I have to confess that I’ve never quite “got” the musical. It seems an entirely artificial notion, whether on stage or on film (and, as Nacho Vigalondo’s Oscar winning short 7:35 in the Morning reminds us, more than a little creepy if people really did burst into song and dance numbers without warning).
But that doesn’t change the fact that almost as soon as sound film first appeared, people started making movie musicals. They were already so popular that over a hundred appeared in 1930 alone.
So the idea of making a musical to cash in on the success of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis seemed obvious – although it is hard to imagine to whom.
The legendary songwriting team of Henderson, DaSylva and Brown, had already produced a series of successful musicals before Just Imagine, which makes it harder to explain just what happened.
The songs are totally forgettable and the Swedish ethnic humor of El Brendel probably wasn’t any funnier back then than it is now. Even in 1930, I have to wonder how many people would have believed in a floating traffic cop directing the flying cars. Or that Maureen O’Sullivan would ride around the city bareback on a pint-sized airplane.
They spent $168,000 on their city of the future – more than it cost to make the Buck Rogers serial that borrowed footage of it nine years later. I’m not sure how much they spent on the full-sized spaceship used to visit Mars, but it served Flash Gordon well in his serials.
On the whole, it is one of those films that has to be seen to be believed.
But you’d probably be better off just imagining it.