aircar, and the government dictates marriages. The far-off year of ... 1980. (The notion of an actor being elected president in that year was too much even for musical comedy.)

The plot includes a man from 1930 revived to marvel at the wonders of the modern age, like liquor that comes in pill form. There’s also an expedition to Mars, which in this movie looks like a combination of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, the Emerald City of Oz, and New York’s Avenue B circa 1982. Give them credit on that last one; they were only off by two years.

This is where I’m supposed to say that Just Imagine is a treat, a charming relic from a bygone age. No dice. It was a chore to sit through. Only the sheer oddness of the movie kept me going. Even the songs are a disappointment.

The film’s star is Swedish dialect vaudeville comic El Brendel. I’d never heard of him either. His humor has dated somewhat, in that an electron microscope would be needed to detect it and even then the results would be sent to an independent lab for verification. I honestly don’t know how anyone could have found this guy funny. I know there was a Depression on, but it couldn’t have been as bad as all that.

The movie does look wonderful; the studio made its money back by recycling the footage in Buck Rogers serials and elsewhere.